Date of Award

Fall 1990

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


My study examines, through the philosophies and writings of the British Romantic poets, particularly those of Wordsworth and Coleridge, their beliefs about education, their theories on composing, and their interaction with the political and social climate as they relate to current expressivist rhetorical theories and pedagogies. I explore the ways in which Romantic assumptions surface in subsequent philosophers, educators, and rhetoricians such as Matthew Arnold, John Stuart Mill, and John Dewey, and more recently, Ann Berthoff, Donald Murray, and Peter Elbow. I argue that like the Romantics, current expressivists are interested in cultivating an imaginative intellect in their writing students.

The dissertation makes a case for expressivist rhetoric, arguing that it is valuable and should not be ignored or forgotten in light of new social theories of rhetoric. Recently, Romantic rhetorical theories have come under sharp attack for, among other things, perpetuating the myth of the "inspired writer", and for ignoring the fact that individuals are socially constructed and that the writing situation involves the dialectical interaction among writer, community, and social, political, and economic conditions. Although some of these attacks are valid, I argue that the problems critics have identified lie not with the theories themselves, but with the short-sighted application of these rich and complex Romantic theories. I look back, for instance, to the Romantic poets' philosophies of the self in order to show expressivists that the tradition from which they evolved recognized that the individual was not isolated from its culture. I also argue, however, that the recent denigration of the expressivist theories of composition is often based on misconceptions of Romantic theory and practice as well as an incomplete knowledge of the tradition from which they arise.

I argue that expressivist rhetorical theories are also valuable because they align themselves with feminist theory and pedagogy and offer a way of teaching writing that is especially useful for women. Finally, I examine the usefulness of expressivist theories for the cross-cultural classroom, and point out ways in which these theories are valuable and ways in which they are problematic for ethnic minority students.