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Wayne Clayson Booth (February 22, 1921 in American Fork, Utah - October 10, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois) was an American literary critic. He was the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language & Literature and the College at the University of Chicago. His work followed largely from the Chicago school of literary criticism.



Born in Utah of Mormon parents, he was educated at Brigham Young University and the University of Chicago. He taught English at Haverford College and Earlham College before moving back to the University of Chicago.

The Rhetoric of Fiction

In what was likely Booth's most-recognized book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, he argued that all narrative is a form of rhetoric.

The book can be seen as his critique of those he viewed as mainstream critics. Critics according to Booth, who cites an abundant array of sources, that beginning roughly with Henry James began to emphasize the difference between "showing" and "telling" in fiction. And who have placed more and more of a dogmatic premium on "showing."

Despite the realistic effects that modern authors have achieved, according to Booth, trying to distinguish narratives in this way is simplistic and deeply flawed. He argued, citing authors of a variety of stripes, that they invariably both show and tell. And he observed that they appear to choose between the techniques based upon decisions about how to convey their various "commitments" along various "lines of interest."

Booth's criticism can be viewed as distinct from traditional biographical criticism (still practiced, especially among popular critics), the new criticism which argued that one can only talk about what the text says, and the modern criticism which argues for the "eradication" of authorial presence. Booth claimed that it is impossible to talk about a text without talking about an author, because the existence of the text implies the existence of an author.

Booth not only argued that, whether or not an author -- as distinct from the narrator of a text -- intrudes directly in a work, that readers will always infer the existence of an author behind any text they encounter. He also claimed that readers always draw conclusions about the beliefs and judgments (and also, conclusions about the skills and "success") of a text's implied author, along the text's various lines of interest:

However impersonal he may try to be, his readers will inevitably construct a picture of the official scribe who writes in this manner -- and of course that official scribe will never be neutral toward all values. Our reaction to his various commitments, secret or overt, will help to determine our response to the work.[1]

This implied author (a widely-used term that Booth coined in this book; who he also called an author's "second self"[2]) is the one who "chooses, consciously or unconsciously, what we read; we infer him as an ideal, literary, created version of the real man; he is the sum of his own choices"[3]

Booth also spent several chapters -- which include numerous referrals to and citations from widely-recognized works of fiction -- describing the various effects that implied authors achieve along the various lines of interest that he identifies, and the pitfalls they fall into, depending upon whether or not the implied author provides commentary, and upon the degree to which a story's narrator is reliable or unreliable, personal or impersonal.

Booth detailed three "Types of Literary Interest" that are "available for technical manipulation in fiction":

(1) Intellectual or cognitive: We have, or can be made to have, strong intellectual curiosity about "the facts," the true interpretation, the true reasons, the true origins, the true motives, or the truth about life itself. (2) Qualitative: We have, or can be made to have, a strong desire to see any pattern or form completed, or to experience a further development of qualities of any kind. We might call this kind "aesthetic," if to do so did not suggest that a literary form using this interest was necessarily of more artistic value than one based on other interests. (3) Practical: We have, or can be made to have, a strong desire for the success or failure of those we love or hate, admire or detest; or we can be made to hope for or fear a change in the quality of a character. We might call this kind "human," if to do so did not imply that 1 and 2 were somehow less than human.[4]

In the 1983 edition of The Rhetoric of Fiction, in which a lengthy addendum to the original 1961 book was published, Booth outlined various identities taken on by both authors and readers: The Flesh-and Blood Author, the Implied Author, the Teller of This Tale, the Career Author, and the "Public Myth"; and, the Flesh-and-Blood Re-Creator of Many Stories, the Postulated Reader, the Credulous Listener, the Career Reader, and the Public Myth about the "Reading Public."[5]

Other works

A later work is Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, in which he addresses the question of what circumstances should cause one to change one's mind, discussing what happens in situations where two diametrically opposed systems of belief are in argument. His central example is an incident at the University of Chicago. In it, students and administration were engaged in fierce debate that eventually degenerated into each side simply reprinting the other side's arguments without comment, believing that the opposing side was so self-evidently absurd that to state its propositions was to refute them.

Another book of note is 1974's The Rhetoric of Irony, in which Booth examines the long tradition of irony and its use in literature. It is probably his second most popular work after The Rhetoric of Fiction. A later work is The Company we Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, in which he returns to the topic of rhetorical effects in fiction, and "argues for the relocation of ethics to the center of our engagement with literature" (cover note, The Company we Keep).

In common with most Chicago school critics, Booth has been attacked for making overly broad claims about the nature of humanity and for marginalizing cultures in the process.

The University of Chicago Wayne C. Booth Graduate Student Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching was established in 1991 in honor of Booth.


  • The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.
  • The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1988.


  1. ^ The Rhetoric of Fiction 71.
  2. ^ The term "second self" was brought into prominence by Kathleen Tillotson (1959), see Tom Kindt, Hans-Harald Müller, The Implied Author: Concept and Controversy (2006) p. 50).
  3. ^ The Rhetoric of Fiction 74-75.
  4. ^ The Rhetoric of Fiction 125.
  5. ^ The Rhetoric of Fiction 428-421.


  • Rhetoric of Fiction (1961)
  • Boring from Within: The Art of the Freshman Essay (c. 1963) pamphlet
  • Now Don't Try to Reason with Me : Essays and Ironies for a Credulous Age (1970)
  • Autobiography of Relva Booth Ross (1971)
  • Booth Family History (1971)
  • A Rhetoric of Irony (1974)
  • Knowledge Most Worth Having (1974) editor
  • Modern Dogma & the Rhetoric of Assent (1974) Ward-Phillips Lectures in English Language and Literature
  • Critical Understanding : The Powers and Limits of Pluralism (1979)
  • The Harper and Row Rhetoric: Writing As Thinking, Thinking As Writing (1987) with Marshall W. Gregory
  • The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (1988)
  • The Harper & Row Reader : Liberal Education Through Reading & Writing (1988) with Marshall W.Gregory
  • The Vocation of a Teacher : Rhetorical Occasions, 1967-1988 (1988)
  • The Art of Deliberalizing: A Handbook for True Professionals (1990)
  • The Art of Growing Older: Writers on Living and Aging (1992) editor
  • The Craft of Research (1995, 2003) with Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams
  • Literature as Exploration (1996) with Louise M. Rosenblatt
  • For the Love of It : Amateuring & Its Rivals (1999)
  • Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication (2004) Blackwell Manifesto
  • My Many Selves: The Quest for a Plausible Harmony (2006)

External links



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