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Thinking Through StyleNon-Fiction Prose of the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Michael D. Hurley and Marcus Waithe

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198737827

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198737827.001.0001

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The Idea of Matthew Arnold

The Idea of Matthew Arnold

(p.201) 12 The Idea of Matthew Arnold
Thinking Through Style

David Russell

Oxford University Press

Matthew Arnold’s critical style is famous for its slogans, what he once wryly summarized as ‘sweetness and light, and all that’. We might add, seeing ‘the object as it really is’, ‘the best that is known and said’, and more. The slogans, in their vagueness and repetition, can make Arnold seem a harbinger of hollow advertising idiom or the soundbites of political discourse and management-speak. This chapter argues, however, that the repetitiousness and vagueness of Arnold’s style are not faults, but a basis of his critical practice. It considers his essays of the 1860s, when Arnold established himself as a public critic, to show how their apparently empty style insists, not on logical propositions, but possible relational modes. These modes produce a space for the evocation of the unthinkable in British society: what Arnold called ‘the idea’, in an experience that would link the reader’s individual self-cultivation to communal social aims.

Keywords:   cultural criticism, style, Arnold, ideas, slogan, spiritual exercise, vagueness, repetition

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