What are examples of a non-didactic reading of Emma, by Jane Austen, through the lens of a formalist?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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A non-didactic reading of a text is one that discounts actual or apparent moral teachings that may or may not be present by authorial intention in the narrative. Formalist critical theory is predicated on the premise that form is the narrative content.

Formalists attempt objective, scientific analysis and understanding of a narrative text through analysis of functions (e.g., hero function) and rhetorical or literary devices (e.g., motifs, elements of structure, techniques). The aim is to determine a narrative text's literariness, where literariness is the qualities that exist in literature but not in other kinds of writing.

Formalists find meaning only in the text itself and discount that any meaning might derive from historical context or from the author's intent or biographical context. One chief quality of literariness is "defamiliarization," a function by which the author's literary choices brings the familiar into base-relief and renders their unique and particular characteristics suddenly recognizable.

Therefore, a non-didactic reading of Emma through the lens of the Formalist entails critical reading that identifies motifs worked into the text; rhetorical techniques employed; literary devices utilized but that discounts moral lessons entirely. An example of motif is that of oneness illustrated through the occurrence of the phrase "only one." An example of rhetorical technique is indirect dialogue whereby the narrator reveals character's thoughts or conversations without directly quoting them. An example of literary devices would be minimal descriptive mode.

Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty, was not only a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly connected with it, as the elder brother of Isabella's husband. He lived about a mile from Highbury, was a frequent visitor, and always welcome, ... Knightley had a cheerful manner,

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