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Winter 2013, 43:1, pages 71-94

Prophets, Friends, Conversationalists:  Quaker Rhetorical Culture, Women's Commonplace Books, and the Art of Invention, 1775-1840

Abstract:  This essay examines the rhetorical significance of commonplace books kept by twenty-four Quaker women. Artifacts of remembrance, these books provide us with a detailed portrait of Quaker rhetorical culture during that era. The women who keep these books do more than just catalogue and copy rhetorically significant texts.  They participate in and help shape their rhetorical culture by reenacting invention practices central to the creation of powerful Quaker discourse.  More specifically, they reveal the potential of three practices—prophecy, friendship, and conversation—to function as sites of rhetorical invention.  As they weave into their books texts where prophecy, friendship, and conversation frequently give rise to powerful discourse, they affirm the value of these practices to their community, but they also provide insight into the particular purposes and processes at work when a creator engages in such practices.  In this essay I analyze these frequent occurrences of prophecy, friendship, and conversation, arguing that early Quakers, especially Quaker women, understood successful invention not as a private and autonomous endeavor, but as a social process.  Furthermore, their beliefs about invention have implications for later generations, influencing the rhetorical practices of women both within and outside the Quaker community.

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