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Grammars of Approach

Landscape, Narrative, and the Linguistic Picturesque

In Grammars of Approach, Cynthia Wall offers a close look at changes in perspective in spatial design, language, and narrative across the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that involve, literally and psychologically, the concept of “approach.” In architecture, the term “approach” changed in that period from a verb to a noun, coming to denote the drive from the lodge at the entrance of an estate “through the most interesting part of the grounds,” as landscape designer Humphrey Repton put it. The shift from the long straight avenue to the winding approach, Wall shows, swung the perceptual balance away from the great house onto the personal experience of the visitor. At the same time, the grammatical and typographical landscape was shifting in tandem, away from objects and Things (and capitalized common Nouns) to the spaces in between, like punctuation and the “lesser parts of speech”. The implications for narrative included new patterns of syntactical architecture and the phenomenon of free indirect discourse. Wall examines the work of landscape theorists such as Repton, John Claudius Loudon, and Thomas Whately alongside travel narratives, topographical views, printers’ manuals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, grammars, and the novels of Defoe, Richardson, Burney, Radcliffe, and Austen to reveal a new landscaping across disciplines—new grammars of approach in ways of perceiving and representing the world in both word and image.

Author Information

Cynthia Wall is professor of English at the University of Virginia. She is an editor of works by Bunyan, Defoe, and Pope, and the author of The Literary and Cultural Spaces of Restoration London and The Prose of Things: Transformations of Description in the Eighteenth Century, the latter also published by the University of Chicago Press.


Grammars of Approach is the best kind of literary history. Wall combines capacious knowledge of the eighteenth century with an entirely original understanding of the ways in which thinkers in the period described a redistributed perceptual field—one in which landscape gardening, accounts of grammar and composition, architecture, and narrative all began to perceive and describe a newly important middle distance. Wall’s generous conception of the notion of the approach illuminates the novel’s role in dispatching abstract personification and replacing it with an expansive sense of physical space that can be occupied by multiple perspectives.”
— Frances Ferguson, University of Chicago

“This is a stunningly original book. It’s a stroke of genius to link together these three modes of reading—reading a landscape, reading language, and reading the physical appearance of a page. All obey (or break) rules of grammar through their use of space and punctuation; scale and focus; the direct, the meandering, the oblique, the carefully signaled emphasis. In Grammars of Approach, Cynthia Wall significantly expands how we think about form and visuality.”
— Kate Flint, University of Southern California

“Cynthia Wall provides a wealth of new evidence for the notion that writing and architecture have comparable and interrelated ways of producing meaning. This elegantly written work will serve as a reference for all those interested in the interdisciplinarity of eighteenth-century cultural forms.”
— David Spurr, author of Architecture and Modern Literature

Audience: Professional and scholarly;