Belletristic criticism: a school of literary interpretation which concentrates on producing a fluent, charming essay based on informal observations about authors or works of literature with whom the critic and audience are presumed to be deeply, intimately familiar. The name is derived from the French genre, belles lettres or "beautiful writing." This form of criticism emerged in the nineteenth century, and in the first half of the twentieth century, it generated some famous, entirely respectable works, including E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (1927) and Virginia Woolf's "Common Reader" essays (1925 and 1932). However, taken as literary criticism, belletristic criticism usually must be used with extreme care because its authors so often don't bother to cite sources, rarely specify the evidence they presume their audience shares with them, and indulge in abrupt, unexplained prejudices that are taken to be the privilege of their highly developed artistic temperament.
The belletristic critic still survives today among the modern book reviewers for the popular press, but in academic scholarship, the form is viewed with deep suspicion except when practiced by one of the "celebrity theoreticians" like Roland Barthes. The celebrities often continue the practice of ignoring or treating carelessly the scholarship which has preceded their work, making scarce or grossly irregular reference to tangible evidence from the literary work under consideration, generalizing to create grand hypotheses which nobody could possibly prove with certainty, and leap-frogging from one questionable assumption to another until the conclusions they reach are founded upon so many guesses that one cannot tell what to do with them. Belletristic authors sometimes produce book-length studies that have little or no connection to the assumptions and reasoning that were essential to accepting the conclusions of their previous books. Irony and other forms of word-play, accompanied by a fashionable tone of weary self-satisfaction, often put readers off guard by suggesting the author is aware that certainty in our profession is hard to achieve, and therefore plausible consistency of method is not worth attempting. At least one famous celebrity theorist is commonly known as a scholar who built his career by publishing a series of influential books, each of which pointed out the impossibility of the conclusions of his previous book and disavowed them.