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Authenticity, privacy, gossip and voyeurism are the conventions on which the epistolary novel rests.
Related: fiction - literary technique - modern novel
Titles: Les Liaisons Dangereuses - Pamela (1740) - Love Letters of a Portuguese nun (1669)
Title page from Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) - Samuel Richardson
An epistolary novel is a book written using a literary technique in which a novel is composed as a series of letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. The word "epistolary" comes from the word "epistles", meaning letters, although it has nothing to do with epistemology. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistolary_novel [Sept 2005]
VoyeurismCook argues further that in the eighteenth century, the developing print culture, the burgeoning publishing industry, and the demands of a rapidly expanding literate public all contributed to a hunger for any literature that explored the boundaries between the public and private (12). The public's intense curiosity about the private habits of others encouraged a kind of cultural voyeurism which was exploited by the publication of personal letters, whether they were discovered by chance, stolen from private homes, or deliberately written and misrepresented as "real" letters. At that time the very form attested to their legitimacy. --http://www.whitehern.ca/result.php?doc_id=E1-3 [Oct 2005]
The Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1669) - Vicomte De Guilleragues, Gabriel De Lavergne
The Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1669) - Vicomte De Guilleragues, Gabriel De Lavergne [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
The "Portuguese Letters" were published anonymously in 1669, alleged translations into French of letters written by a Portuguese nun to a French officer who had loved and left her. Recent scholarship suggests Guilleragues was their author. Reminiscent of the exchanges between Heloise and Abelard of an earlier time, the letters display a remarkable acuity of psychological insight into the mind of a woman in love and on the edge of hysteria. --via Amazon.com
The Letters of a Portuguese Nun were written by the 17th century Franciscan nun, Marianna Alcoforado, to Noel Bouton, later Marquis de Chamilly. The letters to her lover which have earned her renown in literature were written between December 1667 and June 1668, and they described the successive stages of faith, doubt and despair through which she passed. The letters could also be considered pieces of unconscious psychological self-analysis. The five short letters written by Marianna to "expostulate her desertion" form one of the few documents of extreme human experience, and reveal a passion which in the course of two centuries has lost nothing of its heat. Perhaps their dominant note is reality, and, sad reading as they are from the moral standpoint, their absolute candour, exquisite tenderness and entire self-abandonment have excited the wonder and admiration of great men and women in every age, from Madame de Sévigné to Gladstone. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letters_of_a_Portuguese_Nun [Sept 2005]
See also: epistolary novel - love - nun - 1600s - novel
Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) - Samuel Richardson
Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is a novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. The name, "Pamela", now a popular forename in English-speaking countries, was invented by Richardson. The novel is in epistolary form, consisting of letters and a diary.
The heroine, Pamela Andrews, is a maid, whose master makes unwanted advances towards her. She rejects him until he shows his sincerity by proposing to her. The remainder of the book is concerned with her efforts to become accepted in upper-class society and builds a successful relationship with her husband.
The story was widely mocked at the time for its perceived sexual hypocrisy, and it inspired Henry Fielding to write two parodies, Shamela (about Pamela's less virtuous sister) and Joseph Andrews (which exposes the hypocrisy by keeping the plot but switching the sexes of the protagonists). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamela [Dec 2004]
From the title page:
Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded. In a Series of Familiar Letters from a Beautiful Young Damsel, to her Parents: Now first Published In order to cultivate the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of Both Sexes. A Narrative which has its Foundation in Truth and Nature: and at the same time that it agreeably entertains, by a Variety of curious and affecting Incidents, is intirely divested of all those Images, which, in too many Pieces calculated for Amusement only, tend to inflame the Minds they should instruct. In Two Volumes
The old design of title pages changed: New novels no longer pretended to sell fictions whilst threatening to betray real secrets. Nor did they appear as false "true histories". The new title pages pronounced their works to be fictions, and indicated how the public might discuss them. Samuel Richardson’s Pamela or Virtue Rewarded (1740) was one of the titles which brought the old novel-title with its "[...] or [...]" formula offering an example into the new format. The title page made it clear that the work was crafted by an artist aiming at a certain effect—yet to be discussed by the critical audience. A decade later novels, needed no other status than that of being novels, fiction. Present-day editions of novels simply state "Fiction" on the cover. It had become prestigious to be sold under the label, asking for discussion and thought. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novel [Sept 2005]
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) - Choderlos De Laclos
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) - Choderlos De Laclos [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Its prime movers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil--gifted, wealth, and bored--form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game. And they play this game with such wit and style that it is impossible not to admire them, until they discover mysterious rules that they cannot understand. In the ensuing battle there can be no winners, and the innocent suffer with the guilty.
This new translation gives Laclos a modern voice, and readers will be able to judge whether the novel is as "diabolical" and "infamous" as its critics have claimed, or whether it has much to tell us about a world we still inhabit.--Book Description
Revenge is a dish best served cold. - pointing to the ellaborated planning of some revenges. The earliest well-known example of this proverb in print is "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid" from the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) by Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderios de LaClos. The saying exists in many cultures, including Sicilian, Spanish and Pashtun, making its ultimate origin difficult to determine. The modern English wording is attributed to Dorothy Parker. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revenge [Aug 2004]
Epistolary Bodies: Gender and Genre in the Eighteenth-Century Republic of Letters (1996) - Elizabeth Heckendorn Cook
Epistolary Bodies: Gender and Genre in the Eighteenth-Century Republic of Letters (1996) - Elizabeth Heckendorn Cook [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Informed by Jurgen Habermas's public sphere theory, this book studies the popular eighteenth-century genre of the epistolary narrative through readings of four works: Montesquieu's Lettres persanes (1721), Richardson's Clarissa (1749-50), Riccoboni's Lettres de Mistriss Fanni Butlerd (1757), and Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer (1782).The author situates epistolary narratives in the contexts of eighteenth-century print culture: the rise of new models of readership and the newly influential role of the author; the model of contract derived from liberal political theory; and the techniques and aesthetics of mechanical reproduction. Epistolary authors used the genre to formulate a range of responses to a cultural anxiety about private energies and appetites, particularly those of women, as well as to legitimate their own authorial practices. Just as the social contract increasingly came to be seen as the organising instrument of public, civic relations in this period, the author argues that the epistolary novel serves to socialise and regulate the private subject as a citizen of the Republic of Letters. --via Amazon.co.uk
Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850 (1999) - Thomas O. Beebee
Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850 (1999) - Thomas O. Beebee [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
"Thomas O. Beebee's Epistolary Fiction in Europe 1500-1850 is a vital contribution to literary history and to studies of genre and narrative...Epistolary Fiction in Europe is an impressive achievement...I especially admired his ability to synthesize and contextualize literary history, feminist theory, and critical theory in a compelling, erudite, and indispensible study." Comparative Literature
Thomas O. Beebee offers a history of epistolary fiction as a major phenomenon practiced across Europe from the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century. He shows how epistolary fiction appropriated the status and power the letter had already acquired, and goes on to explore a number of related discourses and themes, including the letter writing manual, self-referential aspects of the letter, news and travel reporting, the relationship between letters and gender, and historically-specific letter writing by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century authors including Austen, Balzac, and Dostoevsky. There is a bibliography of major European epistolary fiction to 1850. --via Amazon.com
Thomas O. Beebee examines epistolary fiction as a major phenomenon in Europe from the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century. His study is the first to consider epistolary fiction as a pan-European form of importance to all major European languages. It demonstrates that such fiction can be found everywhere, not just in texts aimed specifically at aesthetic consumption. Beebee begins with the premise that the letter was a Protean form which crystallized social relationships in a variety of ways, and that fictional uses of the letter appropriated the status and power the letter had already acquired from its established functions within other discursive practices. He discusses the letter-writing manual, self-referential aspects of the letter, news and travel reporting, the relationship between letters and gender, and historically specific use of epistolarity by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century authors including Austen, Balzac, and Dostoevsky. The book also offers a bibliography of major European epistolary fiction to 1850. --via Amazon.co.uk
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