Abstract and Keywords
This essay charts the fortunes of a specific genre, the epistolary novel, which delivers plot and character exclusively through letters whether from a single correspondent, a couple, or many. In the shadow of Richardson’s dominance, there are successive attempts to innovate and experiment both of personality (presenting new kinds of voice and main protagonist) and geography (sending letter-writers to parts of the globe ‘new’ to English readers). It opens with the healthy flourishing of letter fiction from 1769 to 1780 and the twin traditions of domestic (Elizabeth Griffith, Frances Burney) and picaresque (Tobias Smollett). The epistolary mode is next experimented with in the 1790s to describe and define both revolutionary turmoil and colonial experience by authors such as Charlotte Smith, Eliza Fenwick, Phoebe Gibbes, and Charlotte Lennox. The early decades of the eighteenth century see the troubled departure from and live burial of epistolary exchange in the novels of Edgeworth, Owenson, and Scott.
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