By William Merrill Decker
Letters have lengthy been learn as fundamental assets for biography and background, yet their performative, fictive, and textual dimensions have just recently attracted severe discover. during this booklet, William Merrill Decker examines where of the non-public letter in American renowned and literary tradition from the colonial to the postmodern period.After delivering an outline of the style, Decker explores epistolary practices that coincide with American reports of house, payment, separation, and reunion. He discusses letters written by way of such recognized and well-educated people as John Winthrop, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abigail and John Adams, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Samuel Clemens, Henry James, and Alice James, but additionally letters by means of folks who, other than of their correspondence, weren't writers in any respect: indentured servants, New England manufacturing unit employees, slaves, squaddies, and Western pioneers. person chapters discover the letter writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and Henry Adams—three of America's so much bold, comprehensive, and theoretically astute letter writers. ultimately, Decker considers the continuing transformation of letter writing within the digital age.
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Additional resources for Epistolary Practices: Letter Writing in America before Telecommunications
But fictional letters and the stories they tell are created under circumstances that differ markedly from the reciprocal exchanges that produce authentic letters. The present of authentic letter writing is a condition missing from the composition of epistolary fiction, which requires a synchronic structure in which the open-ended process of ongoing correspondences is imaged but not engaged. A long-time correspondence may indeed generate its own synchronic structuresparadigmatic responses to recurrent situations, anticipations of how the corresponding partner will reply, or how a reply may resonate within the shared experience of epistolary composition.
What a publication like this compels is the examination of reading habits that have become receptive to writings that are unfinished by the standards normally applied to published texts. These writings are preserved in a state of irresolution by editors who not only refuse to smooth phrases and regularize spellings but who, by printing canceled lines and superscribed insertions, represent a literary artifact in a way that encourages readers to construct the narrative of how the text proceeded through its various, if (by virtue of such inclusions) undiscarded, stages of refinement.
Yet electronic publication will doubtless enhance our ability to recover the dialogicity of a letter's occasion, and transform our habits and experience of reading authentic epistolary works. Letters on CD-ROM will not change the fact that we come to these texts as nonreciprocating readers of other people's mail, and there will remain as always the question of whose aesthetic defines this genre: that of the letter writers, insofar as we can reconstruct it, or that of the nonreciprocating readeror, more truly, what combination of the two.