Revising the Eighteenth-Century Epistolary Novel: Creating A More Inclusive Literary History
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) has remained the most central character in accounts of the English epistolary novel of the eighteenth century since the publication of Pamela (1740). His technique of ‘writing to the moment’ marks his work as a significant development in epistolary fiction; however, the burgeoning body of scholarship on epistolary writing calls for a re-visioning of the field of epistolary studies. Feminist literary scholars have recovered women writers whose innovations in epistolary technique should be examined alongside Richardson’s. This dissertation examines the epistolary writing of three such authors, Sarah Fielding (1710-1768), Frances Brooke (1724-1789), and Frances Burney (1752-1840), and the ways in which they used epistolary writing to enter social, cultural, and political conversations women were habitually excluded from during the eighteenth century. The detailed corrective provided by this dissertation, supported by a substantial body of evidence, into the ever shifting, evanescent, and often conflicting role that gender played in the development of the eighteenth-century epistolary novel contributes to the body of work needed to revise the literary history of epistolary fiction.