1st Edition

Epistolary Spaces English Letter-writing from the Foundation of the Post Office to Richardson's "Clarissa"

By James How Copyright 2003

    This title was first published in 2003. The author explores and describes the nature of what he terms "epistolary spaces", phenomena that came into being as a result of the foundation during the 1650s of a Post Office available to the general public. He focuses on the history of letter-writing by English men and women, and in so doing he shows how the imaginations of letter writers were affected by the increasingly cheaper, faster and more efficient postal services that were developed throughout the time period covered. The book makes a detailed study of five "real" correspondences, reading the letters in terms of their social and political interest and addressing such concerns as class, gender, collections of model letters and the importance of London to English epistolary spaces.


    "James How’s Epistolary Spaces … [contains] a fascinating discussion of the ways the rise of the postal system created what he calls ‘epistolary spaces’ …"

    Temma Berg, The Lives and Letters of an Eighteenth-Century Circle of Acquaintance (2006)

    "James How’s Epistolary Spaces … reconstructs in meticulous detail the history of the national postal system and its effects on letter writing, from the Renaissance to the 18th century … How also highlights the role of the new postal system in connecting all the people of England to the capital city of London …"

    Sonia De Angelis, ‘Status Quaestionis (2011)

    "According to James How, the foundation of a Post Office in England in the 1650s … [ensured that] the way was open to experiment in all that a correspondence could achieve: it opened up new forms of petitioning the state and the aristocracy; novels like Richardson's Clarissa … suggested that a whole life could be lived in an epistolary space."

    Martyn Lyons, Culture and History Digital Journal (2012)

    "… a pioneering work of literary and cultural criticism, well-researched, which renews scholarly debates about epistolary communication in early modern England."Jay Caplan, Eighteenth Century Book Reviews Online

    "How writes vividly about the difference between the private carriage of a letter and the sending of a letter into impersonal common spaces, where it jostles up against other people’s letters … his account of these ‘eager and enthusiastic consumers of the new space of mind opened up by the Post office’, a space he compares to cyberspace, offers a provocative explanation for the appearance of the epistolary novel …"

    Jocelyn Harris, The Age of Johnson"How’s book is particularly valuable for [its] attention to the institutional history and the cultural contexts that informed and shaped letter-exchanges at this time."

    Elizabeth Heckendorn Cook, Prose Studies

    "Mr How offers us a useful new term in letter writing, ‘epistolary space’ … Readers will benefit from reading [his] analysis of the nature of epistolary spaces and the growth of the postal system that changed letter writing practice; they will also appreciate a fascinating group of late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century letter writers."

    Cynthia Lowenthal, The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats

    "… there is much to admire [here], not least the painstaking immersion in social, personal, political and historical context, particularly, but by no means exclusively, with regard to the foundation of the Post Office and its impact on a range of activities, including, obviously, letter-writing and, less obviously, interception and counter espionage.  The correspondents looked at are, moreover, not quite the usual suspects while still remaining in some measure either central to, or characteristic of, their times and stations."

    Allan Ingram, Modern Language Review

    Introduction,   1. Glimmerings of epistolary space in Dorothy Osborne’s Letters to Sir William Temple (1652-54),  2. ‘I have been so long absent from Court9: Sir George Etherege’s personal and business letters, a courtly enclave in epistolary space (1685-89),  3. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters and the ‘Whig schism’ under George I (1716-18),  4. An epistolary redoubt: the correspondence between the Countesses of Hertford and Pomfret (1738-41),   5. Petitions and memorials from the edge: the letters of the Rev. Dr Lucius Henry Hibbins to the Duke of Newcastle (1741-58),   6. Clarissa’s cyberspace: imaginations of epistolary space in Richardson’s Clarissa.


    James How