1st Edition

Letters and the Body, 1700–1830 Writing and Embodiment

    286 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This collection explores the multifaceted relationship between letters and bodies in the long eighteenth century, featuring a broad selection of women's and men’s letters written from and to Britain, North America, Europe, India and the Caribbean, from the labouring poor to the landed elite.

    In eleven chapters, scholars from various disciplines draw on different methodological approaches that include close readings of single letters, social historical analyses of large corpora and a material culture approach to the object of the letter. This research includes personal letters exchanged among family and friends, formal correspondence and letters that were incorporated into published forewords and appendices, journals and memoirs. Part I explores the letter as a substitute for the absent body, the imagined physical encounters and performances envisaged by letter writers and the means through which these imagined sensations were conveyed. Part II examines the letter as a material object that served as a conduit for descriptions of the material body and as an instrument for embodied encounters. Part III focuses on how correspondents purposefully used their bodies in letters as a means to create intimacy, to generate social networks and build a ‘body politic’.

    This interdisciplinary volume centred around letters will be of interest to scholars and students in a variety of fields including eighteenth-century studies, cultural history and literature.


    Sarah Goldsmith, Sheryllynne Haggerty and Karen Harvey

    Part 1: Imagined bodies and imagining touch

    1. Absent Bodies? Gouty brethren and sensitive hearts in William Constable’s letters from the Grand Tour 1769–1771

    Rachel Feldberg

    2. Imagining youth: Epistolary representations of the eighteenth-century adolescent and youthful body

    Sarah Goldsmith

    3. Touch me if you can: Paper bodies in letters to and from the eighteenth-century French Caribbean

    Annika Raapke

    Part 2: Material bodies/material letters

    4. Sympathy in practice: Eighteenth-century letters and the material body

    Karen Harvey

    5. 'Urge, urge, urge, dogs gnawing': Pain, play and the material text in Jonathan Swift’s Journal to Stella

    Abigail Williams

    6. Blackness, whiteness and bodily degeneration in British women’s letters from India

    Onni Gust

    7. 'A thousand kisses': Postscript, appendices and desire in The Memoirs of Mrs. Sophia Baddeley, Late of Drury Lane Theatre (1787) 

    Frith Taylor 

    Part 3: Bodies deployed

    8. I "never had the happeness of Receivin one Letter from You": Unlettered letters from Jamaica, 1756

    Sheryllynne Haggerty  

    9. Constructing the body in English pauper letters, 1780–1834

    Steven King

    10. Labouring bodies: Work animals and hack writers in Oliver Goldsmith’s letters

    Taylin Nelson

    11. Sons of liberty: Epistolary bodies and the early American Revolution

    Nathan Perl-Rosenthal


    Sarah Goldsmith is a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She researches the histories of masculinity, bodies and travel. Her first monograph was Masculinity and Danger on the Eighteenth-Century Grand Tour (2020). She is an AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker and consulted on the V&A’s 2022 Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear exhibition.

    Sheryllynne Haggerty is Honorary Research Fellow at WISE, University of Hull. She has published extensively on the economy and networks of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic, including ‘Merely for Money’? Business Culture in the British Atlantic 1750–1815 (2012) and Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times: Living the British Empire in Jamaica, 1756 (2023).

    Karen Harvey is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Birmingham. She has published extensively on the history of gender, masculinity, sexuality, the home and material culture, including The Little Republic: Masculinity and Domestic Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2012) and The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder: Mary Toft and Eighteenth-Century England (2020).