Redirecting the Letter: Counter-Revolutionary Tactics, 1800–1819

Nicola J. Watson

in Revolution and the Form of the British Novel, 1790-1825

Published in print February 1994 | ISBN: 9780198112976
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191670893 | DOI:
Redirecting the Letter: Counter-Revolutionary Tactics, 1800–1819

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This chapter examines the fate of the letter in those broadly conservative fictions of the 1790s and beyond, which conceived of themselves as ‘antidotes’ to the ‘poison’ of ‘sentimental books Collations sweet, by philosophic cooks’, and thus as contributing to the cause of social and moral regeneration. A series of fictions by Jane West, Elizabeth Hamilton, Maria Edgeworth and, most notably, Jane Austen are read, considering their manœuvres to contain the subversiveness of illicit correspondence and thus the heroine's related insurrection. Such strategies, visible in their most sophisticated and elaborate form in Emma (1816), discipline the errancy of the letter by intercepting, readdressing, and redelivering it to multiple and repeatable rereading. In particular, the chapter traces the ways in which the sentimental letter begins to vanish, metamorphosing into, and slowly being replaced by, problematic textual artefacts whose itineraries none the less duplicate those of the letter for which they substitute.

Keywords: conservative fiction; Emma; moral regenerations; problematic textual artefacts

Chapter.  17021 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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