Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 August 2020
Chapter 6 deals with the visiting card as a new form of social media that anticipates the text messaging of today, exploring how its novelty caught the attention of Horace Walpole and Samuel Johnson. As a genre that was particularly invested in the representation of social life, the novel is one of the most important sources for understanding the complexities of visiting in eighteenth-century social life and textual media that facilitated and recorded it. With reference to the novels of Jane Austen and, in particular, Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee (1812), I discuss how prose fiction adapted the capacity of visiting card and other kinds of ephemeral texts in order to realise the affective power of the intimate social encounter entailed in handing over one’s card. I argue that The Absentee is exceptional as a fiction that not only utilises the visiting card but also emulates ephemerology as the Enlightenment’s other science.