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At the start of the Victorian period, the General Post Office began to reinvent itself: from a revenue-raising state department to a public service, an institution vital to the nation’s material, intellectual, and moral development. This chapter argues that the 1830s campaign for postal reform, and the changes to the postal service it prompted in the following decades, ought to be understood in reciprocal relation to the operations and ideologies of other literary institutions – and to the institution of literature more broadly conceived.
The essay pursues two lines of enquiry: first, it seeks to demonstrate how changing Post Office regulations and policies – especially the reduction of postage in 1840 and introduction of the book post in 1858 – shaped literary production, consumption, and circulation, contributing to an apparent democratisation of the literary public sphere. Second, it examines the significance of literary idea(l)s to the Post Office’s institutional culture. Drawing on a range of materials, including postal reform propaganda, Post Office records, and (largely non-canonical) poetry about the penny post, the chapter argues that early Victorian writers worked to create the impression that the Post Office, by facilitating affective, economic, and cultural connection, performed a cultural work analogous to that of literature.
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