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Every era is momentous in its own way, but some eras are more momentous than others. Between 1851 and 1877, the USA underwent a Civil War of epic proportions, resulting in more than 750,000 deaths, the destruction of slavery, and the formation of a multiracial democracy. Yet these events merely hint at the multitude of changes that rocked American society in this period, affecting everything from the definition of citizenship to literacy rates and mourning rituals.1
Chapter 3 analyzes how, within a newly expanded marketplace for print, a combination of manuscript and printed letters helped shape the ways in which the Company of Scotland’s Darien venture (1695–1700) and its subsequent failure came to be understood in cultural memory. Letters in both manuscript and printed form helped establish the company. Letters also served to connect the company directors with the colonists in Darien, and, when published in pamphlet form, they provided information and propaganda about the new colony to the nation back home. After the collapse of the Darien settlement, letters also became the evidence used to shape the cultural memory of the disaster. The chapter traces how, over the course of the eighteenth century, the cultural memory of Darien was erased by the bigger controversies surrounding the implications of the Acts of Union (1707) for the Scottish nation. Lastly, it considers how the rediscovery and publication of the Darien papers by John Hill Burton in 1849 brought them back into focus as a site of cultural memory.
Death is a shared experience across wars, but the cultures of mourning and conditions of burial that accompany it vary across conflicts. Combatants in the Crimea held to a Victorian ideal of death that imagined a peaceful passing and a proper burial. War at a distance made the good death impossible. Yet, priests and medical men, as well as soldiers and officers, ensured that their brethren passed away as comfortably as possible. Men of compassion and feeling, they expressed grief among themselves and with loved ones at home. They buried the war dead in scattershot graves and in organized cemeteries like Cathcart’s Hill. When the war was over, the graves remained a concern on the home front. The wars of the twentieth century and the Cold War, too, followed on the neglect of the nineteenth century. A twenty-first-century campaign to restore British graves in the Crimea reinvigorated Victorian sentimentality, yet ended abruptly with Russia’s 2014 invasion. Across decades and centuries, the poor upkeep of Crimean graves was an emotional flashpoint. It served as a referendum on the War itself and on the place of the mid-Victorian conflict in British history and consciousness.
Patriotic war culture has routinely touted the symbiosis between mail and morale. Disciplinarians of wartime feeling have issued reams of advice about how to “write right!” in order to sustain men’s esprit and keep love alive despite distance and danger. Above all, military and civilian opinion-leaders alike have strenuously and repeatedly warned women against dispatching Dear Johns to men serving overseas. These prompts have taken many forms: explicit guidance from newspaper and magazine columnists, marriage counselors, government bodies, and voluntary agencies (like the YMCA and Red Cross) as well as pointed cues about emotional etiquette supplied by popular music, radio and television shows, and Hollywood movies. This chapter probes the challenges of sustaining long-distance love at war – difficulties often minimized by wartime advice-givers, but unmistakable to men and women who have tried, and sometimes failed, to keep intimate relationships intact. It also considers how far prescriptions issued to “waiting women” have changed since the 1940s, proposing that there’s been considerable continuity, despite radical shifts in dating behavior and marital norms in US society.
Cicero’s epistolary corpus is still partly unexplored from a philosophical angle. Modern scholars have left aside discrete and fragmentary allusions to philosophy, though the letters are a laboratory in which the origins and the development of Cicero’s thought appear more clearly than in his later works. The study of Greek words loaded with philosophical connotations, especially when these words are not translated, is particularly enlightening from this point of view. In this chapter, I successively study three different uses of philosophical Greek in Cicero’s letters: (1) Greek language betraying the influence of a philosophical model on the letters (the influence of protreptic) long before the Hortensius was written in 45 bce; (2) Greek language coming from implicit quotes, whether they serve a purely philosophical purpose or interweave philosophy and literature; (3) Greek language revealing the progressive elaboration of a philosophical work, De finibus, and its analysis of the Stoic theory of οἰκείωσις in book 3.
Plato was for Cicero the prince among philosophers. Cicero himself identified with Plato in all his richness and abundance as a writer and thinker, but also as a model for the politically engaged intellectual. This chapter studies first Plato’s presence in Cicero’s letters in the period 54–49 bce, the tempestuous years before the Roman Republic was finally torn apart. Then it turns to consider the three major Platonic dialogues composed at that time: De oratore, De republica, De legibus, in which he articulates grand political and cultural ambitions for the orator and a vision of how a republican polity should and could be conceived and conducted. A brief final section looks at the theoretical writings on oratory and philosophy in 46–44, mostly composed during Caesar’s dictatorship, when Cicero’s voice in the public sphere was almost entirely silenced. His main literary efforts were devoted to the construction of a philosophical encyclopedia, in which the systems of the Hellenistic schools became the main focus. His veneration of Plato and his attraction to Platonic idealism in various aspects remain evident. But the intensity of his earlier engagement with Plato has become a thing of the past.
Ralph Ellison may well have been the last of the great letter-writers. Beginning in the early 1930s, with his first hand-written letters to his mother while he was at Tuskegee Institute, all the way until a few months before his death in 1994, Ellison maintained a voluminous correspondence with many of the most notable writers and intellectuals of the 20th century. Often his letters become small essays, where he works out some of his most subtle and far-reaching ideas about literature, politics, history, race, and his most cherished theme, the great promise and painful betrayals of America. In letters to Saul Bellow, Robert Penn Warren, Albert Murray, Stanley Hyman, Kenneth Burke, and Richard Wright, Ellison maps the terrain that he would explore in his luminous chapters, in Invisible Man, and especially in his unfinished epic of America, Three Days Before the Shooting . . .
This chapter examines how the peasants who were discontented with the state policies, taxes, monopolies, local exploitation and oppression expressed their criticism and made their voices heard through letters to the press, petitions to official authorities, placards, rumors and folk culture. It traces the peasants’ complaints about agricultural prices, agricultural loans, interest rates, landlessness, taxes, monopolies, enclosure of forests and grazing lands, bureaucratic malfeasance, exploitation and oppression by large landowners, village headmen and gendarmes. It also evaluates how popular demands and complaints influenced the state’s decision-making.
This chapter examines the working people’s critical opinions regarding social and economic matters ranging from poor wages, bad working conditions, bad treatment by employers, arbitrary firing, sexual harassment, work accidents and lack of social and job security due to the high cost of living. It shows how the working people in urban areas thought subjectively according to their interests rather than believing in the official propaganda, which depicted the Turkish nation as a “classless, harmonious, unified people.” It also surveys the ways the working people expressed their views and the discursive strategies they used to articulate and to legitimate their own complaints and demands.
The significance of viriditas (greenness) in Hildegard of Bingen’s writing is well known, but how original was her thinking, and how important was it to her concept of preaching? This chapter surveys Hildegard’s activity as a preacher before broadly probing the content of her writing for signs of her adaptation of patristic models. Comparing Hildegard’s use of viriditas to the works of Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory shows her following their inspiration, but she is seldom derivative. Rather, her exegesis and homiletics rely on a method akin to the intratextual hermeneutics on view in her Exposition of the Gospels. Like the church fathers, she uses her knowledge about natural science to convey a spiritual understanding of scripture, but her exegetic method is more dramatic and visionary as she explains the unifying forces of greenness. Borrowing salient concepts, words, and phrases from her models, she teaches her reader about the opposition of greenness and dryness as well as the relevance of internal and mental greenness to preaching and to prove that God’s greenness is manifest in her community of nuns.
This essay addresses developments in religious life writing in the Romantic period through examination of auto/biographies, journals, and letters in both print and manuscript. Particular interests include the genre of the spiritual conversion narrative, literary uses of confession and conversion, life writing and religious historiography, and women’s auto/biographical practices and place within this tradition.
In Chapter 12, we engage in the study of the unit of speech act by contrastively examining the ways in which historical letters are conventionally closed in three different linguacultures: Chinese, German and British English. The ‘cross-cultural’ aspect of pragmatics does not only involve the study of language use in geographically different cultures – we may as well go back in history and compare language use in various historical periods within a particular linguaculture. Furthermore, we may also combine research on spatially distant linguacultures with that of diachronically distant ones. In this chapter we do exactly this, by conducting a contrastive analysis of typologically ‘closer’ and typologically more ‘distant’ linguacultures. By focusing on historical data, we highlight the overlap between cross-cultural pragmatics and the field of historical pragmatics. The chapter shows how our speech act coding scheme outlined in Chapter 8 can be put into use in data analysis.
This chapter assesses the significance of a variety of genres of written and material sources for an understanding of political culture in Byzantium, including narratives and chronicles, encomia, orations, ceremonial handbooks and lists, monuments, silks, coins, archival documents, lead seals and letters. It distinguishes between narratives produced at the centre of Byzantine political life and those produced by outsiders: the former not simply windows into Byzantine political culture but integral elements of that culture, projecting the norms and expectations of the governing elite; the latter offering alternative perspectives, valuable for plugging chronological gaps but also as correctives to the propaganda that characterises so much Byzantine historiography. Few administrative records survive from Byzantium, especially compared to the Latin west, although legions of lead seals point to archives once far richer. Our surviving sources, particularly speeches, suggest that only in the later period were alternatives to the prevailing political order countenanced, and even then, despite a loss in territorial reach, the emperor’s court still formed the focal point of political life.
Bishop was a prolific letter-writer and a connoisseur of correspondence, who read deeply and widely in the form, and taught a course at Harvard on it. Being positioned between the artful and the everyday, the letter form helped her style herself as a writer with high aesthetic ambition but a distrust of any writing that positions itself as exceptional and apart from ordinary life. Her long correspondences with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell demonstrate her working out this position. The letter form provided a private space where ideas could be explored in an open-ended way, in the context of personal intimacies. Correspondence connected her to friends and family while she was traveling frequently and living for two decades in Brazil. It was an important stylistic resource for her poetry. Her letters have been crucial to Bishop’s posthumous reputation and evolving views of her life and work. Her correspondence with Louise Bradley reveals her discovery, in adolescence, of same-sex intimacy and poetic vocation. Her letters to her psychoanalyst Ruth Foster chronicle her sexual history, dream life, and the connections of both to her creativity.
Mailer wrote thousands of letters over the course of his lifetime. Indeed, many have commented on the generosity he displayed via his correspondence, taking time to personally respond to inquiries from aspiring writers and admirers. He wrote to family, to friends, to editors, to fellow authors, and to critics, sharing ideas, philosophies, anecdotes, and advice. The publication of Selected Letters of Norman Mailer in 2015 provides another view of Mailer’s engagement with the literary world and with American culture, and provides additional biographical context that enriches our understanding of his writing.
Frederick Douglass’s correspondence emerges in the wake of his self-emancipation and occupies a singular place in nineteenth-century American letters. It is a body of work unprecedented in its scope and its capacity to provide an anchor to the networks of activism in which Douglass wielded such influence. It marks a turn in African American letters in which the epistolary is repurposed as a tool of emancipation and of radical archival practice. His correspondence mobilizes the letter as an instrument of emancipation, able to establish political community and map cartographies of freedom that challenged the limitations placed by the United States on African American autonomy. At the same time, his letters provide a glimpse behind the scenes of a life lived to a great extent in the public eye, confirming the importance of family and home as concrete realities, and of domains of intimacy normally kept out of historical sight.
What happens when, with the knowledge and insights gained from queer studies and relevant biographical and historical scholarship, one tries to resituate Stevens not only within the aesthetic circles that may be drawn around his work but also and especially within the social circles in which he moved during his lifetime, and the poetic circles of those who have been attracted to his writings? To diversify the types of scholarship presented in The New Wallace Stevens Studies, Eeckhout’s chapter tilts more toward the biographical than other chapters do. From the new modernist studies, its investigation derives an interest in social networks at the expense of a narrow focus on self-reliant individuals; from queer studies, it borrows a fundamentally querying spirit about sexual identities and desires. Eeckhout offers a bird’s-eye survey of Stevens’s most significant queer precursors, contemporaries, and heirs, paying particular attention to the latter two groups. As case studies, he singles out Stevens’s friendships with George Santayana and José Rodríguez Feo, in which not-knowing played a central role, and the attractiveness of his licensing the fictive imagination to poets such as James Merrill and Richard Howard.
With the expansion of the postal system from the mid seventeenth century, there was a growing interest in epistolary writing. Like real letter writers, authors of early epistolary novels focus on the material conditions of communication by letter. The most common plot devices have to do with what can go wrong in the postal system. Letter novels typically present themselves as a collection of real letters, a packet that has been lost and found, or entrusted to a friend who arranged for their publication. Epistolary fiction appealed to readers newly fascinated with how intimate thoughts could be expressed in writing, and what pleasure, as well as utility, could be drawn from reading the private thoughts of others. The letter novel was also congenial to some of the core aspirations of Enlightenment thought: a commitment to dialogical thinking, an openness to cultural difference, the notion of a ‘Republic of letters’ formed by conversational exchange between educated people who were often geographically separated. While epistolary fiction declined in popularity in the nineteenth century, letter novels have continued to resurface as experiments in narrative form, well suited to exploring contrasting subjectivities and the endless opportunities for failed and interrupted communication in the modern world.
A key figure in the Arian dispute leading up to and following the Council of Nicaea, Eusebius of Caesarea (bishop c. 313-39) was not only implicated as a central player in the broader theological developments of the early fourth century but was also one of the most significant formulators of ancient literary representations of the council itself. His writings contain an eye-witness account of the council; a broader narrative of Constantine’s interactions with Christian bishops; letters of Constantine addressing issues of theological or practical debate; his own letters to his home congregation at Caesarea and to other bishops involved in the controversy; and his theological polemic against Marcellus of Ancyra, the promoter of a more radical anti-Arian position. These texts simultaneously assist and complicate modern attempts to construct the precise nature and dynamics of the controversy, the council, and its aftermath. They also provide a fascinating angle by which to discern important features of Eusebius’s fertile authorial work: he stands as a careful and creative formulator of a powerful historiographic, theological, and political vision that would make a signal impact upon later competing accounts of the Council of Nicaea.