Correspondence and american literature by Elizabeth Hewitt

By Elizabeth Hewitt

Elizabeth Hewitt argues that many canonical American authors, together with Jefferson, Emerson, Melville, Dickinson and Whitman, became to letter-writing as an idealized style during which to think about the demanding situations of yankee democracy earlier than the Civil battle. Hewitt keeps that, even supposing correspondence is mostly in basic terms conceived as a biographical archive, it needs to as a substitute be understood as an important style by which those early authors made experience of social and political family within the new state.

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In this way, he suggests that anxieties that seem to be attendant in the act of representing oneself to another in written form can be mitigated in letters, which approximate the presence of voice and person. He offers numerous instructions as to the ways in which 34 Correspondence and American Literature, 1770–1865 letter-writing must accomplish this (advice that follows the guidelines of most letter-writing manuals): “[W]riting letters is nothing more than talking on paper”(41); “a letter is only conversation put down in black and white” (44).

Although we are invited to assume that the letters in The Boarding School are intended as virtuous examples, it is not always entirely clear what distinguishes them from the letters according to which poor Celia was prosecuted. National letters 31 The crucial difference is that Foster’s “good” correspondent-citizens imagine a critic reading every word; and because this epistolary “freedom” is always monitored, the correspondence is necessarily also virtuous. One student’s letter, for example, is stylistically far different from the others in its passionate tone and language: “You have left – you have forsaken me, Caroline!

Jefferson anxiously revisits the subject in his next missive, in which he describes the personal relations between the two men as essentially paralleling the union in the nation. He bemoans the ways in which the two men who were once “together” in championing the “rights of our countrymen” were separated by the “bitter . . schism between the Feds and Antis” (336). Yet he also insists that neither man “personally” participated in these partisan feuds and that instead, they both “suffered . . to be the passive subjects of public discussion” (336).

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