Subjects are at the center of epistolary novels in a fourfold sense: subjects as topics of the fictional correspondence, in a political sense subjects of an absolute ruler, subjects in the ... read more
Subjects are at the center of epistolary novels in a fourfold sense: subjects as topics of the fictional correspondence, in a political sense subjects of an absolute ruler, subjects in the philosophical sense of a conscious mind, and in a grammatical and epistemological sense as subjects of language. In 18th century epistolary novels, these meanings depend on and sharpen each other: How does one's own subjectivity relate to someone else's? Can and should a subject be subject to someone else? How is a subject positioned in language? In these novels, the subjects are, crucially, writing subjects. It is writing letters that affords the space for reflecting on and shaping the self, and it is the written letter that creates the corresponding characters as subjects for each other and for us as readers. The letter as a physical medium is foregrounded in these novels in various ways — ink blots on paper are mentioned while we read a printed text; letters are lost or hidden or misdirected — and this focus on mediality explores subjectivity and reflections of subjects as an effect of writing.
Reading 18th century epistolary novels in English, this course will focus on how these texts contribute to the ongoing discussion of subjectivity by stressing its mediality, by situating the subject in a political context and on the threshold of private and public communication.
Apart from reading epistolary novels, a good starting point in preparing for the seminar would be: Elizabeth Heckendorn Cook, "Epistolary Novel." Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. Ed. David Scott Kastan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. 284-288; Elizabeth Heckendorn Cook, Epistolary Bodies. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996; Thomas Beebee, Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850. Cambridge: Cambridge UP 1999; and Wilhelm Voßkamp, "Dialogische Vergegenwärtigung beim Schreiben und Lesen. Zur Poetik des Briefromans im 18. Jahrhundert." DVjs 45 (1971): 80-116.
All primary texts are available on the database Eighteenth Century Collection Online which is accessible from within the FU network.