Recommend to your Librarian

The Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing

Edited by Celeste-Marie Bernier, Judie Newman, Matthew Pethers

eBook (ePub) i
eBook (PDF) i

Provides a wide-ranging entry point and intervention into scholarship on nineteenth-century American letter-writing

This comprehensive study by leading scholars in an important new field—the history of letters and letter writing—is essential reading for anyone interested in nineteenth-century American politics, history or literature. Because of its mass literacy, population mobility, and extensive postal system, nineteenth-century America is a crucial site for the exploration of letters and their meanings, whether they be written by presidents and statesmen, scientists and philosophers, novelists and poets, feminists and reformers, immigrants, Native Americans, or African Americans. This book breaks new ground by mapping the voluminous correspondence of these figures and other important American writers and thinkers. Rather than treating the letter as a spontaneous private document, the contributors understand it as a self-conscious artefact, circulating between friends and strangers and across multiple genres in ways that both make and break social ties.

Show more


Preface: The Networks of Nineteenth-Century Letter Writing, Elizabeth Hewitt
Introduction: Epistolary Studies and Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing, Celeste-Marie Bernier, Judie Newman, and Matthew Pethers
Part I: Material, Social, and Institutional Contexts: 1. From Mind to Hand: Paper, Pens, and the Materiality of Letter Writing, Graham Thompson
2. The Business of Letter Writing, Michael Zakim
3. Name and Address: Letters and Mass Mailing in Nineteenth Century America, David Henkin
4. Paper Evidence: Handwriting, Print, Letters, and the Law, Christopher A. Hunter
5. Nineteenth-Century American Science and the Decline of Letters, Robin Vandome
6. The Means and the End: Letters and the Work of History, Alea Henle
7. Letters, Telegrams, News, Richard R. John
8. Dead Letters and the Secret Life of the State in Nineteenth Century America, Matthew Pethers
9. The Spider and the Dumpling: Threatening Letters in Nineteenth Century America, Leon Jackson
Part II: Travel, Migration, and Dislocation
10. Longing in Long-Distance Letters: The Nineteenth Century and Now, William Merrill Decker
11. Working Away, Writing Home, David M. Stewart
12. Letters from America: Themes and Methods in the Study of Irish Emigrant Correspondence, Emma Moreton
13. The Usual Problems: Sickness, Distance, and the Failure to Acculturate in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Emigrant Letters, Janet Floyd
14. Indigenous Epistolarity in the Nineteenth Century, Phillip H. Round
15. Duelling Epistles: Enslaved Letter Writers and the Discourse of (Dis)Honour, Ben Schiller
16. Home and Belonging in the Letters of Sarah Hicks Williams, Rebecca J. Fraser
17. ‘An oblique place’: Letters in the Civil War, Rebecca Weir
18. Social Action in Cross-Regional Letter Writing: Ednah Cheney’s Correspondence with Postbellum Teachers in the U.S. South, Sarah R. Robbins
Part III: Politics, Reform, and Intellectual Life
19. Founding Friendship: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the American Experiment in Republican Government, 1812-1826, Peter S. Onuf
20. Corresponding Natures: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Letters, David Greenham
21. ‘This Epistolary Medium’: Friendship and Civil Society in Margaret Fuller’s Private Letters, Magdalena Nerio
22. ‘Will you live?’: Thoreau’s Philosophical Letters, Michael Jonik
23. ‘Frederick Douglass, the freeman’ and ‘Frederick Bailey, the slave’: Private versus Public Acts and Arts of Letter Writing in Frederick Douglass’ Pre-Civil War Correspondence, Celeste-Marie Bernier
24. Old Master Letters and Letters from the Old World: Julia Griffiths and the Uses of Correspondence in Frederick Douglass’ Newspapers, Sarah Meer
25. Letters from ‘Linda Brent’: Harriet Jacobs and the Work of Emancipation, Fionnghuala Sweeney
26. Abraham Lincoln: The Man Through his Letters, Robert Bray
27. Between Science and Aesthetics: The Letters of William James, Martin Halliwell
28. ‘My Dear Dr.’: American Women and Nineteenth-Century Scientific Correspondence, Tina Gianquitto
29. ‘A Chain of Correspondence’: Social Activism and Civic Values in the Letters of Lydia Sigourney, Elizabeth A. Petrino
30. A Fighting Platform: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Epistles, Judith A. Allen
‘The Stamp of Truth’: Historiographical Dissent and Its Limits in the Letters of Jared Sparks, Eileen Ka-May Cheng
32. Defences and Masks and Poses in Henry Adams’ Letters, John C. Orr
Part IV: Literary Culture
33. The Letters of Charles Brockden Brown: Epistolary Performance and New Paths for Scholarship, Philip Barnard
34. Publishing and Public Affairs in the Correspondence of James Fenimore Cooper, Lance Schachterle
35. The Transatlantic Village: The Rise and Fall of the Epistolary Friendship of Catharine Maria Sedgwick and Mary Russell Mitford, Melissa J. Homestead
36. The Literary Professional and the Country Gentleman: The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe and Philip Pendleton Cooke, Kevin J. Hayes
37. Melville’s Flummery, Wyn Kelley
38. The Epistolary Romance and Rivalry of Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Patricia Dunlavy Valenti
39. Co-Responding with Walt Whitman, Ed Folsom
40. ‘Rare sparkles of light’: Intimacy and Distance in Emily Dickinson’s Letters to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Linda Freedman
41. ‘Soul Friends’: Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lady Byron in Correspondence, Beth L. Lueck
42. Louisa May Alcott’s Family Postbox, Judie Newman
43. Profanities, Indecencies, and Theologies: Mark Twain’s Letters to Joseph Twichell, William Dean Howells and Henry Rogers, Peter Messent
44. Charles W. Chesnutt’s Letters: ‘the Vaguely Defined Line Where Races Meet’, Maria Orban
45. Sarah Orne Jewett’s Foreign Correspondence, Mark Storey
46. Too Intimate to Publish, Too Rare to Suppress: Henry James in His Letters, Michael Anesko
47. ‘Ill Correspondent’: Stephen Crane’s Trouble with Letters, John Fagg
Notes on Contributors.

About the Author

Celeste-Marie Bernier is Professor of Black Studies and Personal Chair in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. She is the author of African American Visual Arts; Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination; Suffering and Sunset; World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin; Stick to the Skin: African American and Black British Art (1965-2015).

Judie Newman, OBE , is a former Chair of the British Association for American Studies, a Founding Fellow of the English Association, the recipient of the Arthur Miller Prize in American Studies, and Professor of American Studies, University of Nottingham.

Matthew Pethers is an Associate Professor in American Intellectual and Cultural History at the University of Nottingham. He has published widely on the literary history, print culture, performative arts and scientific thought of eighteenth and nineteenth-century America.


An extraordinarily rich, comprehensive, and insightful treatment of the literary and cultural work of letters in nineteenth-century America. The exciting and often truly seminal essays on epistolarity in this volume fill a gap in the scholarship and should quickly generate fresh interest in the medium of communication and expression that was often so central to nineteenth-century writers. This is a major contribution to American and transatlantic literary studies.

- Distinguished University Professor of English, University of Maryland, Robert S. Levine

The letters contained in this volume offer an abundance of fascinating insights into the lives of Americans in the nineteenth century, and into the ways in which information circulated and was transmitted across America in this period. This is an intelligently organized and painstakingly annotated volume which will be highly useful to scholars in the areas of nineteenth-century United States literature, history, and culture.

- King's College London, Susan Castillo Street

There really is something for everyone in this hugely impressive collection of essays: discussions of the importance of letters to US migrant histories; materialist histories of postal systems and direct mail marketing (of ideas, as well as of goods); and the significance of letters to literary culture. From treatments of the (relatively) arcane to canonical texts, the range is simply staggering.

- Sinéad Moynihan, THES

Also in this series

You might also like ...