From Epistolary to Narrative Novels: Truth and Self-Perception in Victorian Literature
Arts and Sciences
When the novel rose to prominence in the eighteenth century, it often employed the epistolary form, telling its story through letters and other written documents. As it developed throughout the next two centuries, the narrative style changed, but the role of the letter still maintained an important role, albeit in different ways. This essay explores the relationship between letters and identity in Victorian literature, by analyzing novels from both before and after one of the greatest instances of postal reform: the Uniform Penny Post (1840). In this essay, the author explores how the role of letters changed in British society from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries; as the post expands its reach to all of England, and eventually the world, the factors affecting British identity change, as new world-views and ways of experience are introduced into the British psyche. This creates a parallel shift in the literature: before the expansion of the post, the novel deals with individual characters, their interior selves, and the truth of individual experience. As the post grows to allow communication across the country, the novel begins dealing with characters' relationships to the nation and new themes and ways of knowing and experiencing. And when the post reaches more parts of the world, the novel's scope expands to deal with new factors influencing, and undermining, identity. In each case, primary emphasis is placed on the form and content of the letter and its role in analyzing the British understanding of the self in Victorian literature.
Atassi, Nadia, "From Epistolary to Narrative Novels: Truth and Self-Perception in Victorian Literature" (2015). Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE). 420.