Date of Degree

9-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Carrie Hintz

Committee Members

Rachel Brownstein

David Richter

Nancy Yousef

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles

Keywords

rhetoric, communication, form, publics, epistolarity, print culture

Abstract

This dissertation examines public letters in England during the period spanning the English Civil War to the French Revolution, showing how authors employed the printed epistolary form to imagine different relations with the “stranger readers” who constituted the nascent reading public. I employ a formalist approach to analyze the various rhetorics made possible through the public letter’s framed structure, focusing on the assemblages of the narrative positions of letter writer, addressee, and reader. Each chapter describes a mode of the public letter in socio-spatial terms: spectacle, network, community, and public. Building on studies in book history and print culture, this dissertation revises the concept of the public sphere by arguing that the letter, as a popular form of public discourse in the early stages of print culture, reveals communication models which diverge from the Habermasian ideal of critical-rational debate, and visions of community other than Benedict Anderson’s nation state.

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