The Pen and the People: English Letter Writers, 1660-1800

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9780199532445: The Pen and the People: English Letter Writers, 1660-1800
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Susan Whyman draws on a hidden world of previously unknown letter writers to explore bold new ideas about the history of writing, reading and the novel. Capturing actual dialogues of people discussing subjects as diverse as marriage, poverty, poetry, and the emotional lives of servants, The Pen and the People will be enjoyed by everyone interested in history, literature, and the intimate experiences of ordinary people.

Based on over thirty-five previously unknown letter collections, it tells the stories of workers and the middling sort -- a Yorkshire bridle maker, a female domestic servant, a Derbyshire wheelwright, an untrained woman writing poetry and short stories, as well as merchants and their families. Their ordinary backgrounds and extraordinary writings challenge accepted views that popular literacy was rare in England before 1800.

This democratization of letter writing could never have occurred without the development of the Royal Mail. Drawing on new information gleaned from personal letters, Whyman reveals how the Post Office had altered the rhythms of daily life long before the nineteenth century. As the pen, the post, and the people became increasingly connected, so too were eighteenth-century society and culture slowly and subtly transformed.

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About the Author:


Susan E. Whyman returned to the academic world after a career that encompassed the publishing, editing, and library professions. Her academic degrees include a BA in History from Mt. Holyoke College, magna cum laude and a Masters Degree in Library and Information Science from Rutgers, the State University. She received both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in British History from Princeton University. At Princeton, she taught and did her graduate work with Professor Lawrence Stone. She has been a visiting scholar at Wadham College, Oxford and received a Huntington Library fellowship in San Marino, California. Whyman has been an annual visitor to England since the early 1970s. Presently, she spends time in Princeton and Oxford, England as an independent historian.

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"Important is its recovery of unknown or marginal figures that participate in the burgeoning culture of letters and the networks of sociability that it documents...The book's achievement is to make tangible the ghosts of thousands of ordinary writers...and their many letters, still tucked away in archives awaiting new readers."--The Wordsworth Circle


"Everyone with an interest in eighteenth-century cultural history should read this book...[It] makes a major contribution to eighteenth-century studies."--Eighteenth-Century Fiction


"[An] impressive new book...breaks significant new ground [by] arguing for the 18th century as the period that witnessed the emergence of a popular culture of letter-writing. [It] will undoubtedly have considerable impact on the field while the fascinating case studies will appeal to the more general reader."--History Today


"This is a fascinating book. The study is probing and provocative: the result is a book that stimulates and reminds us that, when all is said and done, history should be about people and seeking to describe, understand, and explain their thought processes and behavior. It also demonstrates how very readable history can and should be. Susan Whyman is to
be applauded."--Journal of British Studies


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9780199602186: The Pen and the People: English Letter Writers, 1660-1800

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Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2011
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