I’m very excited that my panel for the Samuel Richardson Society will be included at the 2015 ASECS Annual Meeting in LA! Proposal below.

“New Directions in Epistolary Studies” (Roundtable) (Samuel Richardson Society) Rachael Scarborough King, Dept. of English,
U. of California, Santa Barbara, Mail Code 3170, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3170; Tel: (646) 508-4162;

Recent work on eighteenth-century epistolarity has often taken a materialist bent, but interest in the epistolary novel—the focus of much post-structuralist and/or feminist criticism—also remains strong. This roundtable brings together these trends to look anew at Samuel Richardson’s use of the letter genre. Presentations could address, among other topics, mid-eighteenth century letter-writing practice; earlier and later epistolary fictions; other forms of epistolary print in circulation; British and global postal systems; neglected areas of Richardson’s oeuvre such as Letters Written to and for Particular Friends or his output as a printer; or the field of epistolary studies in relationship to (or against) Richardson. Overall, we will consider Richardson’s
outsized role in scholarly considerations of eighteenth-century letters and letter writing.

Letters vs. historians

The New York Times had an article today on the planned publication of Robert Frost’s letters, arguing that the forthcoming volumes “could soften a battered image” and re-humanize Frost. The article sets up a familiar dynamic, pitting the biographers offering “their” versions of Frost’s life against the letters, which, the article assumes, will show the “real” Frost. The collected correspondence, the author writes, will “offer the most rounded, complete portrait [of Frost] to date.”

It’s not an unusual stance to take, but I’m fascinated by the article’s unspoken implication that letters offer the unmediated truth of life—that they are facts, while scholarly works are mere interpretation. This seems particularly naive when dealing with writers, who spend their lives searching for the right words and crafting the measured response. This is as true of letters as of any other authorial work.

The one essential service


On the eve of World Post Day, it’s interesting to note that during this government shutdown debacle there has been no discussion about shutting down the U.S. Postal Service: it’s just assumed that it will continue to run as usual. This appears to be so taken for granted that there are very few news articles even answering the question about whether mail delivery will continue, despite the fact that this is the federal service with which people have most frequent contact. In part this is because USPS runs almost entirely on customer fees, so it can continue to operate for the foreseeable future; but it’s also because the post, despite our shift toward e-mail in recent years, is such a fundamental fact of life that we can barely imagine it shutting down. Maybe if mail delivery were in the same danger as the rest of the government, this whole mess would be resolved a lot sooner.