My first book, Writing to the World: Letters and the Origins of Modern Print Genres, is now forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press (Spring 2018). Writing to the World examines the shift from manuscript to print media culture in the long eighteenth century. I introduce the concept of the “bridge genre,” which enables such change by transferring existing textual conventions to emerging modes of composition and circulation. I draw on this concept to reveal how four crucial genres that emerged during this time—the newspaper, the periodical, the novel, and the biography—were united by their reliance on letters to accustom readers to these new forms of print media.
As newspapers, scientific journals, book reviews, and other new genres began to circulate widely, much of their form and content was borrowed from letters, allowing for easier access to these unfamiliar modes of printing and reading texts. Arguing that bridge genres encouraged people to see themselves as connected by networks of communication—as members of what they called “the world” of writing—I combine techniques of genre theory with archival research and literary interpretation, analyzing canonical works such as Addison and Steele’s Spectator, Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey alongside anonymous periodicals and the letters of middle-class housewives. The multiple “rises” that scholars have documented in this period—of print, the public sphere, the novel, and the newspaper—converged on a pervasive, but overlooked, strategy: the use of the letter to collect, present, and distribute information.