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The Letter Form and the French Enlightenment

The Epistolary Paradox


John W. Howland

One of the most striking developments of the eighteenth century in France is the emergence of the epistolary form as a dominant vehicle for cultural and literary expression. Almost any kind of narrative can be found in letter form during the Enlightenment; by the century's second half, the letter has become an all-purpose literary omnibus and serves, moreover, as the basic structural component of many of the period's most widely-read novels. This work explores the implications of the letter's popularity in terms of the eighteenth century's intellectual climate, and concludes that the epistolary form is particularly well-suited to an expression of the Enlightenment's ideological concerns.
Contents: Eighteenth-Century French Literature - Prose Narrative - Novel - Epistolary Form.