Abstract

Abstract:

This essay revisits the apparent decline of the epistolary novel in the late eighteenth century in order to argue that the change in popularity of the epistolary genre was not political but media-historical. Focusing on Frances Burney’s Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796) and Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801)—the three novels that Jane Austen highlights in the “defence of the novel” section of Northanger Abbey (1817)—I argue that Burney and Edgeworth transitioned away from epistolary narration and towards an authoritative third-person voice in order to distinguish their works from the other entertainment media with which the novel competed in the 1780s and 1790s. Seeing the epistolary genre as a fading trend, they used their works to comment on similarly ephemeral fads such as masquerades, Italian opera, and the pleasure garden. By separating the novel from the world of London media, these authors built a bridge from the anarchic scene of eighteenth-century entertainment to the hierarchical dominance of the Victorian novel.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 67-89
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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