The Construction of Epistolary Identity in a Gentry’s Communication Network of the Seventeenth Century: The Case of Jane Lady Cornwallis Bacon
- Discursive Identity,
- Jane Cornwallis Bacon
There has recently been increasing scholarly interest in early modern correspondence and specifically also in women’s letter writing and reading. Starting from the late Middle Ages familiar responsibilities and domestic obligations led many women to write to their absent husbands or other relatives to exchange health news and inform them about family affairs. It is however in the early modern period that corresponding with relatives and friends became a widespread social practice ranging from official to familiar and personal correspondence; in this period female literacy increased thus allowing growing numbers of women to write and read their own letters. A growing number of female voices can thus be heard depicting early modern social life. The article focuses on a neglected aspect of women’s correspondence: it investigates not the sender’s epistolary identity, but that of the recipient through the analysis of the personal correspondence of Lady Cornwallis Bacon. The main theme of the article is to show how the epistolary identity of an early modern gentlewoman was constructed by her correspondents. It is assumed that modes of communicating information and achieving a specific goal through letters varied not only according to the relationship connecting the correspondents but also the purpose and content of letters.