The perception that the epistolary form was rejected by novelists during the Romantic Era has largely been accepted by scholars. However, in looking at the period's two most prominent authors, Walter Scott and Jane Austen, we see that the epistolary form remained vibrant long after its supposed demise. Throughout their careers, both Austen and Scott employed embedded letters as a tool to create authenticity. Both Austen and Scott use what I call "literary letters" to create a sense of realism in their novels that contributed to the rise of the novel. Scholars often claim that Austen eschewed the epistolary form with Lady Susan and solidified her rejection by revising both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice from epistolary novels to third person narration. But a careful examination shows that Austen followed Richardson's tradition with Lady Susan, that Sense and Sensibility was not originally written in epistolary form, and that Austen retained sixteen critical letters in Pride and Prejudice. In fact, Darcy's five-page letter to Elizabeth signals Austen's continued reliance on the form as it completely changes the dynamics of the novel and transforms Elizabeth from a static protagonist to a dynamic heroine. Further indication that Austen found value in the form is seen in her later and often considered more mature novels, Emma and Persuasion, where she found innovate ways to turn the epistolary form into an embedded narratological device. The value of letters in Scott's novels is often overlooked. For instance in Heart of Midlothian, Jeanie Down's claim that letters cannot feel is often cited as an argument that oral testimony is more valuable than written, yet it is a letter that ultimately gets her an audience with the queen. In fact, in both Heart of Midlothian and Redgauntlet, Scott explains the legal implications of the written testimony, its preference over oral testimony, and its power in persuading both in and out of court. And in Guy Mannering, Scott relies on embedded letters to develop important plot points including the identity of the lost heir, create believable characters, and explore the conflict between Scottish traditions and law. And although Redgauntlet is often considered the moment Scott eschewed the epistolary form, the way he employs letters to create the illusion that his characters are authentic historical figures helps him explore notions of national identity.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Vincent, Tonja S., "From Epistolary Form to Embedded Narratological Device: Embedded Epistles in Austen and Scott" (2016). Theses and Dissertations. 6444.
Walter Scott, Jane Austen, epistolary, embedded letter, realism, Persuasion, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Redgauntlet, Guy Mannering, Heart of Midlothian