Conventional Correspondence

Epistolary Culture of the Dutch Elite, 1770-1850


Egodocuments are cherished because of the view they supposedly provide into the innermost feelings of individuals in past and present. Recent research, however, has shown the complexity of genres like autobiographies, diaries and letters. Building on critical and historical research into autobiographical writing, this book describes epistolary practices of the Dutch elite in the period 1770-1850. Analysing how cultural ideals of sincerity, individuality and naturalness influenced the style and contents of letters, the book also addresses the functions of letter writing in family life, like the formation of an adolescent identity and the relationship between parents and children. Correspondence was a vital means by which class and gender identities were performed and the appropriate emotions were shaped.
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Biographical Note

Willemijn Ruberg is Assistant Professor in Cultural History at Utrecht University. Her research and teaching interests include the history of autobiographical writing, gender, emotion, sexuality and the body in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Table of contents

List of Figures Introduction 1. Epistolary Theory Introduction Etiquette books and letter-writing manuals as a source Epistolary theory Epistolary theory in practice Famous letter-writers as a model Conclusion 2. Everyday correspondence Introduction Writing materials and a place to write Post Languages Salutation, signature and postscript ‘Le stile c’est l’homme’ – style Themes and taboos Receiving a letter Conclusion 3. Children’s letters Introduction Learning to write letters Confidentiality, naturalness and individuality Character building Conclusion 4. Adolescents’ letters Introduction From schoolboy to student Adolescents’ letters and gender Engagement Conclusion 5. Ceremonial correspondence Introduction Means of communication and customs The content of ceremonial letters The function of ceremonial correspondence Cult of sincerity Conclusion Conclusion Appendices Bibliography Index


All those interested in the history of autobiographical writing, family and gender history, the history of emotions and childhood.