Dear Professor Lisa Kaborycha,
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your essay about female letter writers that was distributed by the Oxford University Press through its OUPblog emails. And the resources on your website are absolutely fascinating. Thank you! I look forward to reading your books!
As I read your article, I wondered about the literary influence of these letters on such poets as Alexander Pope and John Milton – assuming access could be demonstrated.
The ephemeral quality of contemporary emails, and their ubiquitousness, makes me wonder, too, about what has become of letter writing. Oscar Wilde testified in court that he “only writes for publication,” and there is a great sense in pre-Internet letters (for example, those of Henry James) that a posterity is being addressed as well as the letter’s immediate recipient. Letters like the one you excerpt of Veronica Franco seem to intend a larger audience and are in themselves a specie of action or “agon” – a struggle or contest – and a self-dramatization that may or may not accord with fact.
Thank you so much for your insightful comments, David. I wish I knew the answer regarding Pope and Milton. As you say, the trick is demonstrating access. I know for sure that Montaigne had Veronica Franco’s letters, but it is not often that we have this kind of evidence. Then, of course is the question of whether or not male writers of the time would recognize the influence of women’s letters if they read them. That many of these women intended their letters to circulate, meaning to engage with a wide audience is clear, however, beyond a shadow of a doubt. There is so much interesting work to be done here!
I agree with you about the ephemeral nature of our digital correspondence. Sometimes I despair that the 21st century will leave the least trace on the historical record than Sumer because of our increasing tendency to eschew paper as a medium for communication. I disagree, however, about the quality of the writing contained in email and other “virtual” letters. Although not every letter is brilliant (and of course not every sixteenth-century letter writer was Veronica Franco, either) I regularly read emails that bring me to tears, make me smile, or induce deep reflection.