The next session of the TORCH Enlightenment Correspondences Network will take place on Tuesday, 31 January 2017, 1-2 p.m. (sandwiches available from 12.45), at Ertegun House (37A St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LD). Our speaker will be Professor Nicole Pohl (Oxford Brookes University), with a talk entitled ‘“Cosmopolites or Nationalists?”: Mme de Stael, Anna Amalia of […]
Welcome back to another year of the TORCH Enlightenment Correspondences Network! Our first speaker will be Felix Waldmann (Cambridge), whose talk on ‘The Correspondence of David Hume’ has been rescheduled for Tuesday, 22 November (Seventh Week), at Ertegun House (37A St Giles). Sandwiches will be available from 12.45, with the seminar beginning at 1. If […]
A Special Session will be held at the 2017 MLA Annual Convention (Philadelphia, 5-8 January) on Thursday 5 January, 1:45-3:00 p.m., 104B, Pennsylvania Convention Center. Reloading the Romantic Canon: New Texts and Contexts from Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt Until the last two decades of the twentieth century, the canon of British Romantic authors installed by the […]
By Pierre Musitelli (École normale supérieure, Paris) The correspondence between Pietro Verri (1728-1797) and Alessandro (1741-1816) Verri, two brothers from the enlightened Milanese aristoc…
The following text was originally posted by Sam on: Copious but not Compendious
First impressions are important. When I receive mail – physical items by post, that is – simply the size and shape of the envelope tells me something about the sender. A5-sized envelopes (well, C5-sized, but you know what I mean; ditto below) tend to be bills or notes from the bank, A6 and smaller are probably greeting cards and concentrate around public holidays and birthdays and the like; A4-sized envelopes are rarer, but can contain official papers as well as missives of condolences. There is cultural variation, of course, and the range of shapes and sizes of envelopes as well as their meanings vary between countries and continents.
Most people probably don’t stop to think about why we have a range of envelope shapes and sizes, although having to figure out which is appropriate for a specific purpose is probably a familiar task. Job application – A4; love-letter – a long and thin envelope, like an A5 folded lengthwise. But I’m not sure anyone today would be upset if they received mail in the “wrong” envelope – possibly puzzled, but not offended. (Having said that, it’s probably a safer bet to stick to instructions when posting job applications, though. The recipients might not take offense per se, but may well discard your application..)
In the early modern period, envelopes in the modern sense did not exist. Instead, letters would be folded to form their own covers. This skill was taught as a matter of course as a part of other letter-writing skills, such as learning the right opening and closing formulas, and how to write superscriptions (addresses). Jana Dambrogio has coined the term letterlocking for the practices of folding, securing and sealing letters. At this stage, we still know next to nothing about the vast field that is letterlocking. We have only begun to chart the myriad ways in which letters were folded, secured and sealed. We know very little about change over time from Antiquity to the present day, or about regional variation. And we have only vague conceptions about all the meaning that different types of letterlocking conveyed across time and space.
This is incredibly exciting: so much unexplored territory!
Research on epistolary materiality has already shown that material features can reveal social codes and meanings (see esp. James Daybell’s 2012 book-length overview). This applies not only to what letters are physically made of and how they are folded, but also to what I call textual materiality, features like layout or mise-en-page, and also more subtle aspects such as script and hand. Layout, being the most immediately visible ..er, visual non-linguistic aspect of the text of a letter, naturally attracted the attention of scholars first, and thanks to scholars such as Jonathan Gibson (1997) the concept of significant space is now widely known.
Significant space refers to politeness and deference expressed as space on the page of a letter. […]
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