The form of letters forces relationships research Note
By Kristopher A. Nelson
in April 2018
200 words / 1 min.
Tweet Share The form of letters imposes obligations, emphasizes authority, and exerts certain kinds of authority.
“Because letters make their address to audience explicit,” writes Elizabeth Hewitt, “they emphasize reciprocity:”
indeed, the letter’s address works to make reciprocity all but ineluctable. For example, the conventional superscription to a letter that qualifies the reader as “dear” asserts an intimacy between reader and writer that the reader is goven almost no space to resist.1
David M. Stewart adds to Hewitt’s point:
The same is true for the debt incurred by receiving a letter, which had to be answered or risk injuring the sender. Character aside, salutatory endearments and the debts incurred by receiving letters projected family authority directly beyond the home.2
- Elizabeth Hewitt, Correspondence and American Literature, 1770–1865 (2004), 6. ⇡
- David M. Stewart, “Working Away, Writing Home,” in The Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing (2016), 186-87. ⇡
- Thorpe v. Housing Authority of Durham, 393 U.S. 268 (1969)
- Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985)
- USCSC v. National Association of Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548 (1973)
- M’culloch v. State of Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819)