Epistolary archaeology : piecing together "the self" in Victorian-American love letters
Epistolary Archaeology: Piecing Together "The Self" in Victorian-American Love Letters is a thesis resulting from four years of extensive research, transcription, editing, and writing about the question of authorial identity in post-Civil War life writings, particularly love letters. Epistolary Studies first became interesting to me in July of 2005 while I was researching a family-related collection of documents being housed at Dartmouth College's Rauner Special Collections Library. During this week of sifting through 30 boxes of my family's military, publishing, and teaching careers going back to pre-Civil War American times, I uncovered a collection of 142 love letters written from my great-great grandfather, Montgomery Meigs, to my great-great grandmother, Grace Cornelia Lynde, during their trans-Atlantic epistolary courtship of 1875-1876. From this project, I have gained a better understanding of how men and women communicated with one another romantically through letter writing in the Victorian American time period, post-Civil War. A conclusion that I came to through my research methods and applied theories is that the question of authorial authenticity becomes even more complicated when attempting to analyze life writings such as love letters because of the public practices and constraints placed upon writers who attempt to create a private intimate space through letters to one another. However, one can gain a better understanding of life writing authorial identity and can make a more educated assumption of what a writer's personality may have been like by piecing together contextual clues through extensive research. The process of what I call Epistolary Archaeology is shown in practice throughout the following thesis.