Contemporary context of Alexander Pope's correspondence
Jones, Wendy L.
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Even quite recent critical evaluations of the letters Pope published in his own lifetime have continued to remain obstinately rooted, whether consciously or not, in the moral indignation experienced by Pope's Victorian editors on their discovery that he had not only surreptitiously engineered the publication of a selection of his letters but also had mis¬ directed a number of letters, conflated or spliced or even fabricated others. This thesis holds that the response of moral indignation is not only generally misleading and unproductive but unfair. It arises from three areas of shortsightedness. There is, first, the failure firmly to place Pope's letters in the humanist tradition of the published 'familiar' letter dating from Cicero, through Pliny and Seneca, up to the letters of the Renaissance humanists, Erasmus and Petrarch. Second, there is the failure to appreciate sufficiently the revival of interest in the familiar letter whic'h, in seventeenth and eighteenthcentury Britain, precipitated a great number of diverse experiments in the letter form. And, third, Pope's own motives in publishing a selection of his letters have either been described too cynically, as compounded in the idea that vanity alone drove him to this step, or the letters them¬ selves have not been seen, as Pope undoubtedly meant them to be, in the context of his other published work. This thesis will seek to redress the balance or, at least, to pave the way towards a more balanced appraisal of the literary achievement the published letters represent by focusing on these three largely neglected areas.