We had a wonderful family Christmas of the sort I would wish for all my readers. The smaller ones have now departed with their larger adherents in tow; and quiet has once again descended upon my study, where I sit with all my Christmas loot tidily arranged on a composing stone behind me. It’s back to serious work. Well, semi-serious. I’m trying to write about the cultural background of Valérie (1803), an epistolary novel by Julie de Krüdener.
I’d be surprised if you had ever heard of Madame de Krüdener. She was at first a friend and later a literary rival of Mme de Staël, the more famous author of the more famous epistolary novel Delphine. (I must say that I prefer Valérie to Delphine if for no other reason than that the scholarly edition of the former is exactly eight hundred page shorter than the scholarly edition of the latter.) But the form of the epistolary novel itself you surely know. It is a narrative deployed in fictional letters supposedly written by, or to, or about the fictional characters. The epistolary form was particular important in the novel’s eighteenth-century youth, when it enjoyed famous practitioners. Richardson’s early blockbusters Pamela and Clarissa are in epistolary form. In France there are famous letter-novels by Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Chodleros de Laclos. Goethe’s Werther is epistolary.