Annotation: Bernard Duyfhuizen’s “Epistolary Narratives of Transmission and Transgression” (1985)

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This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Duyfhuizen, Bernard. “Epistolary Narratives of Transmission and Transgression.” Comparative Literature 37:1 (Winter 1985): 1-26. Print.

In this article Duyfhuizen asserts that “All epistolary novels contain a double narrative: a narrative of the events and a narrative of the letters that precipitate or report the events” (1). He explores in particular, how this double narrative functions in a specific type of epistolary fiction, namely, Briefwechselroman, “whose distinctive features are an exchange of letters among multiple correspondents… and an editorial framework to transmit letters to the reader” (1). In addition to recognizing the “narrative of sexual transgression” that novels, such as Richardson’s Clarissa and Rousseau’s Julie relate, Duyfhuizen therefore asks us to examine the narrative of the letters’ transmission (2). Even though Read’s Margaretta does not perfectly fit the model of a Briefwechselroman, in that there is no clear tale about “how the letters become available to an ‘Editor,’” Duyfhuizen’s conception of the double narrative in epistolary fiction nevertheless provides a valuable framework for my analysis of the novel (10). Besides examining how the characters’ correspondence fuels a narrative of sexual transgression, I will conduct a formal analysis of Margaretta that focuses on the way Read organizes the letters within her novel as well as the moments in which she reasserts her authorial voice. Ultimately, I hope to demonstrate how the double narrative in Margaretta actively participates in the re-imagining of a coherent American national identity at a time when economic crises and social unrest threatened the young nation’s very survival. In this way, I will prove the validity of Duyfhuizen’s claim that, “The double narrative of transmission and transgression… marks the power of personal texts to disrupt and reorder one’s existence” (26).