Authors of Their Lives: The Personal Correspondence of British Immigrants to North America in the Nineteenth Century

By David A. Gerber | Go to book overview
Save to active project

5
Establishing Voice, Theme,
and Rhythm

Most immigrants and their homeland correspondents were familiar with the letter as a form of communication, but whether they had ever been responsible for organizing and sustaining a correspondence of their own, let alone a trans-Atlantic one, is another question. The obligations and knowledge involved in fulfilling these responsibilities were of a different order than writing the occasional letter to a friend or family member residing in the next town. This chapter examines the nature and execution of these responsibilities in the early period—up to five years, but as we shall soon see, subject to a number of qualifications—of correspondence.

The classic “first letter,” as it came to be conceived by historians, is a dramatic narrative of adventure, danger, and redemption that conforms to the classic literary form, the romance. As the psychologist Dan P . McAdams has written, the message of the romance from Homer’s Odyssey to such memorable movies as Stand by Me and Raiders of the Lost Ark is that “We embark on a long and difficult journey in life in which circumstances constantly change and new challenges continually arise. We must keep changing and moving if we are to win in the end. But we are confident that we will win.”1 In terms of the immigrant’s experience, the elements of romantic drama that we expect to see articulated in the typical immigrant’s first letter are departure amidst sadness; material deprivation or frustration over a lack of opportunity in one’s homeland; apprehension about and hope for the future; danger at sea, and finally, safety in a land of promise and expectation for a new and better life.

A narrative of this sort might provide poetic, and for Americans and Canadians, patriotic, satisfactions, but one seldom encounters it in the immigrants’ letters. There was no need to recapitulate the reasons for

-162-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Authors of Their Lives: The Personal Correspondence of British Immigrants to North America in the Nineteenth Century
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 422

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?