Going Public THE LETTER AND THE CONTRACT IN 'FANNI BUTLERD'
As the settings and themes of Spence's dream about Clarissa remind us, the Enlightenment ideal of a public sphere is implicated in a wide range of eighteenth-century cultural phenomena, from the development of such new urban spaces as the park, the museum, and the coffeehouse, to the rapid expansion of the print industry, to the liberal philosophy that shaped the century's political revolutions. Undeniably, eighteenth-century thought was powerfully and pervasively influenced by the notion of the public sphere. However, its modern theorists do not always acknowledge that the extent to which individuals actually participated in the public sphere, and thus the extent to which the ideal was historically realized, was implicitly and explicitly limited by such factors as censorship, citizenship, class, literacy, property ownership, race, and gender. Nonetheless, whether as actual event or enabling fiction, the egalitarian model of the public sphere had wide appeal in the eighteenth century, even -- or perhaps especially -- for those who did not fully participate in it.
The functional exclusion of women from the public sphere is the subject of Les Lettres de Mistriss Fanni Butlerd ( 1757), the first novel of Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni, a Comédie-Italienne actress who became a best-selling author. Riccoboni's epistolary novel is