This study reads the eighteenth-century epistolary novel as the paradoxical crossroads of public print and private bodies, as the site of the intersection and differentiation of these cultural categories in the context of the Republic of Letters, and as an index to the transformation of these categories over the course of the eighteenth century. Understanding literature's role in the cultural construction of such matters as subjectivity, gender, and authority requires a historical grasp of what might once have been seen as immutable forms and phenomena, including the body itself. This historicization also highlights how generic boundaries and definitions crystallized around the academic specializations of an earlier period, and permits their reformulation.
I have sought to complicate a conventional "rise and fall" reading of the epistolary genre, the idea that at the end of the eighteenth century the letter form was eliminated from the fictional field of the sentimental novel and was henceforth assigned a limited role as a vehicle of social protest or as a minor pedagogical form. Such a reading relies on an anachronistic separation between the literatures of fact and of fiction, the former understood to deal exclusively with public forms of knowledge, the latter with private, personal experiences. By emphasizing the powerful, sometimes