By Laura Rotunno
By 1840, the epistolary novel was dead. Letters in Victorian fiction, however, were unmistakably alive. By examining a variety of works from authors including Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, Postal Plots addresses why. It explores how Victorian postal reforms encouraged the lower and middle classes to read and write, allowed them some social and political agency, and led many to literature. The writers born of postal reforms increased stratification between Victorian novelists, already struggling to define themselves as literary professionals. The reform-inspired readers threatened the novelists' development by flouting distinctions between high and low literature. Letters in Victorian novels thus become markers of the novelists' concerns about the hierarchies and mediocrities that threatened Victorian fiction's artistic progress and social contribution. Postal Plots explores Victorian literary professionals' conflict between their support for liberal ideals in the literary marketplace and their fear that they would be unable to bring those changes to pass.