Epistles to Emails: Letters, relationship building and the virtual age

Jane Haggis, Mary Holmes

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    Until the late twentieth century the letter was still a central form of communication within the private and public spheres and across their somewhat fluid boundary. Not all letters survive but they do have a tangible form and even the epistles of the very ordinary can turn up in a descendant's attic, ripe for socio-historical analysis. This paper explores the shift away from letters and towards email and mobile phone messaging as forms of communication. Two contrasting sources are examined. The first is letters of offer that some young Victorian women wrote presenting their credentials to missionary societies. Although these may have been written largely as statements of religious belief, it is possible to read them as constructions of self and relationship. The second source is interviews with contemporary couples in distance relationships, where the couples discuss their use of email and texting. In particular we examine how these sources illustrate changes in relationship building, some of which may be related to the seemingly more ephemeral nature of digital media. Such an examination questions what constitutes a letter and how important letter writing is as a technique of relationship-building. This technique has clearly been subject to significant change as social relations have become mediated in new ways via the 'anywhere, anytime' (as long as it is now) possibilities of new forms of communication.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)169-185
    Number of pages17
    JournalLife Writing
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


    • epistolary practices
    • intimacy
    • public/private
    • relationship building
    • temporal/spatial


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