Definition of Epistolary
Epistolary comes from a Greek word, epistolē, which means letter. Epistolary is a literary genre pertaining to letters, in which writers use letters, journals and diary entries in their works, or they tell their stories or deliver messages through a series of letters. Though the usual format of epistolary is letters, however, sometimes writers use other forms of documents such as newspaper clippings and diary entries. Recently, you can see electronic documents like emails, blogs, radio and recordings have come into use in writings.
Examples of Epistolary in Literature
Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple, is a good example of an epistolary novel that an impoverished black teenage girl, Celie, tells through writing letters to both; her sister as well as God, thus readers can hear about the difficult life of Celie through her words and the direct experiences she has faced. Alice Walker has chosen to let the readers know this story by using voice of Celie, providing Celie a power that she could not have in everyday life. However, in film adaptation of this novel, these letters echoed through the monologues of characters.
Mary Shelley started her first novel, Frankenstein, in form of letters. She uses three narratives or perspectives that allow readers to form their opinions about the narrative. The first narrator is Robert Walton, who gives his point of views about Victor. Robert records the confessions and narrative of Victor when he is dying. Second narrator is Victor himself, who gives his point of view about Walton. Finally creature disrupts Victor and readers get its viewpoint. It is Walton, who starts and ends this novel by relating to a series of events through letters to his sister, creating suspense by using a word “demon.” The letters of Victor and monster’s perspective on the other hand, give frame to the main body of narrative.
Bram Stoker has employed epistolary format in his successful and widely recognized novel, Dracula, in late nineteenth century. Author has compiled the entire novel in the form of letters, newspaper clippings, diary entries, doctor’s notes, telegrams, and ship’s logs, etc. The narrators of this novel are protagonists, who supplement it with newspaper clippings to relate different events. Although this novel draws on letters form, it reduces the end of the narrative.
Samuel Richardson’ novel, Pamela, is another notable example of such novels in which you would find the device of letters. In this novel, Pamela attempts to run away from her lecherous master, Mr. B. Whenever her master tries to seduce her, she expresses her insecurities to impoverished parents by writing them letters. Mr. B, however, intercepts her letters, and gives her parents the wrong information by shifting her to another estate, and there she begins writing a journal, hoping that one day she would send it to her parents. By the end, Mrs. Jewkes finds letters of Pamela and gives them to Mr.B, who realizes Pamela’s pious character, changes his mind and decides to marry her.
A teenage girl Anne Frank wrote, Diary of a Young Girl, during the years 1942-1944. She accounts her feelings and thoughts, including some important and some trivial details. After a month while writing this diary, Anne along with her family members was forced into hiding in some building in Amsterdam to avoid religious persecution at the hands of Nazis. However, all of them died in 1944, except her father Otto Frank, who got her diary published in1947. Her diary format provides the readers an intimate insight into Anne’s feelings and thoughts during tough times. It is also remarkable in that Anne describes her dreams and hopes through historical context.
Function of Epistolary
Epistolary form could add realism in a narrative, as it imitates the real life workings. It is therefore able to describe different point of views. The primary function of this form of writing is that readers can get an intimate view of characters’ feelings and thoughts and develop a direct connection with the events through letters without interference of the author. This technique thus makes the literary piece a real experience for the readers. Also, presentation of events from different viewpoint gives the story verisimilitude and dimensions.