Letter-writing often reflected social aspirations, since it was one way to measure social respectability (Bryson 1998: 159).
The sample of four letters dates from the 1740s to the latter half of the 1780s, and the analysis is based on photographs and transcripts made of the original manuscripts in the Montagu family papers.
The writers and the recipients belong to the same social network, in which Elizabeth Robinson Montagu (1718–1800), a well-educated literary hostess of the time, appears to have been a central figure.
Montagu, a well-educated literary hostess, made a name for herself as a Shakespeare critic and one of the influential figures in the learned Bluestocking circle (Myers 1990, Pohl and Schellenberg (eds.) 2003).
The letters chosen for the analysis consist of one written to Montagu in her youth by her close friend Lady Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, the Duchess of Portland in c.
The letters chosen for the analysis consist of one written to Montagu in her youth by her close friend Lady Margaret Bentinck, the Duchess of Portland in c.
1742, a letter Elizabeth Montagu wrote to her husband in 1757, a letter which a genteel Bluestocking woman wrote to a male aristocrat and fellow Bluestocking in c.
1771, and a letter Elizabeth Montagu received from her heir and nephew in c. The study shows that letter-writing manuals promoted the recognition of variability in the status of the correspondents.
Instructions given for written communication were particularly sensitive to changes within the social hierarchy.
The four eighteenth-century letter-writers were undoubtedly fully competent in what Whyman (2009) refers to as epistolary literacy.