So I've been reading a novel in one of my literature classes this term titled So Long A Letter, by Mariama Ba, a contemporary Senegalese novelist. It's been a while since I've read a novel like this-- I like to call them correspondence novels--and I have to say I'm really enjoying the technique. What I call a correspondence novel is actually formally known as the Epistolary novel. It's the novel in which the entire story is derived from correspondences of some sort between two or more characters. I've only read a handful of novels that utilize this narrative technique, but reading So Long A Letter got me curious about the history of this kind of story-telling. Here's what I dug up:
The theory goes that the genre began to develop as more authors began inserting letters here and there in their narratives as a literary device. Some of them enjoyed doing it so much, apparently, that they ended up with very little third-person narrative between the letters. The genre first became really popular in the 18th century with novels like Samuel Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa. After that it really took off; Montesquieu and Rouseau, as well as Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and Francis Brooke used it , writing in France, German, and America respectively. The well-known novels Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Dracula by Bram Stoker are epistolary novels. In recent decades, the genre is still enjoying a fairly big following. Maraima Ba's So Long a Letter is considerd a classical work dealing with the conditions of women in Africa, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a popular young adult novel, and the most famous vampire of all time is making a come-back with Mary Cate's recent novel, Bloodline, a sequel to Bram Stoker's novel, written in the same epistolary genre.
People sure do like to write letters.