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Pragmatic readings of the letters of Joan and Maria Thynne, 1575-1611 with diplomatic transcriptions of their correspondence

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  • Pe English
  • P Philology. Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics
  • Literature


This is a study of the letters of Joan and Maria Thynne, 1575-1611. It achieves in bringing together archival research, close reading and socio-historical context with the methods and concepts from historical pragmatics. This cross-disciplinary and multi-dimensional approach is demonstrated to be a valuable way of providing more nuanced readings of the letters and of extracting their communicative forms and functions. These documents reward close scrutiny, and the findings of this study offer significant and important contributions to the fields of historical linguistics, early modern rhetoric, paleography, women’s history and letter-writing, as well as for the Thynne family more specifically. Following the theoretical introduction and a short biography of the Thynne family, there are five analytical chapters. The first, Chapter 3, asks how the letters’ prose was organized into meaningful units of information – describing a variety of pre-standard uses for punctuation as well as the organizational and elocutionary functions of other pragmatic markers. Chapter 4 examines the sociopragmatic significance of performative speech act verbs such as beseech and confess and shows how individual manifestations of these forms actually reflect and reiterate larger aspects of early modern English culture and sociability. Chapter 5 compares Joan’s holograph letters and those prepared for her by scribes, exhibiting the social, graphic and linguistic implications of using a scribe. The only direct correspondence from the letters – consisting of two letters sent between Joan and Lucy Audley (Maria’s mother) in 1602 – is the topic of Chapter 6, which discusses rhetoric, language and text as ways of negotiating an awkward relationship, concluding that these features must be considered in respect to one another and in relation to the other letter in order to fully describe their significance. Chapter 7 extends a discussion on ‘sincerity’ begun in Chapter 6 by considering it alongside other ‘voices’ in Maria’s letters – namely sarcasm and seriousness – which are described as interrelated communicative styles dependent upon an anxious awareness of the gap between expression and meaning. The sum of these analyses not only proves historical pragmatics to be a productive method of investigating and systematically describing meaning in individual letter-collections from early modern England, but also suggests a range of new questions, which are presented in the conclusion. Newly prepared diplomatic transcriptions of all the letters are provided in Appendix 1.

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