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Enlightenment Correspondences Talk

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 -
2:00pm to 3:30pm
Ertegun House (37A St. Giles')

Professor Liz Stanley (University of Edinburgh), sociologist and well-known theorist of epistolarity, will be speaking about ‘The settler woman and the manifold writer: business, favours and country friends in the Eastern Cape 1840-1848’, on Tuesday, 1 December 2015 (Eighth Week), from 2-3.30 p.m. Taking place under the aegis of the TORCH Enlightenment Correspondences Network, the informal talk and discussion will take place at Ertegun House (37A St Giles’). All are most welcome to attend, but please RSVP to if you plan to attend.

The abstract for the paper is as follows:

This seminar is very much discussion of work in progress. It concerns a sub-set of the papers of an Eastern Cape family from the Baviaans River, the Pringles. This contains the remains of the business papers - account and order books, cash sales records, stocktaking inventories and some hundreds of letters from agents, importers and suppliers - of a 'settler woman' who married into the family, a widow called Harriet Townsend.

Rather than focusing on the generalities of the frontier, stereotypical ideas about 'the settler women' or separate spheres, after sketching the background I shall focus on analytical issues concerning two particular aspects of the materials in this part of the collection.   

1. What was the successful entrepreneur? By and large HT went her own way, while giving the gentle impression of following well-meaning advice about good working practices from her agents. However, what did this tutelage - of which using a 'manifold writer' to take file copies of business correspondence, paying in cash or good proxy for the 'favours' the agents had fulfilled and ensuring 'country friends' paid their accounts on time are indicative - add up to? What was the 'successful business entrepreneur' as conceived and imparted to her?

2. When is a letter? When does 'a letter' begin and end in relation to another form of writing it is attached to or part of? Typically, the literature informs, business letters (at least of a somewhat earlier period and in Europe) could mix business and friendship, and this fits the more than 200 items in the collection from HT's key agent, WJ Smith of Cape Town, which are usually precisely such mixes. But by no means do they all take the same form, the mixes can be very different, and the ends of the spectrum can make appearances. And so when are the communications from Mr Smith letters and when something else? how (and perhaps why) do such transitions take place? do they place the reader as well as the writer differently?

Examples of both in the shape of transcripts or detailed extracts will be provided and discussed.

For more information about the TORCH Enlightenment Correspondences Network, please visit our website:

Contact name: 
Kelsey Rubin-Detlev
Open to all