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2002-2003 Visiting Fellows

Kathyrn Lowry
University of California at Santa Barbara

The generous support from the Friends of the Princeton University Library made it possible for me to mine the letter collections and writing guides in the Gest Collection and the East Asian Library over a two-week period in September 2002. The Gest Collection is remarkably rich in sixteenth and seventeenth century letter collections and other literary primers procured by I.V.Gillis (the rhyme or reason of his selection is another project waiting to be done). Collected literary works (wenji), modern reprints and microfilms in the East Asian Library supplement those materials for practical use. With access to that range of materials, I made strides in tracing a pattern of involvement by journeyman editors and elite who printed letters as models for writing and entertaining reading that provide insight into the private lives and genius of famous men of the age.

I focused on one journeyman editor, Xu Yizhong, who had a hand in three collections of letters (of an unprecendented nine letter collections) and three fiction collections and primers in the Gest. Xu Yizhong is the most prolific editor of letter collections and epistolary manuals, one of six editors I have identified who accord a specific literary value to personal letters or ?notes?. He is an unknown (except that his name appears on fiction and letter collections), but I made strides to piece together a picture of his status and associations with prominent intellectuals in and around Nanjing, the southern capital, from a preface on a microfilm held in the Gest. The format of guides and dense interlinear comments, glosses, and marginal notes on style is rich in information and it is essential to understanding the appeal of such letter collections to readers. The comments sometimes imitate the look of handwritten comments on manuscript or, conversely, use bold graphics to identify and objectify different elements for the letter writer: tone, vocabulary, prose structure, and so on. The diverse annotations on printed letters is the key to a shift in subject matter and increasing awareness of the artifice of self presentation, and I reaped valuable information about the scope of commentary and ? as important ? the ?look? of fictions of the self in letter guides.

Most of my research and reading took place at the Mudd Manuscript Library, where the staff was extremely helpful and professional and made time there a pleasure, as I waded through several large volumes of letters each day. During my stay, Martin Heijdra (Curator of the Gest), Soren Edgren (Director of the RLIN project to index Chinese books), and Dora C.Y. Ching each went out of their way to provide access to materials on my list and also to familiarize me with other aspects of the collections. Martin arranged for me to give an informal talk on the practice of excerpting letters to the Ming Studies group at Princeton, an onus that provided timely critical feedback on this phase of my research. The community of East Asian faculty, curators, and staff brought the archives to life. In particular, challenges to the authenticity of printed letters led me to pinpoint editorial strategies and visual formats that are idiosyncratic to early 17th century popular letter collections and that mark the shift in this period to an early modern sensibility. I am tracing the institution of forms for writing about the self in articles based on the research.


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