English, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in The Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing, ed. Celeste-Marie Bernier, Judie Newman, and Matthew Pethers (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), pp 538-553.


Copyright © 2016 Melissa Homestead.


In June 1830, the American novelist and short-story writer Catharine Maria Sedgwick used the imminent London publication of her novel Clarence as a pretext for initiating a correspondence with the British author Mary Russell Mitford. In her first letter to Mitford, Sedgwick addressed her as “My dear Miss Mitford,” a violation of epistolary decorum in a letter to someone to whom she had not been introduced (FOMRM, 155).1 As Sedgwick protested, however, “I cannot employ the formal address of a stranger towards one who has inspired the vivid feeling of intimate acquaintance, a deep and affectionate interest in her occupations and happiness” (FOMRM, 155). In this letter Sedgwick did not explicitly mention Our Village (1824-32), the title under which multiple volumes of Mitford's sketches of country life had already appeared, but she referred by name to recurring characters in these sketches and proclaimed that Mitford's “power over the imagination” in depicting them had “wrought on our affection like realities” (FOMRM, 156). In Our Village, Mitford — an unmarried woman from an “aristocratic but impecunious family, who lived in the village of Three Mile Cross in Berkshire, England, and supported her ne'er-do-well father with the proceeds from her writing — presented a thinly fictionalized version of life in an English country village as narrated by a genteel woman who resides there. As Alison Booth has argued of this autobiographical strain in Mitford's work, she “took pains to create the intimacy of correspondence, to ‘talk to the public as a friend,’ but in an artful arrangement of the lifelike.”2