Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Maida Watson

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Renée Silverman

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Erik Camayd-Freixas

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Kathleen M. McCormack

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


Spanish, epistolary novel, literature, letters, women

Date of Defense



The inherent flexibility of the letter form or epistolary mode of writing frees the writer within the framework of salutations and closings to use vocabulary and language to create, to omit or to invert conventional constraints imposed on women by a patriarchal society. The letter begins as a blank page but becomes the space for writing one’s personal thoughts and emotions to the absent other in a communicative effort to minimize the separation.

This dissertation examines the female narrator in actual letters written during the Spanish emigration to the New World in the sixteenth century and four epistolary novels written by female authors during the nineteenth- and twentieth centuries. The female “I” emerges in the selected texts and attests to the writer’s ability to inhabit her own writing space. By applying Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism and Janet Altman’s formal approach to the epistolary novel, the epistolary and literary textual creations by women writers challenge the silence and traditional anonymity generally assigned to women. I explore the cultural enculturation of the transgressive female who loses her “self”, her very being because of her inability to conform to societal norms as outlined by Barbara Creed and Elaine Showalter. In addition, I apply ideas from Linda Kauffman’s study on the transformation of the female writer who metamorphoses from victim to artist through the use of pen and paper. The female ‘self’ crafted by each of the letter writers is studied as they narrate their space, exercise agency, and negotiate the conflicts and contradictions of their domestic and public space.

The epistolary, whether actual or fictional, becomes a textual creation challenging the silence and traditional anonymity assigned to women. The letter, when used as a literary device, is the perfect vehicle to create a narrator who controls his or her own life’s narrative. The writer constructs an implicit recipient linking the addressee and engages the reader in an absorbing story.





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