Editing what is lost: histories, metatexts and the extant letters of Elizabeth Cary

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This article argues that the editorial history of Elizabeth Cary’s letters has powerfully influenced how the letters are read and understood today. In particular, it suggests that an editorial organisation that cleaves to Cary’s conversion has had a narrowing effect, straightjacketing the letters as “conversion writing” and underplaying the significances of texts actually enmeshed in a more expansive range of epistolary activity. The article forwards an alternative editorial strategy – a site-based method which allows for the consideration of Cary not only as a Catholic convert (an exceptional figure) but also as an early modern woman with companionate connections to other early modern writers deploying the epistolary form to address quotidian matters such as penury, precarity, homelessness and family breakdown. Dealing with the neglected issue of “extant-ness” throughout, the article argues that editors of early modern women’s letters can be more explicit about the ways in which chance, contingency and curation influence that which survives. It makes a case for embracing “extant-ness” as a concept which might usefully undergird all epistolary enquiry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-383
Number of pages15
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2023


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