The Art of Letter-Writing | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: The Art of Letter-Writing

June 13, 2009

The Art of Letter-Writing

In the 17th century writing letters was something men ought to do. The practice reinforced their rank and good breeding. The ability to express themselves eloquently through the pen was more of an achievement and testament than through speaking. Women were not encouraged to partake in this manly pastime!

Then the 18th century came along and fashionable women of good breeding and families began to write letters. There were writing guide books and manuals available so it became easier for them to learn how to compose graceful correspondence.

Mid way through the century a fabulous book was printed, The Ladies Complete Letter-Writer. This book, published in 1763 was the first sign of a new popularity for women letter-writers. What was unique about the book was that it was made for a specific audience, the ladies!

By the end of the century women had proved so skilled and eloquent in writing it was thought that they were better at it than the men! This gave the art of letter writing new meaning. Rather than separating the men from the women it separated the classes. (The higher classes set the standards and practiced refined letter writing, while the lower classes were assumed vulgar and lacking of any eloquence via correspondence!)


  1. I can barely imagine how much gossip circulated via letters... And I find interesting that sometimes, people put some rose fragrance to perfume the letter, and sometimes, said it was tears! Wonderful. And of course, the fact that higher classes wrote better letters was due to the fact that they had a better education, and not necessarily more wit than lower classes... :-)

  2. I would definitely write better letters if I were writing on that beautiful desk! oh to have a few hundred thousand dollars to get myself one of those :)

  3. @ Juli*A*rtemise: Imagine opening your letter that has been sprinkled with rose oils! What would you use as a fragrance?

    @Meghann: I know! I bought stationary to force myself to write more letters, but yet there it sits unopened. Now if it were sitting on that writing desk I am sure it would be a different story!

    I mean wouldn't you just feel divine writing a letter on it!?

  4. Gosh would I like to get my hands on a book like that! =D

  5. I would like to use/open seals. I got sealing wax and a seal in highschool but could never get the wax soft enough to make an impression. They just looked like a big blob. I just never got the hang of it--and then I wondered if maybe that's actually just what seals look like. Til I started reading manuscripts in college, and saw 17th century seals in person. They show so much detail!

  6. I beg humbly to differ with your assessment of the matter, given that the most renowned and popular letters of the 17th century are those of la marquise de Sévigné!

  7. @ Thomas W. Oh yes! La marquise de Sévigné was writing letters in the 17th century. Many other ladies too I'm sure!

    Her letters were later published in the 18th century and they became widely popular.