Epistolary Friendships Between Writers and Readers

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Université de Haute-Alsace, France
contact email: 


Conference, 13-14 June 2024, Université de Haute-Alsace, France | Institut de recherche en Langues et Littératures Européennes (ILLE)


Working languages: French, English

 Please send abstracts before 15 January 2024 (1,500 to 2,000 characters including spaces) together with a short bio-bibliography to amities-lecteurs.ille@uha.fr
Notifications will be sent by 30 January 2024  For several years, ILLE researchers have been interested in writers' correspondence. This is the fourth in a series of conferences on this topic. After exploring the friendships (2020)* and enmities (2021)** of writers in their correspondence, and more recently their political friendships (2023), we propose to turn our attention to the relationships between writers and their readers.
 One of the aims of the symposium will be to distinguish types of friendships, in the broadest sense of the term, that form between writers and their readers: from admiration to veneration, from benevolence to complicity, from sympathy to love... whether reciprocal or not. We will explore how literature creates a need to address, beyond reading, the person who is at the origin of the emotions felt during the act of reading. Readers perceive the author's personality on the basis of their own feelings. What they find when they read—stories and scenarios, themes, places and narrative styles—resonates with their personal history and experiences. These types of relationships may be extended through correspondence, creating an even more direct link with the author.
 Studying correspondence will reveal how epistolary exchanges affect the status of all subjects of the enunciation in fiction (author/reader, author/narrator, addressee/enunciator). Sometimes a letter flows naturally, sometimes the writer hesitates or procrastinates; correspondence can be very long and winding, lasting a lifetime, or stop suddenly. The reader's personality meets that of the author, who sometimes hides behind the status of author, by remaining distant or by deciding to partially lift the veil. By hiding the author is already revealing himself without knowing it. In the correspondence, the two letter writers sometimes express emotions beyond the literary considerations discussed (the work and its details, genesis, context, meaning, etc.).
 The study of correspondence is also related to reception studies. The free interpersonal link that is established, where the reader has chosen a book and its author, provides the writer with material for further inspiration and composition. It also informs the writer about reception and his ability to move, touch and transform his readers. For the writer, it is a form of direct recognition of his creative activity. This epistolary communication has an unexpected power, and it also underlines the freedom of a chosen, albeit reversible interpersonal relationship.
 Another possible approach is that of archival studies. Correspondence is a random form of heritage, but we increasingly find letters from readers that provide rich data for critics. These letters have a special place in the legacy of writers, and can be considered as personal archives, documents, reviews of their work, or personal testimonies. This random heritage evolves over time (collections of letters from writers to readers are regularly updated, adding to the sometimes already extensive collections).

The conference will also attempt to raise the central question of the status of letters, and in particular their literary value. Correspondence with an author they admire has sometimes triggered readers’ own creative talent. For a writer, correspondence can be a kind of exercise that helps to perfect and maintain the act of writing. It is also the content of the exchanges that proves interesting, sometimes shedding new light on the work. Writers can share the trials and tribulations of writing with their readers. They may also be the recipients of readers' confidences. In some letters, the roles can also be reversed, and we don't know who is reading whom. Sometimes the recipient is reduced to the status of a mere figurehead, while the sender engages in a monologue, as in a diary or the logbook of a literary work.
 Finally, correspondence can be read through the prism of gender. It is not uncommon for a personal, even intimate, relationship to develop between writers and some of their readers, who sometimes become their romantic partners. We will be asking what processes are involved depending on the sex or gender of the correspondents. Similar questions may arise in relation to age, social class or nationality.
 Beyond these suggestions, any approach is welcome that will fuel a theoretical reflection or a case study on epistolary friendships between writers and readers in European literature from early modernity to the present day.  *Régine Battiston, Nikol Dziub and Augustin Voegele (ed.), « Amitiés vives » : littérature et amitié dans les correspondances d'écrivains, ÉPURe, 2022
**Régine Battiston, Nikol Dziub and Augustin Voegele (ed.), L'inimitié dans les correspondances d'écrivains, ÉPURe, 2023  Organising Committee
Régine Battiston (ILLE-UHA)
Maxime Leroy (ILLE-UHA)

Scientific Committee
Régine Battiston (ILLE-UHA)
Sylvie Crinquand (TIL-Univ. de Bourgogne)
Nikol Dziub (ILLE-UHA)
Luc Fraisse (ILLE-Unistra)
Maxime Leroy (ILLE-UHA)
Anne-Marie Millim (Institute of English Studies, University of Luxembourg)
Augustin Voegele (ILLE-UHA)