Letters and Other Gifts: On a Nineteenth-Century Italian-Australian Epistolary Network

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© 2015 Taylor & Francis. Letters are one of the kinds of things that people send each other while they are physically separated. All these gifts, beyond the contingent value they may have, are presents that metonymically represent a relationship as they come into the presence of the recipient. Exchange and forwarding of gifts serves crucially to gain 'regard' from others, which may be used immediately for tangible gain or may be its own reward or may be stored for future use. The giving and receiving of letters and other gifts is often not restricted to two persons but takes place and has meaning within and between networks. Brokers create new connections and act as catalysts for the formation of new networks. The gift of letters may lead to gifts of other kinds, which in turn may set in motion networks of epistolary (and other) correspondence. These ideas are explored here in relation to an epistolary network that operated, during the nineteenth-century, between a group of missionaries in Western Australia and various persons in Italy. Exchanges of letters within an ever-expanding network led to a consignment of Aboriginal material culture objects, the first such collection to reach Europe from Western Australia. This consignment originated as a gift to repay kindness from a friend of a friend, and in turn set in chain fresh cycles of writing and giving.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-338
JournalLife Writing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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