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The sixteenth century is commonly identified with the advent of print culture, but in fact it was also a century of explosive growth in the practice of handwritten correspondence. This is a book about one assiduous correspondent and the roles that letter writing played in her public and private life. Because the letters of Isabella d’Este (1474–1539), daughter of the Este dukes of Ferrara and marchesa of Mantua, are so numerous, so wide ranging, and so explicit about their own production and circulation, it is also, by extension, a book about postal communication in sixteenth-century Europe.



Examining Isabella’s letters as both documentary evidence and scripted performance, In Continuous Expectation proposes a view of the early modern letter as a technology: a tool and a medium not only for investigating, persuading, and reporting, but also for the circulation of the writer’s persona within the many speech acts letters are designed to perform. Isabella d’Este was an extraordinary figure on many accounts. Her letters are presented here not only as vehicles for the activities and personal expression of one, remarkable woman, but also as examples of a shared epistolary culture in which both men and women participated and that rewards the attention of anyone interested in the values, practices, concerns, and indeed the people of Renaissance Italy.


Deanna Shemek is Professor of Italian and European Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She is author of Ladies Errant: Wayward Women and Social Order in Early Modern Italy (1998). She has co-edited several collections of essays on early modern Italy and has published essays on authors including Boccaccio, Ariosto, Aretino, and others. Her monumental edition of the Selected Letters of Isabella d’Este (2017) won the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women’s 2018 prize for translation. She co-directs IDEA: Isabella d’Este Archive.

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