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A number of recent critical works apply twentieth century literary theories to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century epistolary novels. However, in spite of the existence of a number of intriguing twentieth-century letter novels, there have been no in-depth studies of modern uses of this form, and only a limited number of articles that analyze the epistolarity of modern and contemporary novel fictions. What makes this condition surprising is that many of the form's features are so sympathetic to aesthetic and philosophic issues of our day. Using deconstructive, reader-response and feminist perspectives, this dissertation investigates the ways the letter novel is used by twentieth-century authors, particularly the way in which letters allow fictional characters to create new definitions of themselves and to create meaningful relationships with the important people in their lives. The first chapter of my study includes definitions of the epistolary novel and its particular qualities, such as intertextuality, self-reflexivity, subjectivity, and emphasis on the reading and writing acts. The second chapter, which analyzes Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies and John Barth's LETTERS, discusses the fictional letter as documentation of presence and absence, closeness and distance. The third chapter looks at the letter novel's literal and metaphoric reading and writing acts; the texts used are Ana Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters, Thornton Wilder's The Ides of March, and Mark Harris's Wake Up, Stupid! The fourth chapter studies gendered writing and the creation of the female voice, looking at John Updike's S. and Alice Walker's The Color Purple. The final chapter offers suggestions for further readings of the novels that have been considered and for continuing study of traditional and experimental applications of the epistolary form.