Samuel Richardson 1689–1761
Considered one of the originators of the modern novel, Richardson is also credited with being the first dramatic novelist and the first of the eighteenth-century "sentimental" writers. His epistolary novels helped popularize the realism movement, a trend which favored accurate description and objectivity. In Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady (1747-48), Richardson introduced tragedy into the novel form. In The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753-54), he substituted social embarrassment for tragic conflict, thus developing the first novel of manners. Richardson's minutely detailed exploration of his character's motives and feelings added a new dimension to the art of fiction. His experiments with point-of-view narration profoundly influenced the development of the novel and helped establish the genre as an intimate record of inner experience. Richardson also developed the novel from its previously single-level structure, consisting primarily of the experiences of a sole protagonist, to a multilevel rendering of the complexity of life with his use of subordinate and parallel plots.
Little is known of Richardson's early life; much of what is known comes from an autobiographical sketch sent to his Dutch translator. Richardson was born in 1689 in Derbyshire, England, to a cabinetmaker and his wife. One of nine children, Richardson was unable to pursue the quality of education needed to fulfill his wish to become a clergyman. He instead opted, in 1706, to be a bound apprentice to a printer, thinking the profession would allow him plenty of opportunity to read. After seven years apprenticeship and time spent as a journeyman, Richardson became a freeman to the Stationers' Company in 1715, and within several years began his own printing business, which became one of the top publishing houses in London. He became friend and patron of many writers, including Samuel Johnson, Sarah Fielding, and Edward Young (whom he published). Richardson married in 1721; all six children by this marriage died by the age of four, and his wife died in 1731. Married again in 1733, Richardson saw his first child with Elizabeth Leak die before age one. It is believed that these tragedies helped to bring on a nervous condition that plagued Richardson's later life. In 1733 Richardson
published The Apprentice's Vade a handbook. He continued to write occasional pamphlets and edit and revise other works including, probably, certain titles by Daniel Defoe. He began his first novel, Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740) at the age of fiftyone, and continued writing until age seventy. He died a prosperous man in London in 1761.
Richardson was commissioned by two booksellers to write a collection of model letters which could be used by people with little formal education; the result was Letters Written to and for Particular Friends, on the Most Important Occasions (1741). While writing this work, Richardson recollected a story he had heard concerning the seduction of a servant girl by her master and decided to develop this incident into a series of letters from the girl to her parents. Thus arose Pamela, and so began Richardson's career as a novelist. Perhaps the most popular novel of the eighteenth-century, Pamela and its sequel crystalized the aspirations of the growing middle class in England. Richardson depicted his heroine through her daily explorations into her own identity, rather than through an omniscient narrator or a first-person narrator speaking in retrospect. This technique of using letters with their, in Richardson's words, "instantaneous Descriptions and Reflections," and the attention to fine detail, tended to make the large work seem realistic. Indeed, Richardson passed himself off as merely the editor of Pamela's letters, rather than the author of them; the first editions of Pamela did not even mention Richardson's name. Clarissa, considered Richardson's masterpiece, concerns itself with a heroine who chooses death over the world of violence, materialism, and sin into which she has been seduced. Read as an indictment of bourgeois materialism and family tyranny, as well as an attack on the aristocratic notion of class supremacy, Clarissa is also notable for its depictions of human emotions during periods of great stress. Richardson further advanced his epistolary technique by using three other points of view besides Clarissa's to explore the implications of events in the story. Richardson's final novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, is believed to have been written in response to Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, to demonstrate that a good, moral man, in Richardson's estimation, can be a hero.
Pamela was immediately and extremely popular with the reading public. Richardson initially also enjoyed critical acclaim and was considered one of the most important English novelists. His contemporaries focused almost exclusively on his moral teachings, and most praised the author for his judgment and honesty. Richardson's stated purpose in his works was moral instruction and thus when his sincerity was eventually questioned, and his work attacked by Fielding in parodies including Shamela, Richardson defended himself with explanations and revisions, particularly in the third edition of Pamela. Fielding ridiculed Pamela's obsession with chastity and her tendency to measure the rewards of virtue in material terms. Fielding's interpretation of Pamela established the opposition between "Pamelist" and "anti-Pamelist" which has persisted to the present day. Richardson's popularity rapidly diminished in the nineteenth-century until he was generally neglected. However, critics would on occasion mention him as historically important for advancing the epistolary form. William Hazlitt perceptively wrote that his works combine the romance of fiction with the "literal minuteness of a common diary." Twentieth-century critics have emphasized Richardson's concept of self. His character's extreme self-awareness can be read at different levels; according to both Richardson and critics, the characters are not as bound to the truth as they continually claim. Elements of Richardson's work have often been praised in spite of their author; critics suggested that the depths of his work were present unconsciously or even by accident. Scholar A. D. McKillop argued convincingly to the contrary, that Richardson was a skilled, deliberate craftsman conscious of his work, its layers, and its meanings. Further rehabilitation to Richardson's reputation was gained from W. M. Sale's painstaking bibliographic study and Ian Watt's discussion of background and technique. Richardson is studied today as a psychological novelist and as a social historian for his descriptions and insight in regard to the relationships of the sexes in a patriarchal society, and to sexual themes in general.
The Apprentice's Vade or, Young Man's Pocket Companion (handbook) 1733
* Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. In a Series of Familiar Letters from a Beautiful Young Damsel, to Her Parents. Now First Published in Order to Cultivate the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of Both Sexes. (novel) 1740
Letters Written to and for Particular Friends, on the Most Important Occasions; Directing Not Only the Requisite Style and Forms to be Observed in Writing Familiar Letters, but How to Think and Act Justly and Prudently, in the Common Concerns of Human Life, (fictional letters) 1741; also published as Familiar Letters on Important Occasions, 1928
* Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. In a Series of Familiar Letters from a Beautiful Young Damsel, to Her Parents. And Afterwards, in Her Exalted Condition, between Her, and Persons of Figure and Quality, upon the Most Important and Entertaining Subjects, in Genteel Life, (novel) 1741
Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady; Comprehending the Most Important Concerns of Private Life. 7 vols. (novel) 1747-48
The History of Sir Charles Grandison. 7 vols. (novel) 1753-54
A Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Maxims, Cautions, and Reflexions, Contained in the Histories of Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison. (aphorisms) 1755...
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SOURCE: "Richardson's Novels," in Hours in a Library, Smith, Elder, & Co., 1874, pp. 59-112.
[In the following essay, Stephen argues that Richardson 's integration of "feminine " characteristics into his style—namely, propensities for letter-writing, flattery, idle chatter, and "the delicate perception, the sensibility to emotion, and the interest in small details"—is responsible for both the merits and defects of his works.]
The literary artifice, so often patronised by Lord Macaulay, of describing a character by a series of paradoxes, is of course, in one sense, a mere artifice. It is easy enough to make a dark grey black and a light grey white, and to bring the two into unnatural proximity. But it rests also upon the principle which is more of a platitude than a paradox, that our chief faults often lie close to our chief merits. The greatest man is perhaps one who is so equably developed that he has the strongest faculties in the most perfect equilibrium, and is apt to be somewhat uninteresting to the rest of mankind. The man of lower eminence has some one or more faculties developed out of all proportion to the rest, with the natural result of occasionally overbalancing him. A first-rate gymnast with enormous muscular power in his arms and chest, and comparatively feeble lower limbs, can sometimes perform the strangest feats in consequence of his conformation, but owes his...
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SOURCE: "Reputation and Influence," in Samuel Richardson: Printer and Novelist, The University of North Carolina Press, 1936, pp. 266-83.
[In the following excerpt, McKillop surveys eighteenth-century criticism of Richardson's novels.]
Literary history has confirmed the claims of Fielding and Richardson to be considered the founders of a "new species of writing," and sweeping statements about the influence of both men can be made with some show of justification. But it is uncritical to treat later eighteenth century fiction as merely the lengthened shadows of the two great novelists, to credit all the humor and critical realism to Fielding, all the sentimentalism and feminine touches to Richardson. It is safer to content ourselves with a brief study of reputations, rather than to try to weigh the imponderables that make up what we call literary influence. Although reputation and influence are of course connected, there is a wider gap between them than is always realized; an author may be universally known and admired, and yet his work may not be imitated to much purpose. In the case of Richardson, the highly individual, even abnormal quality of his work contrasts curiously with his wide-spread popular appeal. Despite the persistence of currents which could be called Richardsonian, he remained, perhaps fortunately, the dinosaur of English novelists.
The most striking thing about...
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SOURCE: "From Pamela Andrews to Joseph Andrews," in Pamela-Shamela: A Study of the Criticisms, Burlesques, Parodies, and Adaptations of Richardsons 's "Pamela, " University of Nebraska Press, 1960, pp. 3-22.
[In the excerpt below, Kreissman evaluates the objections to Pamela brought forward in Henry Fielding's devastating parody of the work, Shamela.]
On Saturday, February 14, 1741, the London Daily Advertiser carried the announcement:
This Day is published (Price bound 6s) In two neat Pocket Volumes The Second Edition (to which are prefix'd Extracts from several curious Letters written to the Editor on the Subject) of Pamela: or, Virtue rewarded. In a Series of Familiar Letters From A Beautiful Young Damsel, To Her Parents. Now first Published In order to cultivate the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of Both Sexes. A Narrative which has its Foundation in Truth and Nature; and at the same time that it agreeably entertains, by a Variety of curious and affecting Incidents, is intirely divested of all those Images, which, in too many Pieces calculated for Amusement only, tend to inflame the Minds they should instruct.1
Since this second edition was called for only three months after the appearance of a large first edition on November 6, 1740, it looked as though booksellers Rivington and...
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SOURCE: "The Dramatic Novel," in Samuel Richardson & The Dramatic Novel, University of Kentucky Press, 1968, pp. 95-124.
[In the excerpt following, Konigsberg examines several epistolary techniques used by Richardson in his novels and explains how Richardson's handling of dialogue and visual descriptions enabled him to achieve effects typically attained only in the theater.]
… A performed drama is immediately real to our senses; it creates life before our eyes. We see the people and events, hear the voices and clamor of life. These same dramatic qualities are suggested by the playbook: dialogue and stage action are transcribed in words which suggest a pattern of images that create in our minds the entire scene.
It was this dimension that fiction required in order to create the illusion of a more normal world and treat life more seriously. Until 1740 the novel was a vehicle for improbable tales, semirealistic love affairs, and unusual personal histories. With its rudimentary narrative techniques the genre could relate no more. Its basic method of summarizing episodes and quickly narrating a multitude of adventures made its success dependent largely upon the excitement of events. Its techniques could not create real people; thus, it could hardly portray realistic situations and concern itself with important moral and social matters. What was required was a dramatic dimension that...
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SOURCE: "From Pamela to Grandison: Richardson's Moral Revolution in the Novel," in Studies in Change and Revolution: Aspects of English Intellectual History 1640-1800, edited by Paul J. Korshin, Scholar Press, 1972, pp. 191-210.
[In the following essay, Guilhamet contends that undue emphasis has been placed on Richardson's realism. He suggests that, instead, the proper focus should be on the novelist's moral ideals.]
It is remarkable how little we know about the work of Samuel Richardson. Of substantial influence during his own time, not only in England but on the Continent and in America, Richardson has continued to suffer from the attacks originated by Fielding and by a persistent inability on the part of later critics to take his work seriously. As Arnold Kettle writes in his Introduction to the English Novel: "No considerable writer in our language is so easily made fun of as Richardson."1
To rectify the seeming inconsistency of a critical estimate which discovers greatness and absurdity in the same place, a reappraisal of Richardson's achievement, announced by Frank Kermode as early as 1950, has been going forward. It is probably safe to say that this reappraisal circulates around a division for which Richardson himself is largely responsible: that between moral meaning and realistic presentation.
Challenging a major...
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SOURCE: "Richardson as Author: Gamester and Master," in Reading "Clarissa ": The Struggles of Interpretation, Yale University Press, 1979, pp. 123-42.
[Below, Warner explores Richardson's sometimes counterproductive attempts at asserting authorial control over the readers of Clarissa.]
Richardson's debate with his readers about the true meaning of Clarissa, and the proper ending for the story, is one of the truly bizarre episodes in the annals of the English literary tradition. These debates provide historical evidence for something we have already noticed about the text—its openness to divergent interpretations. Why does this text incite such diverse interpretations? An answer emerges from a consideration of Richardson's aesthetic—his stated intentions in writing Clarissa, and the steps he takes to realize those intentions. A shorthand formulation of this aesthetic might go this way: Richardson has a design upon his readers. He wishes to re-form them so they will embrace the Christian ideals of virtue that a wayward age has forgotten (IV,553). The first step is to engage the reader in the story as powerfully as possible. Richardson does this by working to give his fiction all the immediacy, suspense, and presentness of a game. Then, with the reader caught in the coils of the fiction, Richardson plans to make his story swerve toward virtue, and carry the reader with him irresistibly....
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SOURCE: "'Naming the Writer': Exposure, Authority, and Desire in Pamela," in Criticism, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, Spring, 1981, pp. 126-40.
[In the following essay, Larson examines parallels in Pamela between Richardson and B, particularly in regard to their avoidance of self-exposure.]
Among the many letters of praise prefacing the second edition of Richardson's Pamela, one correspondent is particularly anxious to learn the name of the new book's author. "If it is not a Secret," writes the admirer, "oblige me so far as to tell me his Name; for since I feel him to be a Friend of my Soul, it would be a Kind of Violation to retain him a Stranger."1 Less enthused readers of Richardson may smile at this sort of importunate curiosity, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the desire that motivates this appeal: the desire to secure a singular, unmediated intimacy between reader and author. Significantly, however, for Richardson's admirer this desire is stymied. Behind his polite request there lies an implicit complaint that the reader's confidence has not been reciprocated; Richardson's strange "Kind of Violation," that is, entails an intimacy with the reader vouchsafed through the voice of Pamela that wards off exposure of his own name and the possible vulnerability and loss Richardson fears such exposure may incur. Characteristically reticent, Richardson can only reply to his...
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SOURCE: "Horrid Romancing: Richardson's Use of the Fairy Tale," in Samuel Richardson: A Man of Letters, Princeton University Press, 1982, pp. 145-95.
[In the following excerpt, Flynn discusses how Richardson uses elements of the fairy tale in creating a fantastic world and contends that—through editorial power and attention to minutiae—he positions readers to accept the extraordinary as normal.]
Was ever the like heard? … But this, to be sure, is horrid romancing!
Pamela (I, 243-44) [I, 156]
In their study of fairy tales, lona and Peter Opie include among their illustrations one of Joseph Highmore's portraits of Pamela.1 Pamela is telling a nursery tale to a pensive-looking Miss Godwin, five of the B. cherubs, and the nursery maid, "delightedly pursuing some useful Needlework, for the dear Charmers of my Heart." They wait, "all as hush and as still, as Silence itself," for moral allegories about the two good little boys and the two good little girls who married "and made good Papas and Mammas, and were so many Blessings to the Age in which they lived." There were also tales of three naughty little boys and one naughty little girl who break their mother's heart and come to bad ends. One boy drowns at sea, one turns thief, and one begs for bread, while the "naughty girl, having never loved...
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SOURCE: "The Institutionalization of Conflict (I): Richardson and the Domestication of Service," in The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 357-81.
[In the following excerpt, McKeon considers Pamela's struggles in the context of eighteenth-century domestic service and socialization.]
… The volatile modernization of feudal conceptions of institutional service can be said to take two forms and to proceed in two directions: "outward," as the robe nobility and career bureaucracy of the centralized state; and "inward," as domestic service within the last bastion of feudal patrimonialism, the family. In eighteenth-century England, the theory of domestic service continued to be dominated by a "medieval" model of personal discretion and submission that was increasingly at odds with the practicalities of wage employment. It is a crucial feature of the love narrative of Mr. B. and Pamela that it is specified to a conflict not only between gentry and commoner but also between master and servant. In fact, the analogy between public and private service—or rather, between their respective deformations—is an active one in Pamela. Much of Pamela's resistance to Mr. B.'s advances he understands not only as insubordination but as a criminal act that gives Pamela the status of a "treasonable" "rebel" against B.'s authority (66, 116, 199, 203). For Pamela, the...
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SOURCE: "Truth and Storytelling in Clarissa," in Samuel Richardson: Tercentary Essays, edited by Margaret Anne Doody and Peter Sabor, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 40-50.
[In the following essay, Dussinger discusses truth and the semblance of truth in Clarissa's letters, and explains why Clarissa's attempts at sincerity cannot succeed.]
A character who prefers death to a life not on her own terms may speak without guile. Partly owing to her reputation as Christian martyr, Clarissa, who could summon even Fielding's tears, has usually appeared free of the mendacity associated with Pamela's account of herself.1 Yet despite this character's own frenetic assurances of intentional purity, Dr Johnson observed shrewdly that 'there is always something which she [Clarissa] prefers to truth'2 and thus addressed the central epistemological dilemma while leaving open the question of whether her penchant for untruth is wilful or not.
To a large extent the question is unanswerable. Just as in the heat of the moment self-consciousness is inherently unstable and contingent, so Richardson's fictional narrative, which imitates this temporality, exploits the irresolvable tension between categorical, atemporal assertions about the world, on the one hand, and the character's limited, momentary account of an immediate situation, on the other. The aesthetic strategy of...
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SOURCE: "Three into One: Plotting and Epistolary Technique," in Clarissa's Plots, University of Delaware Press, 1994, pp. 141-57.
[In the following excerpt, Bueler describes various plotcombining techniques used in Clarissa, including the sharing of characters and events throughout the novel's three plots, and the use of dramatic elements in letters exchanged between characters.]
[Elsewhere] I have focused in turn on Richardson's three received plots—the Tested Woman Plot, the Don Juan Plot, and the Prudence Plot—in order to sketch the inherent logic of each and Richardson's most significant ways with it. But what makes Clarissa is their combination, and my focus in this chapter is the integrative technique. Richardson's most powerful effects would be impossible without the plot interactions he is able to pull off. The custom-made temptation of his heroine, for instance. Unlike the standardized and perfunctory seductions faced by most tested women, Clarissa's temptation is masterfully crafted from the stuff of her prudential virtue by the most fluent and astute of professional artificers. Or the emphasis on Clarissa's active morality. Although the rape is deadly, the novel never lets her become passive, never equates her virginity with her virtue or allows what is done to her to take precedence over what she does. Or the novel's open insistence upon the religious foundations of moral...
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Brophy, Elizabeth Bergen. Samuel Richardson. Twayne's English Author Series, No. 454. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987, 137 p.
An "accessible guide" to Richardson's life, minor and major works, reputation, and influence.
Downs, Brian W. Richardson. 1928. Reprint. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1969, 248 p.
Examines Richardson's life, environment, friends, artistry, and impact on the novel.
Eaves, T. C. Duncan and Ben D. Kimpel. Samuel Richardson: A Biography. Oxford, Eng.: The Clarendon Press, 1971, 728 p.
Standard biography noted for its comprehensive, scholarly treatment of Richardson's life, work, and literary reputation.
Ball, Donald L. Samuel Richardson's Theory of Fiction. The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1971, 323 p.
Correlates Richardson's stated theory of fiction with his practice of it.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Samuel Richardson: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 173 p.
A wide-ranging collection of essays.
Brophy, Elizabeth Bergen. Samuel Richardson: The...
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