Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1047

Samuel Richardson 1689–1761

Illustration of PDF document

Download Samuel Richardson Study Guide

Subscribe Now

English novelist.

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 224

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

The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson. 6 vols, (letters) 1804

The Novels of Samuel Richardson. 18 vols. (novels) 1929-31

*These works are collectively referred to as Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded.

Leslie Stephen (essay date 1874)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12663

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 stylenamely, 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 awkwardness to the same singularity. He astonishes us for the time more than the well-proportioned man who can do fewer wonders and more useful work. In the intellectual world the contrasts in one man are often greater. Extraordinary memories with weak logical faculties, wonderful imaginative sensibility with a complete absence of self-control, and other defective conformations of mind, supply the raw materials for a luminary of the second order, and imply a predisposition to certain faults, which are natural complements to the conspicuous merits.

Such reflections naturally occur in speaking of one of our greatest literary reputations, whose popularity is almost in an inverse ratio to his celebrity. Everyone knows the names of Sir Charles Grandison and Clarissa Harlowe. They are amongst the established types which serve to point a paragraph; but the volumes in which they are described remain for the most part in undisturbed repose, sleeping peacefully amongst Charles Lamb's biblia a-biblia, books which are no books, or, as he explains, those books 'which no gentleman's library should be without.' They never enjoy the honours of cheap reprints; the modern reader shudders at a novel in eight volumes, and declines to dig for amusement in so profound a mine; when some bold enquirer dips into their pages he generally fancies that the sleep of years has been somehow absorbed into the paper; a certain soporific aroma exhales from the endless files of fictitious correspondence. This contrast, however, between popularity and celebrity is not so rare as to deserve special notice. Richardson is only one of many authors whose fame seldom rouses a very lively curiosity. We should like to see a return of the number of persons who have fairly read to the end of the Faery Queen, or of Paradise Lost, who could pass an examination off-hand even in books of greater claims to popularity—say, in 'Robinson Crusoe,' or 'Gulliver's Travels.' Richardson's slumber may be deeper than that of most men of equal fame, but it is not quite unprecedented. The string of paradoxes, which it would be easy to apply to Richardson, would turn upon a different point. The odd thing is, not that so many people should have forgotten him, but that he should have been remembered by people at first sight so unlike him. Here is a man, we might say, whose special characteristic it was to be a milksop—who provoked Fielding to a coarse hearty burst of ridicule—who was steeped in the incense of useless adulation from a throng of middle-aged lady worshippers—who wrote his novels expressly to recommend little unimpeachable moral maxims, as that evil courses lead to unhappy deaths, that ladies ought to observe the laws of propriety, and generally that it is an excellent thing to be thoroughly respectable; who lived an obscure life in a petty coterie in fourth-rate London society, and was in no respect at a point of view more exalted than that of his companions. What greater contrast can be imagined in its way than that between Richardson, with his secondrate eighteenth-century priggishness and his twopenny-tract morality, and the modern school of French novels, who are certainly not prigs, and whose morality is by no means that of tracts? We might have expected à priori that they would have summarily put him down, as, indeed, M. Taine seems inclined to put him down, as a hopeless Philistine. Yet Richardson is idolized by some of their best writers; Balzac, for example, and George Sand, speak of him with reverence; and a writer who is, perhaps, as odd a contrast to Richardson as could well be imagined—Alfred de Musset—calls Clarissa le premier roman du monde. What is the secret which enables the steady old printer, with his singular limitation to his own career of time and space, to impose upon the wild Byronic Parisian of the next century? Amongst his contemporaries Diderot, the atheistic author of one of the filthiest novels extant, expresses an almost fanatical admiration of Richardson for his purity and power, and declares characteristically that he will place Richardson's works on the same shelf with those of Moses, Homer, Euripides, and other favourite writers; he even goes so far as to excuse Clarissa's belief in Christianity on the ground of her youthful innocence. To continue in the paradoxical vein, we might ask how the quiet tradesman could create the character which has stood ever since for a type of the fine gentleman of the period; or how from the most prosaic of centuries should spring one of the most poetical of feminine ideals? We can hardly fancy a genuine hero with a pigtail, or a heroine in a hoop and high-heeled shoes, nor believe that persons who wore those articles of costume could possess any very exalted virtues. Perhaps our grandchildren may have the same difficulty about the race which wears crinolines and chimney-pot hats.

It is a fact, however, that our grandfathers, in spite of their belief in pigtails and in Pope's poetry, and other matters that have gone out of fashion, had some very excellent qualities, and even some genuine sentiment, in their compositions. Indeed, now that their peculiarities have been finally packed away in various lumberrooms, and the revolt against the old-fashioned school of thought and manners has become triumphant instead of militant, we are beginning to see the picturesque side of their character. They have gathered something of the halo that comes with the lapse of years; and social habits that looked prosaic enough to contemporaries, and to the generation which had to fight against them, have gained a touch of romance. Richardson's characters wear a costume and speak a language which are indeed queer and old-fashioned, but are now far enough removed from the present to have a certain piquancy; and it is becoming easier to recognise the real genius which created them, as the active aversion to the forms in which it was necessarily clothed tends to disappear. The wigs and the high-heeled shoes are not without a certain pleasing quaintness; and when we have surmounted this cause of disgust, we can see more plainly what was the real power which men of the most opposite schools in art have recognised. That Richardson was, as we have said, something of the milksop is obvious; but it is not so plain that that is a very serious objection to a novelist. Every man should have in him some considerable infusion of feminine character; especially a novelist should have the delicate perception, the sensibility to emotion, and the interest in small details, which only women exhibit in perfection. Indeed, this is so true, that there seems to be at present some probability that the art of novel-writing will pass altogether into feminine hands. It may be long before the advocates of woman's rights will conquer other provinces of labour; but they have already monopolised to a great extent the immense novel manufacturing industry of Great Britain. Now, Richardson had certain other talents of a very high order, to which we shall presently refer; but his most obvious merits and defects resulted from his feminine characteristics. His sympathy with women is as obvious in his literature as in his life. Richardson, as we all know, was perpetual president of one of those institutions which have of late flourished and spread mightily—a mutual admiration society. Never was there a body in which the chief received a more perpetual tribute of flattery, and repaid it by more elaborate condescension. Colley Cibber occasionally appeared as a courtier, and surpassed the regular female attendants in the vigour of his phrases, though scarcely in fervour. We find him writing—'The delicious meal I made off Miss Byron—the heroine of Sir Charles Grandison—on Sunday last, has given me an appetite for another slice of her off the spit before she is served on the public table; and he elegantly proposes to 'come and piddle off a bit more of her.' But he expresses himself more energetically, as reported by a lady correspondent. With a profane oath, he swears that he 'would never believe that Providence or eternal wisdom or goodness governed the world, if merit, innocence, and beauty were to be so destroyed'—that is, if Richardson admitted a certain catastrophe to his novel. 'These,' as the lady reporter mildly adds, 'were his strongly emphatic expressions.' The ladies, however, do very well in their own way. An unknown lady writes to him under a feigned signature, and exclaims with more ingenious flattery, 'I do assure you nothing can induce me to read your history through—it is too well executed for such tender and foolish hearts as mine!' However, she manages to proceed, and entreats him to give a turn to the story 'which will make his despairing readers half-mad with joy.' She tells him that 'all the good-natured and compassionate and distressed are on their knees at his feet, and hope they will not beg in vain.' 'Pray, sir,' she exclaims, 'make him (Lovelace) happy—you can so easily do it—pray reform him—will you not save a soul, sir?' And Richardson takes in all this rant with perfect seriousness, replies in a voluminous letter of argument, in which the affectation of sublime wisdom does not conceal a kind of purring complacency, and evidently bolts the flattery whole. The lady from whom I have quoted became a settled correspondent, and, when more familiar, ventured occasionally upon such a tender and humble expostulation as a country priest might offer to a pope. Nor was Richardson slow at returning compliments in kind. Writing to Miss Fielding, a sister of his great rival and contrast, he assures her that her late brother's knowledge of the human heart was not comparable to hers. He saw only the outside of the clockwork—she its finer springs and movements. Truly, in this commerce both parties could boast of their gains. Richardson became a kind of Protestant confessor; he gave ladies solemn advice on little discussions to which they invited him; told them whether they ought to learn Latin, and argued as to the probability of a reformed rake proving a good husband. As is not uncommon in such cases, the teacher seems to catch the tone of his penitents; his letters to young ladies are exactly like young ladies' letters, and full of the gossiping morality and sentimental platitudes in which women occasionally delight. They are worth a glance, because the style is identical with that of the novels, and explains one source of his power. Other popular writers of that and other periods have been the objects of a feminine adoration in which a spiritual emotion is mixed unpleasantly with a certain flavour of more earthly flirtation. This unctuous and morbid vein was undoubtedly one cause of the attraction which Richardson exerted over his foreign contemporaries. The influence of his novels in Germany is noticed in the 'Warheit und Dichtung,' and was amongst the causes predisposing to the Wertherism of the succeeding generation. Clarissa doubtless transmigrated into the heroine of the 'Nouvelle Heloïse,' dropping some of her insular prejudices on the way. And though his countrymen generally sympathised with Fielding's masculine contempt for this sickly sentimentalism, the readers of Richardson were prepared to receive Ossian with enthusiasm, and to weep over Tristram Shandy. Richardson's creed was doubtless as different as can well be conceived from that of Rousseau, and he would have regarded Sterne as unmistakeably one of the wicked; but the creed to which a man may swear alleigance gives but a very vague indication of the sentiment which he encourages. There are many worshippers, and even sincere and genuine worshippers, of respectability, who are stimulating the very revolt which would most shock their prejudices. The time was favourable. Richardson in fact, though the good orthodox little man had no suspicion of his own tendencies, was encouraging a sickly and ominous tone of thought. The temporary eclipse of the priest, the natural spiritual guide of feminine natures, gave a chance to such lay preachers to enjoy a homage not altogether healthy to those who rendered or to those who received it. Nothing, however, can be imagined less revolutionary in intention than Richardson's writings. He is a sentimentalist pure and simple, who means nothing less than to direct the feelings which he evokes against either kings or priests. He is a Tory by principle, though he may be a corrupter by temperament. He describes passion sympathetically, but he holds that it should be confined within the strictest limits of decorum and morality. He is not the only writer who has helped to evoke a spirit which he would be the last to sanction.

Meanwhile his sympathy with women gives a remarkable power to his works. Nothing is more rare than to find a great novelist who can satisfactorily describe the opposite sex. Women's heroes are women in disguise, or mere lay-figures, walking gentlemen who parade tolerably through their parts, but have no real vitality. Miss Brontë, for example, showed extraordinary power in Jane Eyre; but Jane Eyre's lovers, Rockingham and St. John, are painted from the outside; they are, perhaps, what some women think men ought to be, but not what any man of power at all comparable to Miss Brontë's could ever have imagined. Her most successful men—such as M. Paul, in Villette—are those who have the strongest feminine element in their composition. On the other hand, the heroines of male writers are for the most part unnaturally strained or quite colourless; male hands are too heavy for the delicate work required. Milton could draw a majestic Satan, but his Eve is no better than a good-managing housekeeper who knows her place. It is, therefore, remarkable that Richardson's greatest triumph should be in describing a woman, and that most of his feminine characters are more life-like and more delicately discriminated than his men. Unluckily, his conspicuous faults result from the same cause. His moral prosings savour of the endless gossip over a dish of chocolate in which his heroines delight; we can imagine the applause with which his admiring feminine circle would receive his demonstration of the fact, that adversity is harder to bear than prosperity, or the sentiment that 'a man of principle, whose love is founded in reason, and whose object is mind rather than person, must make a worthy woman happy.' These are admirable sentiments, but they savour of the serious tea-party. If Tom Jones has about it an occasional suspicion of beer and pipes at the bar, Sir Charles Grandison recalls an indefinite consumption of tea and small-talk. In short, the feminine part of Richardson's character has a little too much affinity to Mrs. Gamp—not that he would ever be guilty of putting gin in his cup, but that he would have the same capacity for spinning out indefinite twaddle of a superior kind. And, of course, he fell into the faults which beset the members of mutual admiration societies in general, but especially those which consist chiefly of women. Men who meet for purposes of mutual flattery become unnaturally solemn and priggish; they never free themselves from the suspicion that the older members of the coterie may be laughing at them behind their backs. But the flattery of women is so much more delicate, and so much more sincere, that it is far more dangerous. It is a poultice which in time softens the hardest outside. Richardson yielded as entirely as any curate exposed to a shower of slippers. He evidently wrote under the impression that he was not merely an imaginative writer of the highest order, but also a great moralist. 'He taught the passions to move,' says his admirer, Dr. Johnson, 'at the command of virtue.' Certainly that was Richardson's own view. He was reforming the world, putting down vice, sending duelling out of fashion, and inculcating the lessons of the pulpit in a far more attractive form. A modern novelist is half-ashamed of his art; he disclaims earnestly any serious purpose; his highest aim is to amuse his readers, and his greatest boast that he amuses them by honourable or at least by harmless means. There are, indeed, novelists with a purpose, who write to inculcate High-Church or Low-Church principles, or to prove that society at large is out of joint; but a direct intention to prove that men ought not to steal or get drunk, or commit any other atrocities, is generally considered to be beside the novelist's function, and its introduction to be a fault of art. Indeed, there is much to be said against it. In our youth we used to read a poem about a cruel little boy who went out to fish and was punished by somehow becoming suspended by his chin from a hook in the larder. It never produced much effect upon us, because we felt that the accident was, to say the least, rather exceptional; at most, we fished on, and were careful about the larder. The same principle applies to the poetic justice distributed by most novelists. When Richardson kills off his villains by violent deaths, we know too well that many villains live to a good old age, leave handsome fortunes, and are buried under the handsomest of tombstones, with the most elegant of epitaphs. This very rough device for inculcating morality is of course ineffectual, and produces some artistic blemishes. The direct exhortations to his readers to be good are still more annoying; no human being can long endure a mixture of preaching and storytelling. For Heaven's sake, we exclaim, tell us what happens to Clarissa and don't stop to prove that honesty is the best policy! In a wider sense, however, the seriousness of Richardson's purpose is of high value. He is so keenly in earnest, so profoundly interested about his characters, so determined to make us enter into their motives, that we cannot help being carried away; if he never spares an opportunity of giving us a lecture, at least his zeal in setting forth an example never flags for an instant. The effort to give us an ideally perfect character seems to stimulate his imagination, and leads to a certain intensity of realisation which we are apt to miss in the purposeless school of novelists. He is always, as it were, writing at high-pressure and under a sense of responsibility.

The method which he adopts lends itself very conveniently to heighten this effect. It may be reckoned as another feminine peculiarity in Richardson, that he had an inordinate propensity to letter-writing. As a boy he wrote love-letters for the young women of the neighbourhood. When he was grown up he was led to write novels by the admiration expressed for his strange fertility in this direction. Richardson's novels, indeed, are not so much novels put for convenience under the form of letters, as letters expanded till they become novels. A genuine novelist who should put his work into the unnatural shape of a correspondence would probably find it a very awkward expedient; but Richardson gradually worked up to the novel from the conception of a collection of letters; and his method, therefore, came spontaneously to him. He started from the plan of writing letters to illustrate a certain point of morality, and to make them more effective attributed them to a fictitious character. The result was the gigantic tract called Pamela—distinctly the worst of his works—of which it is enough to say at present that it succeeds neither in being moral nor in amusing. It shows, however, a truly amazing fertility in a specially feminine art. We have all suffered from the propensity of some female minds (the causes of which we will not attempt to analyse) for pouring forth indefinite floods of correspondence. We know the heartless fashion in which some ladies, even in these days of penny postage, will fill a sheet of note-paper and proceed to cross their writing till the page becomes a chequer-work of unintelligible hieroglyphics. But we may feel gratitude in looking back to the days when time hung heavier, and letter-writing was a more serious business. The letters of those times may recall the fearful and wonderful labours of tapestry in which ladies employed their needles by way of killing time. The monuments of both kinds are a fearful indication of the ennui from which the perpetrators must have suffered. We pity those who endured the toil as we pity the prisoners whose patient ingenuity has carved a passage through a stone wall with a rusty nail. Richardson's heroines, and his heroes too, for that matter, would have been portents at any time. We will take an example at hazard. Miss Byron, on March 22, writes a letter of fourteen pages. The same day she follows it up by two of six and of twelve pages respectively. On the 23rd she leads off with a letter of eighteen pages, and another of ten. On the 24th she gives us two, filling together thirty pages, at the end of which she remarks that she is forced to lay down her pen, and then adds a postscript of six more; on the 25th she confines herself to two pages; but after a Sunday's rest she makes another start of equal vigour. In three days, therefore, she covers ninety-six pages. Two of the pages are about equal to three in this volume. Consequently, in three days' correspondence, referring to the events of the day, she would fill something like a hundred and forty-four of these pages—a task the magnitude of which may be appreciated by anyone who will try the experiment. We should say that she must have written for nearly eight hours a day, and are not surprised at her remark, that she has on one occasion only managed two hours' sleep.

It would, of course, be the height of pedantry to dwell upon this, as though a fictitious personage were to be in all respects bounded by the narrow limits of human capacity. It is not the object of a really good novelist, nor does it come within the legitimate means of high art in any department, to produce an actual illusion. Show-men in some foreign palaces call upon us to admire paintings which we cannot distinguish from basreliefs; the deception is, of course, a mere trick, and the paintings are simply childish. On the stage we do not require to believe that the scenery is really what it imitates, and the attempt to introduce scraps of real life is a clear proof of a low artistic aim. Similarly a novelist is not only justified in writing so as to prove that his work is fictitious, but he almost necessarily hampers himself, to the prejudice of his work, if he imposes upon himself the condition that his book shall be capable of being mistaken for a genuine narrative. Every good novelist lets us into secrets about the private thoughts of his characters which it would be impossible to obtain in real life. When Mr. Pendennis relates the history of the Newcomes, he very properly gives us long conversation, and even soliloquies and meditations, of which a real Mr. Pendennis must have been necessarily ignorant. We do not, therefore, blame Richardson because his characters have a power of writing which no mortal could ever attain. His fault, indeed, is exactly the contrary. He very erroneously fancies that he is bound to convince us of the possibility of all his machinery, and often produces the very shock to our belief which he seeks to avoid. He is constantly trying to account by elaborate devices for the fertile correspondence of his characters, when it is perfectly plain that they are simply writing for purposes of the fiction. We should never have asked a question as to the authenticity of the letters, if he did not force the question upon us; and no art can induce us for a moment to accept the proffered illusion. For example, Miss Byron gives us a long account of conversations between persons whom she did not know, which took place ten years before. It is much better that the impossibility should be frankly accepted, on the clear ground that authors of novels, and consequently their creatures, have the prerogative of omniscience. At least, the slightest account of the way in which she came by the knowledge would be enough to satisfy us for all purposes of fiction. Richardson is not content with this, and elaborately demonstrates that she might have known a number of minute details which it is perfectly plain that a real Miss Byron could never have known, and thus dashes into our faces an improbability which we should have been quite content to pass unnoticed.

The method, however, of telling the story by the correspondence of the actors produces more important effects. The hundred and forty-four pages we have noticed are all devoted to the proceedings of three days. They are filled, for the most part, with interminable conversations. The story advances by a very few steps; but we know all that every one of the persons concerned has to say about the matter. We discover what was Sir Charles Grandison's relation at a particular time to a certain Italian lady, Clementina. We are told exactly what view he took of his own position; what view Clementina took of it; what Miss Byron had to say to Sir Charles on the subject, and what advice her relations bestowed upon Miss Byron. Then we have all the sentiments of Sir Charles Grandison's sisters, and of his brothers-in-law, and of his reverend old tutor; and the sentiments of all the Lady Clementina's family, and the incidental remarks of a number of subordinate actors. In short, we see the characters all round in all their relations to each other, in every possible variation and permutation; we are present at all the discussions which take place before every step, and watch the gradual variation of all the phases of the positions. We get the same sort of elaborate familiarity with every aspect of affairs that we should receive from reading a blue-book full of some prolix diplomatic correspondence; indeed, Sir Charles Grandison closely resembles such a blue-book, for the plot is carried on mainly by elaborate negotiations between three different families, with proposals, and counter-proposals, and amended proposals, and a final settlement of the very complicated business by a deliberate signing of two different sets of articles. One of them, we need hardly say, is a marriage settlement; the other is a definite treaty between the lady who is not married and her family, the discussion of which occupies many pages. The extent to which we are drawn into the minutest details may be inferred from the fact that nearly a volume is given to marrying Sir Charles Grandison to Miss Byron, after all difficulties have been surmounted. We have at full length all the discussions by which the day is fixed, and all the remarks of the unfortunate lovers of both parties, and all the criticisms of both families, and finally an elaborate account of the ceremony, with the names of the persons who went in the separate coaches, the dresses of the bride and bridesmaids, and the sums which Sir Charles gave away to the village girls who strewed flowers on the pathway. Surely the feminine element in Richardson's character was a little in excess.

The result of all this is a sort of Dutch painting of extraordinary minuteness. The art reminds us of the patient labour of a line-engraver, who works for days at making out one little bit of minute stippling and crosshatching. The characters are displayed to us step by step and line by line. We are gradually forced into familiarity with them by a process resembling that by which we learn to know people in real life. We are treated to few set analyses or summary descriptions, but by constantly reading their letters and listening to their talk we gradually form an opinion of the actors. We see them, too, all round; instead of, as is usual in modern novels, regarding them steadily from one point of view; we know what each person thinks of everyone else, and what everyone else thinks of him; they are brought into a stereoscopic distinctness by combining the different aspects of their character. Of course, a method of this-kind involves much labour on the part both of writer and reader. It is evident that Richardson did not think of amusing a stray half-hour in a railway-carriage or in a club smoking-room; he counted upon readers who would apply themselves seriously to a task, in the hope of improving their morals as much as of gaining some harmless amusement. But it must also be said that, considering the cumbrous nature of the process, the spirit with which it is applied is wonderful. Richardson's own interest in his actors never flags. The distinct style of every correspondent is faithfully preserved with singular vivacity. When we have read a few letters we are never at a loss to tell, from the style alone of any short passage, who is the imaginary author. Consequently, readers who can bear to have their amusement diluted, who are content with an imperceptibly slow development of plot, and can watch without impatience the approach of a foreseen incident through a couple of volumes, may find the prolixity less intolerable than might be expected. If they will be content to skip two letters out of every three, they may be entertained with a series of pictures of character and manners skilfully contrasted and brilliantly coloured, though with a limited allowance of incident. Within his own sphere, no writer exceeds him in clearness and delicacy of conception.

In another way, the machinery of a fictitious correspondence is rather troublesome. As the author never appears in his own person, he is often obliged to trust his characters with trumpeting their own virtues. Sir Charles Grandison has to tell us himself of his own virtuous deeds; how he disarms ruffians who attack him in overwhelming numbers, and converts evil-doers by impressive advice; and, still more awkwardly, he has to repeat the amazing compliments which everybody is always paying him. Richardson does his best to evade the necessity; he couples all his virtuous heroes with friendly confidants, who relieve the virtuous heroes of the tiresome task of self-adulation; he supplies the heroes themselves with elaborate reasons for overcoming their modesty, and makes them apologise profusely for the unwelcome task. Still, ingenious as his expedients may be, and willing as we are to make allowance for the necessities of his task, we cannot quite free ourselves from an unpleasant suspicion as to the simplicity of his characters. Clarissa is comparatively free from this fault, though Clarissa takes a questionable pleasure in uttering the finest sentiments and posing herself as a model of virtue. But in Sir Charles Grandison the fulsome interchange of flattery becomes offensive even in fiction. The virtuous characters give and receive an amount of eulogy enough to turn the strongest stomachs. How amiable is A.! says B.; how virtuous is C., and how marvellously witty is D.! And then A., C., and D. go through the same performance, adding a proper compliment to B. in place of the exclamation appropriate to themselves. The only parallel in modern times is to be found at some of the public dinners, where every man proposes his neighbour's health with a tacit understanding that he is himself to furnish the text for a similar oration. But then at dinners people have the excuse of a state of modified sobriety.

This fault is, as we have said, aggravated by the epistolary method. That method makes it necessary that each person should display his or her own virtues, as in an exhibition of gymnastics the performers walk round and show their muscles. But the fault lies a good deal deeper. Every writer, consciously or unconsciously, puts himself into his novels, and exhibits his own character even more distinctly than that of his heroes. And Richardson, the head of a little circle of conscientious admirers of each other's virtues, could not but reproduce on a different scale the tone of his own society. The Grandisons, and the families of Miss Byron and Clementina, merely repeat a practice with which he was tolerably familiar at home; whilst his characters represent to some extent the idealised Richardson himself;—and this leads us to the most essential characteristic of his novels. The greatest woman in France, according to Napoleon's brutal remark, was the woman who had the most children. In a different sense, the saying may pass for truth. The greatest writer is the one who has produced the largest family of immortal children. Those of whom it can be said that they have really added a new type to the fictitious world are indeed few in number. Cervantes is in the front rank of all imaginative creators, because he has given birth to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Richardson's literary representatives are far indeed below these, but Richardson too may boast that, in his narrower sphere of thought, he has invented two characters that have still a strong vitality. They show all the weaknesses inseparable from the age and country of their origin. They are far inferior to the highest ideals of the great poets of the world; they are cramped and deformed by the frigid conventionalities of their century and the narrow society in which they move and live. But for all that they stir the emotions of a distant generation with power enough to show that their author must have pierced below the surface into the deeper and more perennial springs of human passion. These two characters are, of course, Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison; and I may endeavour shortly to analyse the sources of their en-during interest.

Sir Charles Grandison has passed into a proverb. When Carlyle calls Lafayette a Grandison-Cromwell, he hits off one of those admirable nicknames which paint a character for us at once. Sir Charles Grandison is the model fine gentleman of the eighteenth century—the master of correct deportment, the unimpeachable representative of the old school. Richardson tells us with a certain naïveté that he has been accused of describing an impossible character; that Sir Charles is a man absolutely without a fault, or at least with faults visible only on a most microscopic observation. In fact, the only fault to which Sir Charles himself pleads guilty, in seven volumes, is that he once rather loses his temper. Two ruffians try to bully him in his own house, and even draw their swords upon him. Sir Charles so far forgets himself as to draw his own sword, disarm both of his opponents, and turn them out of doors. He cannot forgive himself, he says, that he has been 'provoked by two such men to violate the sanctity of his own house.' His only excuse is, 'that there were two of them; and that tho' I drew, yet I had the command of myself so far as only to defend myself, when I might have done with them what I pleased.' According to Richardson, this venial offence is the worst blot on Sir Charles's character. We certainly do not blame him for the attempt to draw an ideally perfect hero. It is a perfectly legitimate aim in fiction, and the only question can be whether he has succeeded: for Richardson's own commendation cannot be taken as quite sufficient, neither can we quite accept the ingenious artifice by which all the secondary characters perform as decoy-birds to attract our admiration. They do their very best to induce us to join in their hymns of praise. 'Grandison,' says a Roman Catholic bishop, 'were he one of us, might expect canonisation.' 'How,' exclaims his uncle, after a conversation with his paragon of a nephew, 'how shall I bear my own littleness?' A party of reprobates about town have a long dispute with him, endeavouring to force him into a duel. At the end of it one of them exclaims admiringly, 'Curse me, if I believe there is such another man in the world!' 'I never saw a hero till now,' says another. 'I had rather have Sir Grandison for my friend than the greatest prince on earth,' says a third. 'I had rather,' replies his friend, 'be Sir Grandison for this one past hour than the Great Mogul all my life.' And the general conclusion is, 'what poor toads are we!' 'This man shows us,' as a lady declares, 'that goodness and greatness are synonymous words;' and when his sister marries, she complains that her brother 'has long made all other men indifferent to her. Such an infinite difference!' In the evening, according to custom, she dances a minuet with her bridegroom, but whispers a friend that she would have performed better had she danced with her brother.

The structure, however, of the story itself is the best illustration of Sir Charles's admirable qualities. The plot is very simple. He rescues Miss Byron from an attempt at a forcible abduction. Miss Byron, according to her friends, is the queen of her sex, and is amongst women what Sir Charles is amongst men. Of course, they straightway fall in love. Sir Charles, however, shows symptoms of a singular reserve, which is at last explained by the fact that he is already half-engaged to a noble Italian lady, Clementina. He has promised, in fact, to marry her if certain objections on the score of his country and religion can be surmounted. The interest lies chiefly in the varying inclinations of the balance, at one moment favourable to Miss Byron, and at another to the 'saint and angel' Clementina. When Miss Byron thinks that Sir Charles will be bound in honour to marry Clementina, she begins to pine; 'she visibly falls away; and her fine complexion fades;' her friends 'watch in silent love every turn of her mild and patient eye, every change of her charming countenance; for they know too well to what to impute the malady which has approached the best of hearts; they know that the cure cannot be within the art of the physician.' When Clementina fears that the scruples of her relatives will separate her from Sir Charles, she takes the still more decided step of going mad; and some of her madness would be very touching, if it were not a trifle too much after the conventional pattern of the mad women in Sheridan's 'Critic' Whilst these two ladies are breaking their hearts about Sir Charles they do justice to each other's merits. Harriet will never be happy unless she knows that the admirable Clementina has reconciled herself to the loss of her adored; when Clementina finds herself finally separated from her lover, she sincerely implores Sir Charles to marry her more fortunate rival. Never was there such a display of fine feeling and utter absence of jealousy. Meanwhile a lovely ward of Sir Charles finds it necessary to her peace of mind to be separated from her guardian; and another beautiful, but rather less admirable, Italian actually follows him to England to persuade him to accept her hand. Four ladies—all of them patterns of all physical, moral, and intellectual excellence, are breaking their hearts; and though they are so excellent that they overcome their natural jealousy, they can scarcely look upon any other man after having known this model of all his sex. Indeed, every woman who approaches him falls desperately in love with him, unless she is his sister or old enough to be his grandmother. The plot of the novel depends upon an attraction for the fair sex which is apparently irresistible; and the men, if they are virtuous, rejoice to sit admiringly at his feet, and if they are vicious retire abashed from his presence, to entreat his good advice when they are upon their deathbeds.

All this is easy enough. A novelist can make his women fall in love with his hero as easily as, with a stroke of the pen, he can endow him with fifty thousand a year, or bestow upon him every virtue under heaven. Neither has he any difficulty in making him the finest dancer in England, or giving him such marvellous skill with the small-sword that he can avoid the sin of duelling by instantaneously disarming his most formidable opponents. The real question is, whether he can animate this conglomerate of all conceivable virtues with a real human soul, set him before us as a living and breathing reality, and make us feel that if we had known him, we too should have been ready to swell the full chorus of admiration. It is rather more difficult to convey the impression which a perusal of his correspondence and conversation leaves upon an unprejudiced mind. Does Sir Charles, when we come to know him intimately—for, with the ample materials provided, we really seem to know him—fairly support the amazing burden thrown upon him? Do we feel a certain disappointment when we meet the man whom all ladies love, and in whom every gentleman confesses a superior nature?

There are two anecdotes about Sir Charles which seem to indicate his character better than any elaborate analysis. Voltaire, we know, ridiculed the proud English, who with the same scissors cut off the heads of their kings and the tails of their horses. To this last weakness Sir Charles was superior. His horses, says Miss Byron, 'are not docked; their tails are only tied up when they are on the road.' She would wish to find some fault with him, but as she forcibly says, 'if he be of opinion that the tails of these noble animals are not only a natural ornament, but of real use to defend them from the vexatious insects that in summer are so apt to annoy them, how far from a dispraise is this humane consideration!' The other anecdote is of a different kind. When Sir Charles goes to church he does not, like some other gentlemen, bow low to the ladies of his acquaintance, and then to others of the gentry. No! 'Sir Charles had first other devoirs to pay. He paid us his second compliments.' From these two exemplary actions we must infer his whole character. It should have been inscribed on his tombstone, 'He would not dock his horses' tails.' That is, the most trifling details of his conduct are regulated on the most serious considerations. He is one of those solemn beings who can't shave themselves without implicitly asserting a great moral principle. He finds sermons in his horses' tails; he could give an excellent reason for the quantity of lace on his coat, which was due, it seems, to a sentiment of filial reverence; and he could not fix his hour for dinner without an eye to the reformation of society. In short, he was a prig of the first water; self-conscious to the last degree; and so crammed with little moral aphorisms that they drop out of his mouth whenever he opens his lips. And then his religion is in admirable keeping. It is intimately connected with the excellence of his deportment; and is, in fact, merely the application of the laws of good society to the loftiest sphere of human duty. He pays his second compliments to his lady, and his first to the object of his adoration. He very properly gives the precedence to the being he professes to adore—but it is only a precedence. As he carries his solemnity into the pettiest trifles of life, so he considers religious duties to be simply the most important part of social etiquette. He would shrink from blasphemy even more than from keeping on his hat in the presence of ladies; but the respect which he owes in one case is of the same order with that due in the other: it is only a degree more important.

We feel, indeed, a certain affection for Sir Charles Grandison. He is pompous and ceremonious to an insufferable degree; but there is really some truth in his sister's assertion, that his is the most delicate of human minds; through the cumbrous formalities of his century there shines a certain quickness and sensibility; he even condescends to be lively after a stately fashion, and to indulge in a little 'raillying,' only guarding himself rather too carefully against unbecoming levity. Indeed, though a man of the world at the present day would be as much astonished at his elaborate manners as at his laced coat and sword, he would admit that Sir Charles was by no means wanting in tact; his talk is weighted with more elaborate formulae than we care to employ, but it is good vigorous conversation in the main, and, if rather overlaid with sermonising, can at times be really amusing. His religion is not of a very exalted character; he rises to no sublime heights of emotion, and would simply be puzzled by the fervours or the doubts of a more modern generation. In short, it seems to be compounded of common-sense, and a regard for decorum—and those are not bad things in their way, though not the highest. He is not a very ardent reformer; he doubts whether the poor should be taught to read, and is very clear that everyone should be made to know his station; but still he talks with sense and moderation, and even gets so far as to suggest the necessity of reformatories. He is not very romantic, and displays an amount of self-command in judicially settling the claims of the various ladies who are anxious to marry him, which is almost comic; he is perfectly ready to marry the Italian lady, if she can surmount her religious scruples, though he is in love with Miss Byron; and his mind is evidently in a pleasing state of equilibrium, so that he will be happy with either dear charmer. Indeed, for so chivalric a gentleman, his view of love and marriage is far less enthusiastic than we should now require. One of his benevolent actions, which throws all his admirers into fits of eulogy, is to provide one of his uncles with a wife. The gentleman is a peer, but has hitherto been of disreputable life. The lady, though of good family and education, is above thirty, and her family have lost their estate. The match of convenience which Sir Charles patches up between them has obvious prudential recommendations; and of course it turns out admirably. But one is rather puzzled to know what special merits Sir Charles can claim for bringing it to pass.

Such a hero as this may be worthy and respectable, but is not a very exalted ideal. Neither do his circumstances increase our interest. It would be rather a curious subject of enquiry why it should be so impossible to make a virtuous hero interesting in fiction. In real life, the men who do heroic actions are certainly more attractive than the villains. Domestic affection, patriotism, piety, and other good qualities are pleasant to contemplate in the world; why should they be so often an unspeakable bore in novels? Principally, no doubt, because our conception of a perfect man is apt to bring the negative qualities into too great prominence; we are asked to admire men because they have not passions—not because they overcome them. But there are further difficulties; for example, in a novel it is generally so easy to see what is wrong and what is right—the right-hand path branches off so decidedly from the left, that we give a man little credit for making the proper choice. Still more is it difficult to let us sufficiently into a man's interior, to let us see the struggle and the self-sacrifice which ought to stir our sympathies. We witness the victories, but it is hard to make us feel the cost at which they are won. Now, Richardson has, as we shall directly remark, overcome this difficulty to a great extent in Clarissa; but in Sir Charles Grandison he has entirely shirked it; he has made everything too plain and easy for his hero. 'I think I could be a good woman,' says Becky Sharp, 'if I had five thousand a year,'—and the history of Sir Charles Grandison might have suggested the remark. To be young, handsome, healthy, active, with a fine estate, and a grand old house; to be able, by your eloquence, to send a sinner into a fit (as Sir Charles does once); to be the object of a devoted passion from three or four amiable, accomplished, and beautiful women—each of whom has a fine fortune, and only begs you to throw your handkerchief towards her, whilst she promises to bear no grudge if you throw it to her neighbour—all these are favourable conditions for virtue—especially if you mean the virtues of being hospitable, generous, a good landlord and husband, and in every walk of life thoroughly gentlemanlike in your behaviour. But the whole design is rather too much in accordance with the device of enabling Sir Charles to avoid duels by having a marvellous trick of disarming his adversaries. 'What on earth is the use of my fighting with you,' says King Padella to Prince Giglio, 'if you have got a fairy sword and a fairy horse?' And what merit is there in winning the battle of life, when you have every single circumstance in your favour? Poor old broken-down Colonel Newcome, in the Greyfriars, appeals with infinitely more force to our sympathies, than this prosperous young Sir Charles, rich with every gift the gods can give him, and of whom the most we can say is, that the possession of all those gifts, if it has made him rather pompous and self-conscious, has not made him close-fisted or hard-hearted. Sir Charles, then, represents a rather carnal ideal; he suggests to us those well-fed, almost beefy and corpulent angels, whom the contemporary school of painters sometimes portray. No doubt they are angels, for they have wings and are seated in the clouds; but there is nothing ethereal in their whole nature. We have no love for asceticism; but a few hours on the column of St. Simon Stylites, or a temporary diet of locusts and wild honey, might have purified Sir Charles's exuberant self-satisfaction. For all this, he is not without a certain solid merit, and the persons by whom he is surrounded—on whom we have not space to dwell—have a large share of the vivacity which amuses us in the real men and women of their time. Their talk may not be equal to that in Boswell's 'Johnson;' but it is animated and amusing, and they compose a gallery of portraits which would look well in a solid red-brick mansion of the Georgian era.

We must, however, leave Sir Charles, to say a few words upon that which is Richardson's real masterpiece, and which, in spite of a full share of the defects we have noticed in Grandison, will always command the admiration of persons who have courage enough to get through eight volumes of correspondence. The characters of the little world in which the reader will pass his time are in some cases the same who reappear in Grandison. The lively Lady G. in the last, is merely a new version of Miss Howe in the former. Clarissa herself is Miss Byron under altered circumstances, and receives from her friends the same shower of superlatives, whenever they have occasion to touch upon her merits. Richardson's ideal lady is not at first sight more prepossessing than his gentleman. After Clarissa's death, her friend Miss Howe writes a glowing panegyric on her character. It will be enough to give the distribution of her time. To rest it seems she allotted six hours only. Her first three morning hours were devoted to study and to writing those terribly voluminous letters which, as one would have thought, must have consumed a still longer period. Two hours more were given to domestic management, for, as Miss Howe explains, 'she was a perfect mistress of the four principal rules of arithmetic' Five hours were spent in music, drawing, and needlework, this last especially, and in conversation with the venerable parson of the parish. Two hours she devoted to breakfast and dinner; and as it was hard to restrict herself to this allowance, she occasionally gave one hour more to dinner-time conversation. One hour more was spent in visiting the neighbouring poor, and the remaining four hours to supper and conversation. These periods, it seems, were not fixed for every day; for she kept a kind of running account, and permitted herself to have an occasional holiday by drawing upon the reserved fund of the four hours for supper.

Setting aside the fearfully systematic nature of this arrangement—the stern determination to live by rule and system—it must be admitted that Miss Harlowe was what is called by ladies a very 'superior' person. She would have made an excellent housekeeper, or even a respectable governess. We feel a certain gratitude to her for devoting four hours to supper; and, indeed, Richardson's characters are always well cared for in the victualling department. They always take their solid three meals, with a liberal intercalation of dishes of tea and chocolate. Miss Harlowe, we must add, knew Latin, although her quotations of classical authors are generally taken from translations. Her successor, Miss Byron, was not allowed this accomplishment, Richardson's doubts of its suitability to ladies having apparently gathered strength in the interval. Notwithstanding this one audacious excursion into the regions of manly knowledge, Miss Harlowe appears to us as, in the main, a healthy, sensible country girl, with sound sense, the highest respect for decorum, and an exaggerated regard for constituted, especially paternal, authority. We cannot expect, from her, any of the outbreaks against the laws of society customary with George Sand's heroines. If she had changed places with Maggie Tulliver, she would have accepted the society of the 'Mill on the Floss' with perfect contentment, respected all the family of aunts and uncles, and never repined against the tyranny of her brother Tom. She would have been conscious of no vague imaginative yearnings, nor have beaten herself against the narrow bars of stolid custom. She would have laid up a vast store of linen, and walked thankfully in the path chalked out for her. Certainly she would never have run away with Mr. Stephen Guest without tyranny of a much more tangible kind than that which acts only through the finer spiritual tissues. When Clarissa went off with Lovelace it was not because she had unsatisfied aspirations after a higher order of life, but because she had been locked up in her room, as a solitary prisoner, and her family had tried to force her into marriage with a man whom she had excellent reasons for hating and despising.

Yet the long tragedy in which Clarissa is the victim is not the less affecting because the torments are of an intelligible kind, and require no highly-strung sensibility to give them keenness. The heroine is first bullied and then deserted by her family, cut off from the friends who have a desire to help her, and handed over to the power of an unscrupulous libertine. When she dies of a broken heart, the most callous and prosaic of readers must feel that it is the only release possible for her. And in the gradual development of his plot, the slow accumulation of horrors upon the head of a virtuous victim, Richardson shows the power which places him in the front rank of novelists, and finds precisely the field in which his method is most effective and its drawbacks least annoying. In the first place, in spite of his enormous prolixity, the interest is throughout concentrated upon one figure. In Sir Charles Grandison there are episodes meant to illustrate the virtues of the 'next-to-divine man' which have nothing to do with the main narrative. In Clarissa every subordinate plot—and they abound—bears immediately upon the central action of the story, and produces a constant alternation of hope and foreboding. The last volumes, indeed, are dragged out in a way which is injurious in several respects. Clarissa, to use Charles II.'s expression about himself, takes an unconscionable time about dying. But until the climax is reached, we see the clouds steadily gathering, and yet with an increasing hope that they may be suddenly cleared up. The only English novel which produces a similar effect, and impresses us with the sense of an inexorable fate, slowly but steadily approaching, is the Bride of Lammermoor—in some respects the best and most artistic of Scott's novels. Superior as is Scott's art in certain directions, we scarcely feel the same interest in his chief characters, though there is the same unity of construction. We cannot feel for the Master of Ravenswood the sympathy which Clarissa extorts. For in Clarissa's profound distress we lose sight of the narrow round of respectabilities in which her earlier life is passed; the petty pompousness, the intense propriety which annoy us in Sir Charles Grandison disappear or become pathetic. When people are dying of broken hearts we forget their little absurdities of costume. A more powerful note is sounded, and the little superficial absurdities are forgotten. We laugh at the first feminine description of her dress—a Brussels-lace cap, with sky-blue ribbon, pale crimson-coloured paduasoy, with cuffs embroidered in a running pattern of violets and their leaves; but we are more disposed to cry (if many novels have not exhausted all our powers of weeping) when we come to the final scene. 'One faded cheek rested upon the good woman's bosom, the kindly warmth of which had overspread it with a faint but charming flush; the other paler and hollow, as if already iced over by death. Her hands, white as the lily, with her meandering veins more transparently blue than ever I had seen even hers, hanging lifelessly, one before her, the other grasped by the right hand of the kindly widow, whose tears bedewed the sweet face which her motherly bosom supported, though unfelt by the fair sleeper; and either insensibly to the good woman, or what she would not disturb her to wipe off or to change her posture. Her aspect was sweetly calm and serene; and though she started now and then, yet her sleep seemed easy; her breath indeed short and quick, but tolerably free, and not like that of a dying person.' Allowing for the queer grammar, this is surely a touching and simple picture, and suggests the existence of some true appreciation of nature even in that age of buckram and padding. The epistolary method, though it has its dangers, lends itself well to heighten our interest. Where the object is rather to appeal to our sympathies than to give elaborate analyses of character, or complicated narratives of incident, it is as well to let the persons speak for themselves. A hero cannot conveniently say, like Sir Charles Grandison, 'See how virtuous and brave and modest I am;' nor is it easy to make a story clear when it has to be broken up and distributed amongst people speaking from different points of view; it is hard to make the testimonies of the different witnesses fit into each other neatly. But a cry of agony can come from no other quarter so effectively as from the sufferer's own mouth. Clarissa Harlowe is in fact one long lamentation, passing gradually from a tone of indignant complaint to one of despair, and rising at the end to Christian resignation. So prolonged a performance in every key of human misery is indeed painful from its monotony; and we may admit that a limited selection from the correspondence, passing through more rapid gradations, would be more effective. We might be spared some of the elaborate speculations upon various phases of the affair which pass away without any permanent effect. Richardson seems to be scarcely content even with drawing his characters as large as life; he wishes to apply a magnifying-glass. Yet, even in this incessant repetition there is a certain element of power. We are forced to drain every drop in the cup, and to appreciate every ingredient which adds bitterness to its flavour. We are annoyed and wearied at times; but as we read we not only wonder at the number of variations performed upon one tune, but feel that he has succeeded in thoroughly forcing upon our minds, by incessant hammering, the impression which he desires to produce. If the blows are not all very powerful, each blow tells. There is something impressive in the intensity of purpose which keeps one end in view through so elaborate a process, and the skill which forms such a multitudinous variety of parts into one artistic whole. The proportions of this gigantic growth are preserved with a skill which would be singular even in the normal scale; a respect in which most giants, whether human or literary, are apt to break down.

To make the story complete, the plot should have been as effectively conceived as Clarissa herself, and the other characters should be equally worthy of their position. Here there are certain drawbacks. The plot, it might easily be shown, is utterly incredible. Richardson has the greatest difficulty in preventing his heroine from escaping, and at times we must not look too closely for fear of detecting the flimsy nature of her imaginary chains. There is, indeed, no reason for looking closely; so long as the situations bring out the desired sentiment, we may accept them for the nonce, without asking whether they could possibly have occurred. It is of more importance to judge of the consistency of the chief agent in the persecution. Lovelace is by far the most ambitious character that Richardson has attempted. To heap together a mass of virtues, and christen the result Clarissa Harlowe or Charles Grandison, is comparatively easy; but it is a harder task to compose a villain, who shall be by nature a devil, and yet capable of imposing upon an angel. Some of Richardson's judicious critics declared that he must have been himself a man of vicious life or he could never have described a libertine so vividly. This is one of the smart sayings which are obviously the proper thing to say, but which, notwithstanding, are little better than silly. Lovelace is evidently a fancy character—if we may use the expression. He bears not a single mark of being painted from life, and is formed by the simple process of putting together the most brilliant qualities which his creator could devise to meet the occasion. We do not say that the result is psychologically impossible; for it would be very rash to dogmatise on any such question. No one can say what strange amalgams of virtue and vice may have sufficient stability to hold together during a journey through this world. But it is plain that Lovelace is not a result of observation, but an almost fantastic mixture of qualities intended to fit him for the difficult part he has to play. To exalt Clarissa, for example, Lovelace's family are represented as all along earnestly desirous of a marriage between them; and Lovelace has every conceivable motive, including the desire to avoid hanging, for agreeing to the match. His refusal is unintelligible, and Richardson has to supply him with a reason so absurd and so diabolical that we cannot believe in it; it reminds us of Hamlet's objecting to killing his uncle whilst at prayers, on the ground that it would be sending him straight to heaven. But we may, if we please, consider Hamlet's conceit as a mere pretext invented to excuse his irresolution to himself; whereas Lovelace speculates so long and so seriously upon the marriage, that we are bound to consider his farfetched arguments as sincere. And the supposition makes his wickedness gratuitous, if we believe in his sanity. Lovelace suffers, again, from the same necessity which injures Sir Charles Grandison; as the virtuous hero has to be always expatiating on his own virtues, the vicious hero has to boast of his own vices; it is true that this is, in an artistic sense, the least repulsive habit of the two; for it gives reason for hating not a hero but a villain; unluckily it is also a reason for refusing to believe in his existence. The improbability of a thoroughpaced scoundrel writing daily elaborate confessions of his criminality to a friend, even when the friend condemns him, expatiating upon atrocities that deserved hanging, and justifying his vices on principle, is rather too glaring to be admissible. And by another odd inconsistency, Lovelace is described as being all the time a steady believer in eternal punishment and a rebuker of sceptics—Richardson being apparently of opinion that infidelity would be too bad to be introduced upon the stage, though a vice might be described in detail. A man who has broken through all moral laws might be allowed a little freethinking. We might add that Lovelace, in spite of the cleverness attributed to him, is really a most imbecile schemer. The first principle of a villain should be to tell as few lies as will serve his purpose; but Lovelace invents such elaborate and complicated plots, presenting so many chances of detection and introducing so many persons into his secrets, that it is evident that in real life he would have broken down in a week.

Granting the high improbability of Lovelace as a real living human being, it must be admitted that he has every merit but that of existence. The letters which he writes are the most animated in the voluminous correspondence. The respectable domestic old printer, who boasted of the perfect purity of his own life, seems to have thrown himself with special gusto into the character of a heartless reprobate. He must have felt a certain piquancy in writing down the most atrocious sentiments in his own respectable parlour. He would show that the quiet humdrum old tradesman could be on paper as sprightly and audacious as the most profligate man about town. As quiet people are apt to do, he probably exaggerated the enormities which such men would openly avow; he fancied that the world beyond his little circle was a wilderness of wild beasts who could gnash their teeth and show their claws after a terribly ostentatious fashion in their own dens; they doubtless gloated upon all the innocent sheep whom they had devoured without any shadow of reticence. And he had a fancy that, in their way, they were amusing monsters too; Lovelace is a lady's villain, as Grandison is a lady's hero; he is designed by a person inexperienced even in the observation of vice. Indeed, he would exaggerate the charm a good deal more than the atrocity. We must also admit that when the old printer was put upon his mettle he could be very lively indeed. Lovelace, like everybody else, is at times unmercifully prolix; he never leaves us to guess any detail for ourselves; but he is spirited, eloquent, and a thoroughly fine gentleman after the Chesterfield type. [In the preface to a praiseworthy abridgement of Clarissa, I find a severe remark upon this passage. 'The devil take such fine gentlemen!' exclaims my critic. I should think that he probably will. Meanwhile I only intended a paraphrase upon Dr. Johnson, who quotes Lovelace to prove that a man may be at once very wicked and 'very genteel.'] Richardson lectures us very seriously on the evil results which are sure to follow bad courses; but he evidently holds in his heart that, till the Nemesis descends, the libertines are far the most amusing part of the world. In Sir Charles Grandison's company, we should be treated to an intolerable deal of sermonising, with an occasional descent into the regions of humour—but the humour is always admitted under protest. With Lovelace we might hear some very questionable morality, but there would be a never-ceasing flow of sparkling witticisms. The devil's advocate has the laugh distinctly on his side, whatever may be said of the argument. Finally, we may say that Lovelace, if too obviously constructed to work the plot, certainly works it well. When we coolly dissect him and ask whether he could ever have existed, we may be forced to reply in the negative. But whilst we read we forget to criticise; he seems to possess more vitality than most living men; he is so full of eloquent brag, and audacious sophistry, and unblushing impudence, that he fascinates us as he is supposed to have bewildered Clarissa. The dragon who is to devour the maiden comes with all the flash and glitter and overpowering whirl of wings that can be desired. He seems to be irresistible—we admire him and hate him, and some time elapses before we begin to suspect that he is merely a stage dragon, and not one of those who really walk this earth.

To sum up, then, the results of our analysis, it seems clear that Richardson was a man of true genius; and we can distinguish the points of analogy between him and the French school, at first sight so distinct in their method, and who yet express so warm an admiration for his talents. His defects are obvious, and in large degree due to his era. He knows, for example, nothing of the influence of nature. There is scarcely throughout his books one description showing the power of appealing to emotions through scenery claimed by every modern scribbler. In passing the Alps, the only remark which one of his characters has to make, beyond describing the horrible dangers of the Mont Cenis, is that 'every object which here presents itself is excessively miserable.' His ideal scenery is a 'large and convenient country-house, situated in a spacious park,' with plenty of 'fine prospects,' which you are expected to view from a 'neat but plain villa, built in the rustic taste.' And his views of morality are as contracted as his taste in landscapes. The most distinctive article of his creed is that children should have a reverence for their parents which would be exaggerated in the slave of an Eastern despot. We can pardon Clarissa for refusing to die happy until her stupid and ill-tempered old father has revoked a curse which he bestowed upon her. But we cannot quite excuse Sir Charles Grandison for writing in this fashion to his disreputable old parent, who has asked his consent to a certain family arrangement in which he had a legal right to be consulted:—

'As for myself,' he says, 'I cannot have one objection; but what am I in this case? My sister is wholly my father's; I also am his. The consideration he gives me in this instance confounds me. It binds me to him in double duty. It would look like taking advantage of it, were I so much as to offer my humble opinion, unless he were pleased to command it from me.'

Even one of Richardson's abject lady-correspondents was revolted by this exaggerated servility. But narrow as his vision might be in some directions, his genius is not the less real. He is a curious example of the power which a real artistic insight may exhibit under the most disadvantageous forms. To realise his characteristic power, we should take one of the great French novelists whom we admire for the exquisite proportions of his story, the unity of the interest and the skill—so unlike our common English clumsiness—with which all details are duly subordinated. He should have, too, the comparative weakness of French novelists, a defective perception of character, a certain unwillingness in art as in politics to allow individual peculiarities to interfere with the main flow of events; for, admitting the great excellence of his minor performers, Richardson's most elaborately designed characters are so artificial that they derive their interest from the events in which they play their parts, rather than give interest to them—little as he may have intended it. Then we must cause our imaginary Frenchman to transmigrate into the body of a small, plump, weakly printer of the eighteenth century. We may leave him a fair share of his vivacity, though considerably narrowing his views of life and morality; but we must surround him with a court of silly women whose incessant flatteries must generate in him an unnatural propensity to twaddle. All the gossiping propensities of his nature will grow to unhealthy luxuriance under this unnatural stimulant, and the fine edge of his wit will be somewhat dulled in the process. He will thus become capable of being a bore—a thing which is impossible to any unsophisticated Frenchman. In this way we might obtain a literary product so anomalous in appearance as Clarissa—a story in which a most affecting situation is drawn with extreme power, and yet so overlaid with twaddle, so unmercifully protracted and spun out as to be almost unreadable to the present generation. But to complete Richardson, we must inoculate him with the propensities of another school: we must give him a liberal share of the feminine sensitiveness and closeness of observation of which Miss Austen is the great example. And perhaps, to fill in the last details, he ought, in addition, to have a dash of the more unctuous and offensive variety of the dissenting preacher—for we know not where else to look for the astonishing and often ungrammatical fluency by which he is possessed, and which makes his best passages remind us of the marvellous malleability of some precious metals.

Alan Dugald McKillop (essay date 1936)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8300

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 Richardson's fame is of course its international extent. More attention has been paid to his enormous vogue in France and Germany than to the renown he enjoyed in his own country. The continental Richardsonians were often more extreme and so more picturesque; in Great Britain we think of him as responsible for the countless dull volumes written by the obscure people, mostly women, who plied the novelist's trade between 1750 and the first quarter of the nineteenth century. But in spite of these depressing associations it seems natural to begin with Richardson at home. It has already been suggested that we have little reason to believe that he was admired indiscriminately and invariably by the English public. Pamela did not fully establish his fame among fastidious readers—it took Clarissa to do that—and Grandison did not fully sustain it. After the publication of Grandison, indeed, there were signs that his reputation had suffered a check, and about the year of his death, 1761, his fame in England was somewhat below its high point of a decade before. Booksellers' records of sales of copyrights seem to show that in the sixties Smollett's novels were commercially about as valuable as Richardson's, and that in the next decade the copyrights of the major novels of Richardson, Smollett, and Fielding (with the exception of Amelia) were valued at about £70 a volume for the standard editions in duodecimo.1 A list called "Books Printed by the Booksellers of London and Westminster in different Sizes and Prices; of which there remains a large Stock on Hand: With the Number of Years an Impression of each is in selling," to be dated about 1774, tells us that the duodecimo editions of Tom Jones and Grandison were four years in selling, Pamela and Smollett's Don Quixote five, and Clarissa six. Perhaps the most surprising implication here is that Grandison was more popular than we might expect, Clarissa somewhat less popular. If we turn the figures of a sale of March, 1792, into pounds per volume, we find Tom Jones ahead with a figure of 28; others are grouped thus: Grandison 16, Pamela 151/2, Joseph Andrews 13, Peregrine Pickle 121/2, Clarissa 111/2.

It seems safe to conclude that, as far as the general public was concerned, Richardson never regained the position he held about 1750, when he had first claim to the attention of almost every reader, frivolous or serious, or at least divided honors only with Fielding. The reaction after Grandison has already been noted. A writer in the Imperial Magazine for 1760 hazards some censure of Richardson's novels, though he adds that this unfavorable opinion is "very different from that which is generally received."2 The novelist's death in 1761 called forth tributes from Lady Bradshaigh, Elizabeth Carter, and John Hawkesworth, personal friends, and the feelings of many humble admirers must have been expressed in a letter to the London Chronicle signed "Philotimos," suggesting that some eminent sculptor be employed "in memorial of our justly admired Richardson."3 William Shenstone was interested in the possibility of getting out a memorial edition.4 There was no official eulogy in Great Britain, no funeral oration such as Diderot's Éloge in France, but this may have been due to Richardson's modest social station and to the secondary esteem in which prose fiction was held by academic people. Of the four great novelists of the eighteenth century, only Sterne was copiously and publicly mourned.

With the multiplication of novels and circulating libraries, and particularly with the rise of sentimentalism, the moralistic criticism of fiction was sometimes directed even against Richardson. An extreme example is found in the New and General Biographical Dictionary (1762):

His Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison, have been universally read; and they shew a wonderful power over the passions, in which his strength chiefly lay. His purpose was to promote virtue and moral perfection: and hence, like many other writers, who have been animated with this noble zeal, he was led to describe human nature, rather as he wished her to be, than as she really is; not as she appears in her present depraved state, but as she would appear reformed and purified: and we may venture to say, that whoever shall form their judgment of the human kind from Mr. Richardson, and affix to it all those effeminate and fantastic ideas of sentiment, delicacy, and refinement, which his descriptions are too apt to suggest, will find themselves little qualified for commerce with the world. The truth is, this ingenious writer, with a view of exalting the nature of man, has adopted Shaftesbury's system of it, as the foundation of his works: while others have adopted that of Hobbes, with a view of degrading it. But have either of them philosophised rightly? is human nature either so good as Shaftesbury, or so bad as Hobbes, hath described it? perhaps not. Perhaps it is more of the mixed kind; hath in it much of good and much of evil, which prevail in different persons according to the temperament and constitution of each: and this being in reality the case, it should seem that they who, like Fielding, have represented it thus, have represented it the most truly, and the most like itself….

After all, it is to be feared, that the writings of this ingenious person have not always had the good effects he intended; but on the contrary, instead of improving a natural, have made many an artificial character: have helped to fashion many a pretty gentleman, who all sentimental, delicate, and refined, has affected to despise his fellow-creatures, as a tribe of low, gross, uncivilized animals, and of a species plainly different, when compared with the finished and transcendant superiority of himself.5

The quixotic reader whose illusions have been fostered by the novels of Richardson now makes an appearance. In a Smollettian novel, The Peregrinations of Jeremiah Grant (1763), we read of a curious sea-captain who "was well versed in romances, and had conceived a remarkable veneration for all Mr. Richardson's performances; Clarissa Harlowe was his admiration; Pamela pleased him much; but Sir Charles Grandison was, in his opinion, the perfection of human invention. It was the last mentioned character that he had made the model of his conduct."6 The author of the Batchelor thus describes a rich widow who is writing a novel:

Yes, I have formed a most delightful one on our courtship and nuptials, in a Series of Letters, in the manner of Clarissa, Grandison, Danby, Eliza, Lady Caroline S——, and others. I have interspersed the whole with a most charming mixture of agreeable adventures, and pleasing distresses: I have drawn you as a Sir Charles, and I am a Harriot Byron: You are the best of men, and I the best of women: a lady Clementina runs mad for you, and I blush and glow in the cedar parlour.7

Such comment as this was inspired particularly by Grandison. Criticism of the faultless Sir Charles became one of the commonplaces of talk about novels, and was glibly repeated until it obscured the importance of the book as a pioneer novel of manners.8

Nevertheless the currents and eddies from the sixties to the eighties were on the whole in Richardson's favor. Professor Blanchard throughout the early chapters of his Fielding the Novelist (1926) has produced abundant evidence to show that Richardson enjoyed a privileged position in the official criticism of the time, although he has perhaps not given weight enough to the evidence that Richardson and Fielding were alike admired and read in the second half of the century by a public which did not believe that if we cleave to the one we must despise the other. Thus in The Stage-Coach (1753), written by a disciple of Richardson's:

The conversation turned upon the prevailing taste for novels. Mr. Manly said he had never read any thing of that kind, but the works of Cervantes, till lately he had been persuaded to peruse Clarissa, and some of the Covent-Garden justice's performances; and though he formerly had thought such fictions below his notice, he was now not ashamed to aver, there were some, which, if attended to, and not run over meerly to kill time, were capable of yielding profit with amusement, particularly those he had mention'd.9

On the other hand, the author of The History of Charlotte Summers (1750), an imitation of Fielding, does not take amiss the melancholy of Richardson, though he exaggerates it:

His Sighs, his Tears, and Groans guided his Pen, and every Accent appears but the Picture of his own sad Heart, that beats with tender Sympathy for the imaginary Distress of his favourite Fair. Thus both these great Men while they were writing for the Entertainment of the Public, were pleasing themselves in their different Tastes; Tom Jones was pleased when he laughed, and Clarissa when she cried.10

James Ridley's James Lovegrove (1761) praises both Fielding's "inimitable Works" and Richardson's "System of Ethicks."11 The youthful Gibbon describes them as the two great geniuses who in their different ways have carried the art of the novel to its highest possible degree.12 A writer of 1772 gives them preëminence in "comic romance" and "delineation of character" respectively, and boldly compares them both with Shakespeare.13 This is exactly the position taken by James Beattie in his elaborate essay "On Fable and Romance," save that the place next to Shakespeare is reserved for Fielding.14 It was not Richardson against Fielding, but Richardson and Fielding against all comers. In the long run both novelists actually profited by the multiplication of fiction and by the vogue of the newer forms of sentimentalism which came in with Sterne and Rousseau in the sixties. Tristram Shandy and the Nouvelle Héloïse, far from superseding Clarissa and Tom Jones, quickened interest in them. Critical discussion of fiction, which had been scanty from 1740 to 1760, now became more frequent and more elaborate. The long comparison between Richardson and Rousseau in the Critical Review for September, 1761, was translated by Suard in the Journal étranger, and struck the keynote for much later criticism:

If we take a nearer view of the two admired performances in question [Clarissa and the Nouvelle Héloïse] we shall find Rousseau's infinitely more sentimental, animated, refined, and elegant; Richardson's, more natural, interesting, variegated, and dramatic. The one every where appears the easy, the other, the masterly writer; Rousseau raises your admiration, Richardson solicits your tears; the former is sometimes obscure; the latter too minute.15

The Monthly, which had been inclined to belittle Richardson, tried in this important case to hold the balance true:

Though Mr. Rousseau falls short in many respects of Mr. Richardson, whose manner he has imitated, yet in others he so far excels him, as to appear himself an inimitable original. There are many persons who do not scruple to say, they admire the character of Eloisa, beyond that of Clarissa; and we will ourselves venture to pronounce, that by whomsoever the romance bearing that title is read with profit or delight, this of Eloisa will be no less so.16

English criticism seldom gave Rousseau precedence as emphatically as in the following passage from Anecdotes of Polite Literature (1764):

Julie is the capital piece of Rousseau's charming pen, and one of the finest compositions of the kind ever published in any language: it is thought he had Richardson in his eye when he planned it, and, if that is true, he has infinitely surpassed his model: it is difficult for a man of taste to praise our countryman more than he deserves; but surely the tediousness of his plans, his trifling, verbose language, and his dwelling in such a tiresome manner on minute, but uninteresting particulars, greatly lessen the value of his novels.17

More discriminating is the antithesis in an article of 1766:

Richardson is more pathetic; Rousseau more florid; Richardson's sentiments are more just and natural, Rousseau's more frequent and dazzling. Richardson is tedious, Rousseau is paradoxical; the one raises a strong interest by a succession of pathetic strokes, the other masters all our hearts by a single blow.18

For many eighteenth century readers, of course, such distinctions were too subtle, and they were ready to bracket together "the soft eloquence of a Rousseau, who so strongly has described the tender passions;—the sweetness of a Rowe's numbers; [and] the heartfelt, refined language, of the great master of the human passions, Richardson."19

But with the advance of sentimentalism many were found to share Johnson's opinion that while Rousseau was a dangerous fellow, Richardson was an exponent of sound morality. Here, for once, Thomas Gray agreed with Johnson.20 A clergyman might be expected to rebuke ladies who "prefer a novel drawn with the luxuriant pencil of Rousseau, to the chastest and most charming touches of a Richardson."21 In comparison with Sterne, Mackenzie, and the author of The Sorrows of Werter, guardians of the public morals looked on Richardson as a representative of sturdy old-fashioned virtue. From Philadelphia to Berlin he had a certain patriarchal right to be acclaimed the master of didactic fiction. The advice of Madame de Beaumont, that daughters should read Clarissa as an initiation in virtue, might have come from the novelist's own circle, or from admirers in Germany or America.22 The opinion of the German poet Zachariä, that the ideal maiden would read almost no novels but Richardson's, might have been echoed in many places and languages:

In the hands of the educators his work was often cut down to petty dimensions. Madame de Cambon's Kleene Grandison (1782) was taken into English by Mary Wollstonescraft as Young Grandison (1790) and adapted by Berquin in his Petit Grandisson. The Paths of Virtue Delineated (1756), a condensation of the three novels, was translated into German as Die Wege der Tugend (1765). By 1769 Francis Newbery had brought out shilling versions of Pamela, Clarissa, and Grandison, designed to afford moral reading for the young, although no doubt they made more than a narrowly didactic appeal to the readers of chapbooks. Such abridgments were particularly popular in America during the last years of the eighteenth century, and were frequently reprinted by the booksellers of Philadelphia, Wilmington, Norristown, New York, Boston, Worcester, and Hartford.

Those who read Clarissa and Grandison as conduct-books often indulged, of course, in the dangerous delights of sentiment,24 but the official doctrine from Madame de Genlis to Hannah More was that Richardson's virtuous characters represented "the triumph of religion and reason over the passions."25 An irresponsible person like Treyssac de Vergy might write a story of extravagant and fatal love, and, in the character of editor, say of himself, "Of the PASSIONS he has written with the pen of an OVID, of the FEELINGS that of RICHARDSON."26 But he was a French adventurer writing in English; the moral spokesmen of the British public were ready to repudiate any such alliance of the passions and the feelings (or "sentiments"). In the earlier version of her "Sensibility," Hannah More points out that hostility to sentimentalism is not hostility to Richardson. Speaking of true feeling, she says:

'Tis not to melt in tender Otway's fires;
'Tis not to faint, when injur'd Shore expires;
'Tis not because the ready eye o'erflows
At Clementina's, or Clarissa's woes.

Forgive, O richardson! nor think I mean,
With cold contempt, to blast thy peerless scene:
If some faint love of virtue glow in me,
Pure spirit! I first caught that flame from thee.27

It is significant that in the revised version of this poem the tribute to Richardson is dropped, and in its place we read of the feminine devotee

Who thinks feign'd sorrows all her tears deserve,
And weeps o'er Werter while her children starve.28

Even the sentimentalists wanted to maintain discipline, and seldom let themselves go as far as Alexander Thomson did in his vision of Richardson, Rousseau, and Goethe in the "Vale of Pity":

Full in the midst a sable coffin stood
On which reclin'd the Priest of Virtue lay;
Of all that e'er essay'd the melting mood,
Who rul'd the heart with most despotic sway,

'Twas he, who told so well the touching tale
Of proud bologna'S melancholy maid,
And taught the world clarissa'S fate to wail,
By tyrant force and hellish fraud betray'd.

Two pensive pupils at his feet were laid,
Who drew sweet pictures of domestic life;
Whose art in Virtue's tend'rest robe array'd
The forms of wolmar'S and of albert'S wife.

The friend of julia, from her soul refin'd,
Obtain'd a balm to soothe his am'rous woe;
While here no rest could werter'S spirit find,
But rush'd indignant to the shades below.29

Usually there was an uneasy feeling that readers could not afford such indulgences, but the defence was sometimes set up that idealized characters were best for the conscience as well as for the imagination. The didactic value of sheer fiction was emphasized. Thus the youthful Canning and the sedate Maria Edgeworth considered Sir Charles Grandison to be a better example for youth than a man of flesh and blood.30 Martin Sherlock's extreme eulogy exalted Richardson for setting forth perfect characters.31 Richardson's future biographer, Anna Laetitia Aikin, praised the delicate idealization of Clarissa, but suggested that she was too prudent and rational to inspire full sympathy.32 When critical opinion began to turn against Richardson the expressed objection often was, not that his moral system was low, but that it was fastidious and impractical, not that he described hypocrites and self-deceivers, but impossible paragons of virtue. The feelings of many readers may be given in the words of Burns's letter to Dr. John Moore, February 28, 1791:

Original strokes, that strongly depict the human heart is your & Fielding's province beyond any other Novellist, I have ever perused.—Richardson indeed might perhaps be excepted; but unhappily, his Dramatis personae are beings of some other world; & however they may captivate the unexperienced, romantic fancy of a boy or a girl, they will ever, in proportion as we have made human nature our study, disgust our riper minds.33

The objection was made again and again that Clarissa and Sir Charles were impossibly idealized. On this ground Cumberland censured Richardson, and on this ground Anna Seward and Percival Stockdale replied to Cumberland.34 Jane West, herself a writer of anti-sentimental didactic fiction, recognized the growth of this feeling against Richardson:

It has lately been denied, that Richardson painted manners as they really were; his moral excellence will, however, preserve him a place in the esteem of every well-principled reader; and his pathetic and descriptive powers will enchain attention, while his piety must transfuse some devout sentiments into the most cold and worldly bosom. You will observe, that I confine this commendation to his Clarissa and Grandison. Fielding and Smollett preferred the exhibition of the grotesque and depraved part of our species: such almost intuitive knowledge of the human heart as the former possessed, combined with the morality and pathos of Richardson, would have formed the desideratum in this class of literature.35

But deference to Richardson was becoming perfunctory, as we see in a novel by the Misses Purbeck, Neville Castle (1802), where a character gives her reasons for preferring Fanny Burney and Sophia Lee to Richardson and Fielding:

Richardson, it is true, has some passages that are above all praise; he is the only writer who in the disguise of a novel, has powerfully enforced the great truths of Christianity; and no one I think can read the character of Grandison, the conduct of Clementina, and particularly the death of Clarissa, without receiving essential benefit. I am also willing to pay a just applause to the talents of Fielding, but Miss Burney has in a great degree, at least in point of morals, all the merit of the former, without those trifling defects which now render his works too little read and attended to; and all the humour of the latter without his coarseness and indelicacy.36

Over against the somewhat stereotyped comments on Richardson's idealization and Christian principles developed the objections to his moral and social code raised by those who read his books in the light of the manners of a later generation. Writers on education sometimes qualified their praise by pointing out that the fascinating Lovelace might teach the wrong lessons to ingenuous readers.37 Going farther than this, Catherine Macaulay Graham was shocked to discover that the dubious chastity of Pamela, the incorrect and perverse behavior of Clarissa, and the pompous virtue of Sir Charles made the books unfit for the perusal of the young,38 and Laetitia Matilda Hawkins found that Clarissa's piety was not enough to make up for "the brothel and the beastliness."39 Charles Dibdin, granting Richardson's "astonishing genius," thought he had done great harm by setting up exaggerated and unsound characters for the imitation of minor scribblers.40 Such prejudices made it impossible for many readers to take advantage of certain more subtle critical ideas which were in the air. William Godwin's vigorous and acute reëxamination of the whole question of didactic fiction gets closer to reality; he distinguishes between the overt moral of a work and its tendency, "the actual effect it is calculated to produce upon the reader," which "cannot be completely ascertained but by the experiment." As for Richardson, neither Lovelace nor Grandison "is eminently calculated to produce imitation, but it would not perhaps be adventurous to affirm that more readers have wished to resemble Lovelace, than have wished to resemble Grandison." This, however, does not settle the question, and Godwin's conclusion is that "the power of books in generating virtue, is probably much greater than in generating vice."41

Commentators could give Richardson his due only when they got free of the interminable debate about good and bad examples in fiction. An enthusiastic novelist of 1785 tries to have it both ways by admitting and defending Richardson's idealization and at the same time dwelling on his power in psychology and manners:

"Fielding takes the world as he finds it; exhibits with infinite humour ludicrous scenes, low dialogues, ridiculous and infamous characters, and is content to amuse and divert; for, upon my honour, I have not penetration enough to discover his moral intention. Richardson takes a higher aim; attempts to amend the heart as well as amuse the fancy, and exhibits human nature as it ought to be; sets before his readers as perfect copies, as he thinks consistent with humanity, and endeavours to awaken a virtuous emulation; he presents likewise a variety of characters in a more common style, most of them good, all of them varied, and throughout exceedingly well supported.—His conversation pieces are inimitable; spirited, witty and sensible; and every distinction of character nicely preserved—"

"Good God! Lady Charlton," interrupted Charlotte, "who would have thought such an old-fashioned author had been your favourite! Why, one runs the hazard of having one's taste called in question by ever mentioning his Clarissa, or Sir Charles Grandison." "That person must be void of both taste and sentiment, who can read either with dislike, my dear,"

"Well, I don't know—I have not read them since I was quite a girl—I remember I liked them exceedingly at the time; but I have heard Sir Charles so ridiculed for his virtue, and Clarissa for her prudery, that I have not looked into them since—but I am determined now to give them another reading."42

Later Charlotte Smith fairly described the strength and the limitations of Richardson's art as compared with the new Gothic spirit:

It is easier, I believe, to write an Arabian tale, with necromancers and genii, than to collect, as Richardson does, a set of characters acting and speaking so exactly as such people so circumstanced would act and speak in real life, that we almost doubt whether the scenes and the actors are merely imaginary. It is true, that the minuteness of description, to which this powerful deception is in a great degree owing, renders some of the letters excessively tedious; but the pleasure that Richardson's writings still afford, though the manners are so changed, and taste has undergone so many revolutions, proves that his knowledge of the human heart, and his adherence to nature, have charms that make us overlook the fid-fad sort of caquet which sometimes fatigues us.43

Hazlitt disregarded and Coleridge opposed the official educational pronouncements on Richardson, and in their reaction from the sterile formulas of moralistic critics of fiction they developed a view of the subject that can still help to bring the novels to life in the twentieth century. But for all their discrimination and subtlety they could not save Richardson. Active indignation died down as the official defence of the novelist was abandoned, and people were content to label him quaint, archaic, and dull.

To revert to an earlier period, the situation is somewhat different when we turn from the sermons of Dr. James Fordyce44 or the verdicts of Dr. Johnson to the fiction actually written in the generation after 1750. A minor novelist could not write pure Richardson. Much of Pamela was low, much of Grandison tedious, and to undertake such a protracted tragedy as Clarissa was to attempt the bow of Ulysses. Richardson had pushed to the farthest possible point the subjects he had made his own. Plots dealing with ill-starred love-affairs, mésalliances, and abductions were scaled down and wrought into facile combinations of sentiment, humor, and melodrama. The minor novelists and their patrons wanted quick and easy effects. Professor James R. Foster has helped to clear up this obscure chapter in English fiction by showing that the so-called Richardsonian novel yields more and more to French influence after 1760, and in the attempt to find a short cut to pity and terror swings from domesticity and manners to sensibility and intrigue.45 Miss J. M. S. Tompkins, however, while she underestimates the specific indebtedness to French fiction, rightly dwells on the persistence through the third quarter of the century of the patterns established by the four major novelists.46 From 1750 to 1760 direct imitations of Fielding and Smollett are numerous, epistolary novels very few; in the next decade the letter-form becomes quite common, but it expresses a more trivial view of life than Richardson's. Although Mrs. Frances Sheridan in her Sidney Biddulph tries to resume the problems and methods of the Richardsonian novel, she succeeds only in heaping incoherent and irrational disasters on her devoted heroine. The experience of the author of The Benevolent Man: Or, The History of Mr. Belville (1775) is significant: he sets out to write a "serious and moral" work with a tragic ending to be justified by the Postscript to Clarissa, but at the beginning of his second volume he regretfully announces: "Thus am I obliged to alter my plan, and to make Belville and Eloisa happy at last; nor can a conformity to nature, and the example of the author of Clarissa support me, against my friends' more weighty arguments."47 Richard Griffith in his Triumvirate (1764) satirically proposes a supremely distressing work in nine volumes, uniting Clarissa and Biddulph.48 More typical is Charlotte Lennox's Harriot Stuart (1751), which uses the skeleton of the Clarissa plot, but goes on to romantic adventure in the American wilderness; or The History of Wilhelmina Susannah Dormer (1759), which shows that when the psychology has been subtracted from a Richardsonian plot, only sensationalism remains, or The Auction (1760), in which two libertines successively lay traps for the heroine.

But there was also the imperfect development of what we may call the light Richardsonian novel, which at its best avoided extravagance and sensational plotting, and worked with considerable skill and humor on the border line between psychology and manners. The models for this kind of work were the letters of Anna Howe, and the small talk of Harriet Byron and Charlotte Grandison. An early attempt to compose lively letters "in Imitation of an admirable Writer of the present Age" is found in the second part of John Kidgell's The Card (1755). Sukey Paget finds the Night Thoughts, Paradise Lost, and Clarissa dreary reading, and enters merrily into the fashionable life of Tunbridge Wells; nevertheless she remarks to her correspondent: "You and I write like Clarissa Harlowe, and Miss Howe, only not totally in the same Strain—but in this, I believe, we all four agree, that next to the Conversation of a Friend is her Correspondence."49 In the long run it was Grandison rather than Clarissa that showed the possibility of a prolonged study of everyday manners and character. An entry in Thomas Green's Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature makes an important distinction:

L., very acutely and perhaps justly, ascribed the superior popularity of this work [Grandison] over the Clarissa (which he regarded as much the more masterly performance), to its enforcing rather the lesser manners, which form the charm and safeguard of civilized life, than the higher morals, engrafted on the fiercer passions.50

One of the great achievements of eighteenth century fiction was the creation of a world in which the serious and the humorous are naturally connected. Even Richardson, though he is not counted among the English humorists, can carry his characters from grave to gay with great technical skill. One mark of his less successful followers is the clumsiness with which they alternate the "lesser manners" and the "fiercer passions." Thus the heroine of Sophia Lee's Life of a Lover is abducted, imitates the pen-knife scene in Clarissa, and then tries to laugh it off:

Hardly can I forbear smiling now at the recollection of the scene. Imagine me, my dear, with my hair loose over my shoulders; my bonnet half off; one hand wrapt in a bloody handkerchief, and the other pointing my 'new-fashioned dagger,' as he sneeringly called it; while, to appearance, not a creature meant to attack me.—Can you conceive any thing more grotesque?51

At times the minor novelists tried to treat life lightly and critically, but they were betrayed again and again by cheap sentiment, theatrical plots, and the simpering gentility of the underbred. When Fanny Burney brought true wit and intelligence to the task, she scored a great triumph. Her independence of current fiction has probably been exaggerated; Evelina is the most brilliant example of a kind of novel which had been trying to get itself realized for twenty years. Immediately after the publication of Grandison, relatively light imitations of Richardson began to be written. It has recently been shown that in 1757 Miss Anna Meades submitted to the novelist a story in letters which he revised with some care and which was published in 1771 under the editorship of Thomas Hull as The History of Sir William Harrington, described as "revised and corrected by the late Mr. Richardson."52 This performance is prophetic in its close yet superficial imitation of Richardson's themes and persons: the imitation Lovelace is married off to the girl he had tried to seduce; the rakes of Clarissa and the sprightly correspondents of Grandison reappear, and are compared again and again to their originals. A novelist of 1758, who already had The Stage-Coach and Lucy Wellers to her credit and who got Richardson himself to subscribe to her new book, put the situation thus:

She hoped to produce something like a CLARISSA, or a GRANDISON: but nothing came of it but TheBROTHERS. She need not however enter into so disadvantageous a comparison. She did not aim at making a perfect Character in either sex, an hero or heroine which had been already touched, and finished 'beyond hope of imitation'; but to pursue the same honest intention of promoting the interest of good-manners and amiable dispositions by a story of common, though not vulgar, life.53

In 1760 the author of Louisa; Or, Virtue in Distress says in her Preface:

I have observed that most of our modern novels abound with a Lady G: the great Mr. Richardson form'd a compleat plan, which all his followers have run into: can any one be blamed for following so excellent a pattern? I myself am not blameless in this respect, since I have introduced a lively character.54

It was in vain that Frances Brooke later professed to reject the Richardsonian plot when she wrote in The Excursion (1777):

He cautioned her, not against the giants of modern novel, who carry off young ladies by force in postchaises and six with the blinds up, and confine free-born English women in their country houses, under the guardianship of monsters in the shape of fat housekeepers, from which durance they are happily released by the compassion of Robert the butler: but against worthless acquaintance, unmerited calumny, and ruinous expence.55

or that Miss Belville, the heroine of The Husband's Resentment (1776), wrote to her friend:

Have you not wondered what was become of me all this while? Run away with, at least! Faintings, sleepy Potions, Threats, Promises, Confinement; such pretty Adventures would my Fanny's romantic Imagination invent for her Selena. Ah! no such Matter, my Dear; there are but few such enterprising Knight-Errants now-a-days; few spirited Lovelaces; our modern Libertines are quite in a different Stile, so that your Belville has very little chance of imitating your favourite Clarissa.56

The novelists could not live up to such sentiments; they professed a judiciousness which they did not really exercise. Incongruous and sensational tragedy sometimes emerges from a mild series of letters, or the heroine may be subjected to the ordeal of Clarissa or Clementina, but saved from a tragic fate. The plots of Clarissa and Grandison, less often of Pamela, are slavishly reproduced and combined. All stories of seduction and abduction inevitably remind us of Richardson after the middle of the century;57 and many an obscure scribbler might have exclaimed with the author of High Life (Dublin, 1768): "Oh! for the pen of a Richardson, to paint the charming scene!"58 Examples are of course innumerable, but early American fiction affords a particularly striking and simple case: when Hannah Webster Foster put into the form of a novel the actual story of the unfortunate Elizabeth Whitman, she distorted the facts so as to conform to the Clarissa pattern, and The Coquette, or The History of Eliza Wharton (Boston, 1797) tells an American story in Richardsonian terms. In an early letter, Mrs. Richman warns Eliza about Major Sanford: "I do not think you seducible; nor was Richardson's Clarissa, till she made herself the victim, by her own indiscretion. Pardon me, Eliza, this is a second Lovelace."59

In many novels besides those just mentioned the characters are not only based upon but often compared to the great prototypes in Richardson; thus Bouvery, the Lovelace of Pamela Howard (1773), is in the habit of making such allusions:

My old Flame, Lady Kitty Sunderland, made me, as a penance for railing at her favourite study, Novels, take a solemn Vow … to read no less than Clarissa, which itself is a Lady's Library; and the Patience of Job, and his Wife's Patience to boot, appear'd, at starting, hardly sufficient to carry me to the end of it. I kept my Vow, however, and also one that I had privately made in regard to my Fair Tormentor. Sweet Kitty, to what purpose didst thou study Clarissa! … The eight Volumes through which I travell'd did agreeably entertain me, taught me some Morality, and, I think, improved me in the Art of writing Letters familiarly, and perhaps has loosened my tongue, for, since that time, I am become as prating a Fellow as any Lovelace of them all.60"

Later he meets the Grandison family in Bologna, and prefers Lady G—, the former Charlotte Grandison, to Harriet Byron herself:

I never indeed was an Admirer of her Character—So insufferably prudent, weeping, trembling, blushing, fainting, timid even to affectation—I love Sensibility, I adore Modesty in the Sex; but Excess in any thing degenerates into a Fault…. Sir Charles and she are, however, exceedingly well match'd; they have both a Formality in their manner which one seldom meets with in People of their Rank, and who have seen so much of the world.61

In other novels, a heroine abducted from a masquerade reads Grandison and fears her captor may prove to be a Sir Hargrave, or a fair rustic reads Pamela and imagines that her suitor resembles Mr.—.62 When another damsel has scruples about marrying against her father's wishes, the example of her favorite Clarissa is urged upon her.63 Still others, exposed to the advances of men of superior rank, are urged not to imitate the prudery of Pamela.64 A noble youth may be compared to Sir Charles, or a girl in love with her friend's husband sees her story paralleled in the silent devotion of Emily Jervois to the faultless hero.65 Silly novel-reading women cite precedents set by the famous heroines.66 All correspondents in epistolary novels more or less frankly admit their dependence on Richardson, even though they may try to qualify it:

For the present, I will continue my letters journal-wise, as Miss Byron calls it; but I cannot for my life be circumstantial, and carry you up and down stairs, to the parlour, the drawing-room, the harpsicord, the card-table, &c.&c.&c.67

Imitators of Lovelace write endless letters in swaggering and facetious vein. The hero of Samuel Jackson Pratt's Pupil of Pleasure sets about putting the doctrine of Lord Chesterfield's Letters into practice, and cries in his extravagant enthusiasm: "Richardson's a child, Grandison is a monster, Lovelace a bungler." Or a Lovelace may express reluctant admiration of a Grandison: "Thou art not yet a Sir Charles Grandison,—but you despise the character; ah! Jack, we too often condemn, what we have not virtue to imitate,—but how I moralize!"69 In Hugh Kelly's Memoirs of a Magdalen (1767) the hero-seducer writes to a friend:

I have just this moment received your letter, and my sister Haversham's. By these I find you are endeavouring to imitate, as far as you are capable of imitating anything worthy, the character of Belford in Richardson's Clarissa Harlow. Nay, to render this imitation the more striking, you treat me as if I were just such another contemptible blockhead as Lovelace, who did not imagine there was a modest woman existing.70

After these English examples we may interpolate one from France, an extreme case of literary Dopplegangerei; the heroine of La nouvelle Clarice (1767), by Madame Le Prince de Beaumont, corresponds with a Lady Hariote, who reads Richardson's story and is amazed to find there prototypes of herself and her friend!

The plight of the novel of manners in the last quarter of the eighteenth century may be described by saying that most writers were incapable of consistently holding a middle course between pseudo-genteel insipidity and melodrama, or between mechanical sprightliness and heavy didacticism. Fanny Burney had shown the way out, though she made no important advance after Cecilia; the critics of fiction were more or less clearly aware that what was needed was an anti-sentimental novel animated by a keener intelligence and a subtler wit than could be found in the ponderous comments of Hannah More and the stories of Jane West. The immediate background of Jane Austen's work is this effort, quickened by a new critical view of fiction in the eighties and nineties, to conserve and refine Richardsonian ethics and psychology. It is significant that when Jane Austen's nephew wished to illustrate her minute acquaintance with Richardson, he made special mention of Grandison:

Her knowledge of Richardson's works was such as no one is likely again to acquire, now that the multitude and the merits of our light literature have called off the attention of readers from that great master. Every circumstance narrated in Sir Charles Grandison, all that was ever said or done in the cedar parlour, was familiar to her; and the wedding days of Lady L. and Lady G. were as well remembered as if they had been living friends.71

To the same effect her brother Henry had written in the Biographical Notice of 1817:

Richardson's power of creating, and preserving the consistency of his characters, as particularly exemplified in 'Sir Charles Grandison,' gratified the natural discrimination of her mind, whilst her taste secured her from the errors of his prolix style and tedious narrative.72

The loftier and more pretentious parts of Grandison could not command her full sympathy. "Pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked," she wrote to Fanny Knight.73 But her casual references to the book, light and satirical though they are, confirm the statements of her first biographers. In the early sketch called "Jack and Alice," a certain Lady Williams "like the great Sir Charles Grandison scorned to deny herself when at Home,"74 and other passages seem to echo mockingly Richardson's repeated warnings about the dangers of a first love, and the inquisitions into the state of Harriet's heart. Among the precious minutiae of the correspondence are passing references to the feather in Harriet Byron's head-dress, to the same heroine's embarrassment in gratitude, and to a very minor character in the story, James Selby.75 In preferring the relatively light study of manners in Grandison to the half-articulate spiritual democracy of Pamela or the emotional intensity of Clarissa, Jane Austen connected herself with the intellectual and judicious side of the Richardson tradition. Her development of an antisentimental feminine novel is a triumph of individual genius, but the conditions that made such a development possible include Richardson's analytical novel of personality, even though her fastidious intelligence and good taste made it impossible for her to accept Richardson unreservedly. As for Clarissa—"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery." Her only explicit comments on Richardson's great tragedy are to be found in the valuable fragment called "Sandition," where she describes the egregious Sir Edward Derham, a very small romanticist who admires the character of Lovelace:

His fancy had been early caught by all the impassioned, & most exceptionable parts of Richardsons [novels]; & such Authors as have since appeared to tread in Richardson's steps, so far as Man's determined pursuit of Woman in defiance of every opposition of feeling & convenience is concerned, had since occupied the greater part of his literary hours, & formed his Character.76

In default of further comment we may use the words of a contemporary, Lady Louisa Stuart, one of the most intelligent of novel-readers, who wrote to her sister in 1802, after reading Grandison aloud:

Richardson is as much out of fashion amongst the young people now as Mademoiselle de Scudéry, and everything in it seems to strike them as antediluvian. However, though we sometimes get into fits of laughing at the coaches and six, and low bows, and handing ladies about the room, yet I perceive a difference between it and the common novels one now meets with, like that between roast beef and whipt syllabub, and a thousand traits worth very great attention.77

Surely Jane Austen would have subscribed to every word of this.


1 Inventories and sales records in the archives of the house of Rivington; "Booksellers' Sales in the Eighteenth Century," Notes and Queries, 7 S. IX (1890), 301-02. On August 6, 1761, some of Richardson's literary properties were sold at the Queen's Arms Tavern, St. Paul's Churchyard (Addit. MS 38,730, ff. 146b, 147), but I have not succeeded in finding a complete record of this sale.

2 I, 686-87.

3 XIII (February 8-10, 1763), 143.

4 Hans Hecht, Thomas Percy und William Shenstone (Strassburg, 1909), p. 81: Shenstone to Percy, May 16, 1762: Quellen und Forschungen, CIII.

5 X, 142-43.

6 P. 181.

7 No. 4, April 12, 1766, repr. Dublin, 1769, I, 11. This series of papers, mostly by Robert Jephson under the pseudonym of "Jeoffry Wagstaffe," appeared originally in the Dublin Mercury.

8Memoirs of Sir Thomas Hughson and Mr. Joseph Williams (1757), II, 241; The Brothers (1758), I, 87; Michael Wodhull, "To Romance," in Poems (1772), p. 50; Westminster Magazine, IV (1776), 521; London Magazine, LI (1782), 211-13; Samuel Jackson Pratt, Miscellanies (1785), III, 122; [T. Christie], Miscellanies: Literary, Philosophical and Moral (1788), 163-66; Robert Bage, Barham Downs (1784), Ballantyne's Novelist's Library, IX, 306; The Female Mentor (1793), I, 115; "Harriet Marlow" [William Beckford], Modern Novel Writing, or The Elegant Enthusiast (1796), I, 185; Historical, Biographical, Literary and Scientific Magazine, I (1799), 55-59.

9 I, 71. By Miss Smythies of Colchester….

10 I, 221.

11 I, 171.

12Mémoires littéraires de la Grande Bretagne, I (1767), 76.

13 "A Catalogue of the Most Celebrated Writers of the Present Age," in Letters Concerning the Present State of England (1772), pp. 357-58, 393-94.

14Dissertations Moral and Critical (1783), pp. 567-70.

15 XII, 203-11; reprinted in London Chronicle, X (October 20-22, 1761), 386-88; Court Miscellany, II (1766), 241-44.

16 XXV (1761), 260. This review is by William Kenrick Nangle, The Monthly Review, First Series 1749-1789: Indexes of Contributors and Articles [Oxford, 1934], p. 189).

17 II, ii, 78-79.

18 "A Critical Examination of the Respective Merits of Voltaire, Rousseau, Richardson, Smollett, and Fielding," Universal Museum, N. S. II (August, 1766), 391-93; reprinted in Royal Magazine, XV (September, 1766), 146-49; London Chronicle, XX (September 6-9, 1766), 247.

19The Wedding Ring: Or, History of Miss Sidney (1779), III, 103.

20 Norton Nicholls, "Reminiscences of Gray," in Correspondence, ed. Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley (1935), III, 1298.

21Lady's Magazine, XI (1780), 375.

22Lettres du Marquis de Roselle (Amsterdam, 1764), II, 54-56. See also Madame de Genlis, Théâtre à l'usage des jeunes personnes (Paris, 1783), IV, 85-86; [Judith Sargent Murray], The Gleaner (Boston, 1798), II, 64-67, cited by H. R. Brown, "Richardson and Sterne in the Massachusetts Magazine," New England Quarter ly, V (1932), 66.

23Die vier Stufen des Weiblichen Alters (Rostock, 1757), p. 14.

24 John Bennett, Letters to a Young Lady (Philadelphia, 1793), II, 57-58; Crabbe, Tales of the Hall (1819), Book XI, "The Maid's Story."

25 Hannah More, Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1808), II, 210-11.

26The Lovers: Or the Memoirs of Lady Sarah—and the Countess P— (1769), p. xiv.

27Sacred Dramas (Philadelphia, 1787), p. 186.

28Sacred Dramas (18th ed.; 1815), p. 281.

29The Paradise of Taste (1796), pp. 64-65. In his Essay on Novels (Edinburgh, 1793) Thomson had declared that the three novelists were more "moving" than Homer, Virgil, or Milton.

30Microcosm No. 26, May 14, 1787; Maria Edgeworth, Ormond (1817), Chs. VII, VIII.

31Letters on Several Subjects (1781), I, 21, 141-48. See also his Letters d'un voyageur anglais (1779), trans. John Duncombe (1780), quoted by Nichols, Lit. Anec, IV, 585-87.

32 J. and A. L. Aikin, Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose (2nd ed.; 1775), pp. 205-07.

33The Letters of Robert Burns, ed. J. DeLancey Ferguson (Oxford, 1931), II, 58-59.

34 [Anna Seward], "Variety," repr. in Gentleman's Magazine, LVIII (1788), 818, 1005-06, 1168-71; Percival Stockdale, Lectures on the Truly Eminent English Poets (1807), I, 181-89; Memoirs (1809), I, 93-98.

35Letters to a Young Lady (4th ed.; 1811), II, 453-54.

36 II, 275-76.

37 Joseph Priestley, Lectures on Oratory and Criticism (1777), p. 129; James Beattie, Dissertations Moral and Critical (1783), p. 569; Erasmus Darwin, A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools (Derby, 1797), p. 36; [Hannah Webster Foster], The Boarding School (Boston, 1798), pp. 160-61.

38Letters on Education (1790), pp. 145-47.

39Memoirs, Anecdotes, Facts, and Opinions (1824), I, 195-99.

40Observations on a Tour, etc. [1803], I, 142.

41The Enquirer (Philadelphia, 1797), pp. 108-09.

42The Recontre: Or, Transition of a Moment (Dublin, 1785), pp. 136-37.

43The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer (1800), I, 25-26.

44Sermons to Young Women (4th ed.; 1767), I, 147-48.

45 "The Abbé Prevost and the English Novel," Pub. Mod. Lang. Assoc., XLII (1927), 443-64; "The Minor English Novelists, 1750-1800," Harvard University Summaries of Theses … 1926 (Cambridge, Mass., 1930), pp. 172-75.

46The Popular Novel in England 1770-1800 (1932), Ch. II.

47 II, 4.

48 I, 104-05.

49 II, 54, 68.

50 Ipswich, 1810, p. 77.

51 1804, II, 193-94. Written before 1780.

52 William M. Sale, Jr., "Samuel Richardson and 'Sir William Harrington'," Times Literary Supplement, August 29, 1935.

53The Brothers, I, iv-v. Mr. Frank Gees Black has identified the author as a Miss Smythies of Colchester (Times Literary Supplement, September 26, 1935).

54 P. x.

55 I, 22.

56 I, 37-38. Charlotte Smith takes exactly the same view of Lovelace and his plots (Desmond [1792], II, 214-15).

57 For an excellent brief discussion of the persistence of Richardsonian types and characters, see J. M. S. Tompkins, The Popular Novel in England 1770-1800 (1932), pp. 34-37.

58 P. 290.

59 2nd ed., Charlestown, 1802, p. 53. For the mingling of fact and fiction in this story, see Mrs. W. H. Dall, The Romance of the Association (Cambridge, Mass., 1875), especially pp. 65-71; Bolton, The Elizabeth Whitman Mystery (Peabody, Mass., 1912).

60 I, 90-91.

61 II, 112.

62The Masquerade (1769), I, 50-51; Feelings of the Heart (1772), I, 37.

63The Relapse (1780), I, 24-25.

64The Triumph of Fortitude (1789), I, 129; Sophia Lee, The Life of a Lover (1804), I, 51.

65The Unfortunate Union (1778), I, 4; Eliza Parsons, Woman As She Should Be (1793), I, 141-42; The School for Wives (1763), 35-36.

66 Dr. William Dodd, The Sisters, Novelist's Magazine, V (1781), 103, first published 1754; Jane West, The Infidel Father (1802), III, 334.

67 Elizabeth Griffith, The History of Lady Barton (1771), I, 23.

68 2nd CD., 1777, I, 2, first published 1776. This passage is imitated in Excessive Sensibility (1787), I, 234.

69Disinterested Love: Or, The History of Sir Charles Royston and Emily Lesley (Dublin, 1776), I, 48.

70Novelist's Magazine, VII (1782), 33.

71 J. E. Austen-Leigh, Memoir of Jane Austen, ed. R. W. Chapman (Oxford, 1926), p. 89.

72Novels, ed. Chapman (2nd CD.; Oxford, 1926), V, 7.

73Letters, ed. Chapman (Oxford, 1932), pp. 486-87: March 23, 1817.

74Volume the First (Oxford, 1933), p. 26. Cf. Grandison, Shakespeare Head Edition, IV, 18.

75Letters, pp. 322, 344, 140; Abby L. Tallmadge in Times Literary Supplement, January 19, 1933.

76Fragment of a Novel (Oxford, 1925), pp. 108-09.

77Gleanings from an Old Portfolio, ed. Mrs. Godfrey Clark (Edinburgh, 1898), III, 95.

Bernard Kreissman (essay date 1960)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7083

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 Osborn had a best seller on their hands. The anonymous author of this piece, which scrupulously avoided the title of novel, was a certain Mr. Samuel Richardson, a printer of about fifty years of age, who already had performed some small editing, indexing, and writing stints, but of whom very little had been heard until the appearance of Pamela.2 As one result of the book's crashing success, Richardson emerged from his anonymity to become a major figure on the London scene.

The plot of this novel which captivated all of Britain is a disarmingly simple one. The story is narrated in the form of long, explicit letters from Pamela Andrews, a poor country girl in service with a rich family. After the death of the mistress of the household, Pamela is continually put to the necessity of resisting the advances of the young master. When his seduction schemes fail, he attempts rape on several occasions but always is thwarted at the last instant. Finally, in desperation, he proposes marriage and the offer is joyfully accepted, Pamela thus receiving the reward of her virtue.

Whatever the reasons for the book's appeal, the fact is that by September of 1741 five editions had been published, not to mention a pirated Irish edition.3 Undoubtedly sales were helped along by such friendly notices as that which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine (January 1741):

Several Encomiums on a Series of Familiar Letters, publish'd but last Month, entitled Pamela or Virtue rewarded, came too late for this Magazine, and we believe there will be little Occasion for inserting them in our next; because a Second Edition will then come out to supply the Demands in the Country, it being judged in Town as great a Sign of Want of Curiosity not to have read Pamela, as not to have seen the French and Italian Dancers.

In a similar vein was Horace Walpole's remark, made that same winter of 1740-1741: "Pamela est comme la neige, elle couvre tout de sa blancheur."4

The arrival of spring saw no abatement of the Pamela rage. In April, with warmer weather ahead, a "tie-in product" was offered for sale:

For the entertainment of the Ladies, more especially for those who have the Book, Pamela, a new Fan, representing the principal adventures of her Life, in Servitude; Love, and Marriage. Design'd and engraven by the best Masters.

Virtues Reward you in this fan may view,
To Honours Tie, Pamela strictly true:
But when by conjugal Affection mov'd
A Pattern to her Sex, and Age she prov'd
In ev'ry amiable scene of Life
Beneficient, fond Parent, loving Wife.5

Pamela souvenirs continued to be offered to the public for a good many years. In 1744 Joseph Highmore completed a series of twelve illustrations of Pamela, which, engraved by Truchy and Benoist, were delivered to subscribers.6 In 1745 some clever showman advertised a three-dimensional Pamela:

This is to acquaint all Gentlemen and Ladies, That there is to be seen, without Loss of Time, at the corner of Shoe Lane, facing Salisbury Court Fleet-Street, Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded.

Being a curious Piece of Wax-work, representing the Life of that fortunate Maid, from the Lady's first taking her to her Marriage; also Mr. B. her Lady's Son, and several Passages after; with the Hardships she suffered in Lincolnshire, where her Master sent her, and the grand Appearance they made when they came back to Bedfordshire.7

Even more indicative of Pamela's popularity was the tribute paid to her early in her career by the Grub Street hacks. These gentlemen were quick to make capital of Richardson's success, and on May 28, 1741, there appeared Pamela's Conduct in High Life, a spurious continuation now attributed to one John Kelly. Aware of this Grub Street activity and considerably vexed by Kelly's illegitimate offspring, Richardson set to work and produced his own "true" sequel, which came out on December 7, 1741. By this time there had been published a second fraudulent continuation, whose title was an obvious attempt to draw on both Kelly and Richardson: Pamela in High Life; or, Virtue Reward ed. And as if this were not enough, hard on the heels of Richardson's own continuation followed a third fake, Life of Pamela, which retold Pamela's epistolary first-person narrative in straight third-person style.8

Apparently it was felt that one couldn't have too much of a good thing; at any rate, the proliferation of Pamelas had only begun. By the end of 1742 there were three dramatic versions in England alone: Pamela, A Comedy, by Henry Giffard; Pamela: or, Virtue Triumphant, possibly by James Dance,9 and Pamela: An Opera, by Mr. Edge. Before long there were also Pamela The Second; Pamela Censured; Anti-Pamela, or Feign'd Innocence Detected; The True Anti-Pamela; Pamela Versified; Pamela: ou La Vertu recompensée, a French translation; The Virgin in Eden … To which are added Pamela's Letters; Memoirs of the Life of Lady H—, the celebrated Pamela; Lettre Sur Pamela; and Pamela: or The Fair Impostor.

Across the channel in France an almost identical Pamela vogue was in full swing. Dottin records the observation that to be in style one must own a Pamela; and that without Pamela there was nothing to talk about.10 As well as the translation of Richardson's original work, the current Pamela literature included Boissy's Pamela en France; Mémoires de Pamela; La Chausée's stage version, Pamela; Antipamela ou Memoires de M.D. ***; La Déroute des Pamela by Godard d'Aucour; and in the contemporary periodicals several letters about Pamela besides the usual analyses.

The history repeated itself in Germany and Italy, with one important difference. On the continent, Goldoni's Italian play, Pamela nubile, became even more popular than the parent work, and over the next few years was translated into more European languages than Richardson's novel.11 Indeed, the "Adventures of 'Pamela' on the Continental Stage" is a story in itself,12 and her influence on European literature in general is attested in many studies.13

The books and plays cited above by no means comprise a complete catalogue of the works directly inspired by Pamela, for the list has been limited to those which openly acknowledge their debt by carrying the name "Pamela" in their titles. A complete roster would include all such others as Voltaire's Nanine, Bicker-staffee's Maid of the Mill, and Moore's The Foundling. It also would take into account another category excluded here—the works written more than ten years after Pamela was first published, among them Cerlone's Pamela nubile and Pamela maritate, Rossi's Pamela, and Pamela by François de Neufchateau.

As for the duration of the Pamela vogue, perhaps some idea of it may be gathered from the following two instances:

In 1741 a bookseller trying to trade on Pamela's "sex interest" advertised: "The pleasures of conjugal love revealed…. of the same Letter and Size with Pamela, and very proper to be bound with it."14 Twenty years later, in 1760, a similar trick was used to push a book by John Piper, Esq., The Life of Miss Fanny Brown; or, Pamela the Second (A Clergyman's Daughter). The title relies for its effect on a vulgar play on words. [The first name is self-explanatory, and there is no doubt that the second is a play upon the slang of the period, as both "Fanny" and "Miss Brown" meant "the female pudend"; cf. Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2nd ed.; London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1938), pp. 265 and 523. These titles together are an excellent indication of the salacious aura surrounding Pamela.]

In 1742 Joseph Warton describing Curio, a fop, "all prate and smiles," wrote:

Such weak-wing'd May-flies Britain's troops disgrace
That Flandria, wondring mourns our altered race:
With him the fair, enraptured with a rattle,
Of Vauxhall, Garrick, or Pamela, prattle.15

And ten years after, a critic writing in the Monthly Review (December 1752) still cites Pamela when discussing

The history of Betty Barnes (so called from her having been born in a Barn) contains the adventures of a maidservant, beloved by a young gentleman, who, after the usual course of obstruction from his relations, marries her (and she becomes a fine lady: of which the world has probably had enough in Pamela …).

It would hardly be proper to present an account of Pamela's popularity without reference to the two most famous incidents of all, mentioned by every Richardson biographer, one of which concerns the villagers of Slough and the other a Reverend Benjamin Slocock. The people of Slough, it seems, used to gather at the local smithy to hear Pamela read aloud by the blacksmith. No story had ever absorbed them as did this one, and when finally little Pamela was married to

Squire B., there was no containing their enthusiasm: out they rushed to the parish church and celebrated the happy nuptial with a joyous pealing of bells.16 (Mrs. Piozzi, relying on an aunt's memory, placed this story in "Preston in Lancashire" and even added flying flags and a holiday gaiety.17) As for the Reverend Benjamin Slocock, soon after the first appearance of Pamela this worthy divine recommended the book from the pulpit of St. Saviour's Church, Southwark.18 That a novel should be recommended from the pulpit in 1740 is in itself so dazzling a wonder that even the possibility of bribery, raised by Downs,19 can not entirely dim its effulgence.

If this introduction partakes of the character of a panegyric, it does so by design: from this point on Pamela is in for few kind words. Hereafter the discussion is limited to the anti-Pamelas, the myriad objections to Pamela, and even the sins which her own imitators disclosed in her. Surely it would be decidedly unfair to detail the many faults which Pamela's critics discover, and fail to preface it with some account of the great popularity she enjoyed in her early years and which, in a slighter measure, she continued to enjoy for two hundred years. For Pamela's critics have been many, they have been vociferous, and some of them have even been just.


The legitimate objections to Pamela all began on April 4, 1741, with the appearance of Shamela, or to give the full title:

An Apology For The Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews In which the many notorious Falsehoods and Misrepresentations of a Book called Pamela are exposed and refuted; and all the matchless Arts of that young Politician set in a true and just light. Together with a full Account of all that passed between her and Parson Arthur Williams; whose Character is represented in a manner something different from that which he bears in Pamela. The whole being exact Copies of authentick Papers delivered to the editor. Necessary to be had in all families.

To mark how closely Shamela burlesques Pamela, it is necessary to recount more fully the events of Richardson's novel: The story opens with Pamela's letter to her parents relating the death of Lady B., the mistress who had trained Pamela far above the station of common servant. Mr. B., the son, assures Pamela that for the sake of his dear mother she will continue to be well treated. He gives her some small gifts, and in the process takes her by the hand—a gesture which so alarms her parents that they write back to warn her to guard her virtue.

As the days go by, Squire B. makes further presents, insists on reading her letters to her parents, and makes an oblique remark about her legs. When he refuses to permit Pamela to leave his house as his sister's maid, his designs become apparent. He makes his first real sortie in a small summerhouse, but his fumblings result in nothing more than his kissing her "two or three times, with frightful eagerness," after which he tries to bribe Pamela to silence. She refuses the money, informs Mrs. Jervis, the housekeeper, of the attempt, and for mutual protection they agree to sleep together thereafter.

B. soon tries again. This attempt occurs when he has learned of Pamela's revelation of the summerhouse "secret" and punctuates the subsequent angry interview with undercover caresses. Pamela refuses his generous offer to let the proposed seduction pass as a rape for which he will take full blame, but weakened by prayers and weeping she is forced into an ardent embrace. B. once again makes the worst of opportunity and, pressing his advantage too far too soon, insinuates his hand into Pamela's bosom. Indignation gives her "double strength," she escapes, flees to the next room, and faints.

Pamela is now resolved to leave, but nonetheless she stays to embroider a waistcoat for the master. With the idea of reaccustoming herself to the simple life of the home to which she is to return, she puts on her homespun dress and ordinary cap, and is led to Squire B.'s study, where this disguise inspires B. to kiss her as some "other" girl. Then, thoroughly vexed with Pamela's continued offishness, B. decides on action, and that night conceals himself in her bedroom closet. She hears a rustle, but has undressed down to an "under-pettiecoat" before a second rustle leads to an inspection. At B.'s onrush Pamela flees to Jervis and the double bed. B. orders Jervis out; instead she throws herself on Pamela. With both women screaming and Jervis and B. fighting over her supine form, Pamela once again faints at the touch of B.'s hand upon her bosom. She awakes to find the worst has been averted.

Jervis and Pamela are discharged, Pamela agreeing to wait one week to accompany Jervis from the house. However Jervis is rehired, and though it seems that perhaps Pamela may stay too, she finally determines to leave. There is a to-do about her dividing her clothes into three bundles: her lady's presents, Mr. B.'s gifts, and her own things, the latter being the only bundle she will take with her. After resisting further temptations to stay, among them a promise of an arranged marriage with B.'s handsome chaplain, Parson Williams, Pamela leaves the Bedfordshire estates, memorializing her departure with fourteen stanzas of "Verses On My Going Away."

Supposedly as a last gesture of good will, Mr. B. supplies her with his coach driven by his own coachman, but Pamela soon discovers that B. has compounded his crimes by adding kidnap to attempted rape. She is taken to his Lincolnshire estates presided over by Mrs. Jewkes, at present a Gorgon though formerly an "innkeeper's housekeeper"—and whatever else that implies in Pamelian circumlocution. Here, carefully guarded, Pamela is told with Jewkesian straightforwardness that she is being held for B.'s pleasure. She therefore plots an escape with Parson Williams, Pamela doing all the plotting while Williams merely nods assent. Subsequently the bungling Parson is temporarily crippled by hired ruffians, and the plot is discovered and thwarted. In the interim Pamela fails in her own escape attempt solely from her apprehensive maidenly fancies, and weeps selfpitying tears over a contemplated suicide which never goes beyond the stage of contemplation.

B. arrives at Lincolnshire and offers Pamela a legal settlement as the price for her acquiescence, adding that refusal will only produce the identical consummation minus the cash. When she refuses—naturally!—B. leaves orders for two women to guard Pamela in her bedroom, and pretends to leave. He returns privily disguised as Nan, Pamela's second guard, and watches while Pamela undresses and discourses with Jewkes, warder number one. Finally in bed, Jewkes holds Pamela's right arm as B. takes her left, clasps her, and announces her fate. Pamela makes screaming protestations of his action, Jewkes of his inaction; B. yells for both of them to stop so he can talk. Then the forgetful bungler once again slips his hand into her bosom, and Pamela "fainted away quite."

Upon regaining consciousness Pamela demands to know if—? But B. swears "that he had not offered the least indecency." Upon which Jewkes spurs him on again and Pamela swoons once more, reawakening in time to forgive the Squire all as he takes his crest-fallen departure.

Of course after this there is nothing to do but marry the girl, but even here the suspense is sustained by a letter declaring that a sham marriage is to be perpetrated upon Pamela. However, with her father in attendance, the marriage is truly performed by Parson Williams, and thereafter interest subsides rapidly as a graceful and charming Mrs. B. wins over various members of the B. family. This takes the story to the end of the second volume. Volumes III and IV—Richardson's continuation of Pamela in Her Exalted Condition—are outside the scope of this study, and a good thing it is, for two duller volumes have rarely graced the English language.

To conclude this obviously biased recital on a more impartial note, it should be stressed that a summary of the plot of Pamela without Richardson's development of detail, psychology, and sentiment can only display Pamela's naked faults without the clothing of Rich ardson's artistry. Or as Dr. Johnson put it:

Why Sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment.20

Both the sentiment and the story are the objects of Henry Fielding's satire in Shamela;21 indeed, Fielding began before the beginning and satirized the "Extracts from several curious Letters …," the commendatory letters which Richardson had had inserted into the second edition of Pamela.22 For the sake of scholarly exactitude, perhaps it should be noted that the burlesque actually started even before the commendations with the title and the name of the "author," Conny Keyber. When he wrote his satire, Fielding was still unaware of the true identity of the "editor" of Pamela although the secret must have been fairly known by then. The Daily Advertiser on April 7, 1741 ran the ditty:

Advice to Booksellers (after reading Pamela),
Since Printers with such pleasing Nature write,
And since so aukwardly your Scribes indite,
Be wise in Time, and take a friendly Hint:
Let Printers write, and let your Writers print.

However, Fielding mistakenly attributed Pamela to Colley Cibber, who had recently published An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber. Thus Colley Cibber became Conny Keyber.

Fielding's bawdy dedication to Miss Fanny contains a foretaste of what is to come; and his burlesque of the dedicatory letters attacks not only Cibber and two other minor writers of the day, but also the Reverend Slocock for his pulpit commendation, and Pope's remark that Pamela "will do more good than many volumes of sermons."23 After some extravagant flattery, the first dedicatory letter ends with the note that Shamela "will do more good than the C[lerg]y have done harm in the World."24

The Shamela narrative begins with Parson Tickletext sending Parson Oliver a copy of Pamela, which has been praised in "pulpit" and "Coffee-house." He declares that when Pamela casts "off the Pride of Ornament, and displays itself without any Covering; which it frequently doth … the coldest zealot cannot read without Emotion…." After several "emotions," he admonishes Oliver to be sure to read the book to his girls and servants. Parson Oliver, however, wishes to be excused from reading it to them because he knows the true story of Pamela, whose real name is Shamela and whose "authentick" letters he is sending on to Tickletext so that he may judge for himself.

There follows a series of letters in which the surface action of Pamela is so closely duplicated that were only the action dramatized, an onlooker would believe he was viewing identical stories—one in a condensed version. The difference lies beneath the surface. Where Richardson has Pamela pass her time in prayer, in softly entuned hymns, and in reading The Whole Duty of Man, Fielding takes the position that between drinks she is reciting the latest barroom ditty and Rochester's poems, and reading Venus in the Cloyster: or, the Nun in her Smock. Fielding has also filled out Richardson's Mr. B. to his full proportions with a name that is almost as famous as Pamela itself—it is "Booby."

In Shamela, Booby's first presents are accompanied with more material evidence of his regard. Led on by Shamela's skilled pretenses of innocence, he is halted in his first attempt on her virtue only by Mrs. Jervis' entrance. "How troublesome is such Interruption," Shamela writes to her mother, and is irritated to receive a reply reminding her of the consequences of her past error, the illegitimate birth of Parson Williams' bantling. Shamela heatedly tells the pot not to call the kettle black; and Mama replies that she is not upbraiding her for "being thy Mother's own Daughter," but this time "take care to be well paid before-hand…."

The next attempt on her "virtue" is introduced with a direct parody of Pamela's sweet, demure, modest reply to Mr. B. Booby, cursing Shamela for pertness, says, "You are a d—d impudent, stinking, cursed, confounded Jade, and I have a great Mind to kick your A—.You, kiss—, says I." Shamela then retreats, but just so far:

if you don't come to me, I'll come to you, says he; I shant come to you I assure you, says I. Upon which he run up, caught me in his Arms, and flung me upon a Chair, and began to offer to touch my Under-Petticoat. Sir, says I you had better not offer to be rude; well, says he, no more I wont then; and away he went out of the Room. I was so mad to be sure I could have cry'd.

Oh what a prodigious Vexation it is to a Woman to be made a Fool of.

Mrs. Jervis, who has been eavesdropping, is highly amused by the whole incident. She tells Shamela that it was different with the "Jolly Blades" of her day; and conspires to draw Booby on by giving him a view of Shammy naked in bed. Booby of course takes the bait and Shamela helps matters along by feigning sleep, but when she "awakes," her screaming and scratching end only as she "swoons." Booby, scared witless, begs forgiveness after Shamela "recovers": "By Heaven, I know not whether you are a Man or a Woman, unless by your swelling Breasts. Will you … forgive me: I forgive you! D—n you (says I)." After all he is not dealing with Pamela here, as witness Shamela's remarks to Mrs. Jervis on the subject of his hands going no further than her bosom: "Hang him, … he is not quite so cold as that I assure you; our Hands on neither side, were idle in the Scuffle, nor have left us any doubt of each other as to that matter."

The two women are sacked, and Jervis plans to open a "house" in London. This proves unnecessary, thanks to the success of Shamela's scheme to appear before Booby dressed as a demure farmer's daughter. Jervis is rehired, and Shamela is sent off to Lincolnshire, supposedly kidnaped by the coachman, who is really a member of the counterplot against the master (they "hang together … as well as any Family of Servants in the Nation").

There is an interesting note on techniques here. Since Pamela is in the act of being abducted, she cannot send any letters. Richardson resorts to an editor's account of the action, but Fielding stays with the characters. Robin, the coachman, gives full details to Jervis, who immediately writes them to Shamela's mama, Henrietta Maria Honoria Andrews, adding that Booby is now sure to come through with a settlement. Mama's pleased return letter is short because "I have sprained my right Hand with boxing three new-made Officers."

Shamela, in Lincolnshire, immediately resumes her old relations with Williams. Jewkes comments slightingly upon this affair, which provokes Shamela to call her a "Mynx," whereupon she slaps Sham. This is a mistake. Shamela's counterattack with unsheathed talons is so effective that Jewkes is forced to flee. (In Richardson's novel, Pamela, when slapped for calling Jewkes a "Jezebel," throws herself upon the grass and bemoans her lot.) An ardent letter from Booby, implying a settlement, convinces Shamela that she need not settle merely for cash. With a little artful parrying she can be mistress "of a great Estate … a dozen Coaches and Six, … a fine House at London, and another at Bath, and Servants, and Jewels, and Plate, and go to Plays, and Operas, and Court, and do what I will, and spend what I will" as the wife of Booby. Thus, when Jewkes mentions the coming settlement, our heroine declares that she would not receive such an offer if it came from the "greatest King, no nor Lord in the Universe. I value my Vartue more than I do anything my Master can give me; and so we talked a full Hour and a half, about my Vartue." As for Williams, "Well! and can't I see Parson Williams, as well after Marriage as before."

Shamela duplicates the false-suicide gambit as an excuse for having stayed out too long with Williams, and prepares for her new role with Booby by exposing as much of her bosom as possible, practicing her "Airs before the Glass" and reading "a Chapter in the Whole Duty of Man." Upon Booby's arrival, she announces that she is aware he contemplates "the Destruction of my Vartue…. what a charming Word that is, rest his Soul who first invented it" and asks to be sent home. Booby angrily dismisses her, and she and Jewkes retire to discuss her "Vartue till Dinner-time." At the dinner's conclusion, Booby sets the stage for the ultimate attempt with a bumper of champagne and some off-color toasts.

In bed, Shamela once again feigns sleep, which allows Booby to get in the usual preliminaries. Yet despite Jewkes' coaching he is thoroughly foiled for Shamela follows Mama's expert instructions

to avoid being ravished, … which soon brought him to Terms, and he promised me, in quitting my hold, that he would leave the Bed.

O Parson Williams, how little are all the Men in the World compared to thee.

The next morning Booby offers a settlement, but Shamela now is certain her "Vartue" is worth far more than 250 pounds per year. Mama is delighted to receive these tidings and repeats lesson number one: "that a married Woman injures only her husband, but a single Woman herself." Therefore she urges less of Williams and more of Booby. Before this advice can be accepted or rejected Shamela learns for herself "What a Foolish Thing it is for a Woman to dally too long with her Lover's Desires; how many have owed their being Old Maids to their holding out too long." An effusion of excessive coyness has been too much even for Booby; he sends her off to pack up and get out.

Shamela's nondescript linen and bawdy books are a fine parody of Pamela's three bundles, and, as in the Richardson novel, our heroine leaves Lincolnshire only to return the next day with a promise of marriage. After the wedding she has some trouble mustering up the blushes and other maidenly manifestations suitable to the role of a pure young bride, but sustains her part well to the accompaniment of reflective comparisons between Booby and Williams.

Legally entrenched as Mrs. Booby, she starts spending the estate, cows Booby utterly, and even manages to see a great deal of Williams. On his advice she disavows Mama Andrews, since it would never do "for a Lady of my Quality and Fashion to own such a Woman as you for my Mother." Paying Shamela back in kind, her enraged parent turns over the original letters to Parson Oliver—an apt revenge, because she has learned from Shamela that Booby is having a book made about himself and his bride by a man "who does that Sort of Business for Folks, one, who can make my Husband, and me, and Parson Williams, to be all great People; for he can make black white it seems. Well, but they say my Name is to be altered, Mr. Williams, says the first Syllabub hath too comical a Sound, so it is to be changed into Pamela."

Shamela concludes with Parson Tickletext's note that he will have these "authentick" letters printed to counteract the other book; and "P. S. Since I writ, I have a certain Account, that Mr. Booby hath caught his Wife in bed with Williams; hath turned her off, and is prosecuting him in the spiritual court."

Pamela has now been presented in two sets of dress—or, if you will, undress—and within the bounds of identical actions there seem to be two totally different characters displayed. But are they really so different? If we look carefully at Richardson's heroine, some of these apparent contradictions disappear. For one thing, modest little Pamela is quite well aware of the beauties of her person.25 What's more, this artless miss has her Machiavellian side: Richardson has painted a full picture of her crafty ability to plot and conspire (I, 161 ff.). Most important of all, he has depicted her with a morality which has gold as its standard, for Pamela's "virtue" rests, not on principle, but on good business sense. How stupid it would be to sell "the whole sixteen years innocence … for a pair of diamond earrings, a necklace, and a diamond ring for my finger" (I, 274) when with clever bargaining "innocence" can fetch a much higher price! Pamela knows full well she carries a jewel on her person; and the best that can be said for her is that once she has established a price for her jewel no one can talk her into lowering it.

The proof of Pamela's businesslike attitude is too clear-cut to be open to doubt. When B. intimates that he is willing to meet Pamela's terms and marry her, she not only agrees to return, but is in such a hurry to do so that her impatience taxes the endurance of the coachmen and even the horses. This unseemly haste stems from more than her eagerness to "close the deal." Her presence in the flesh is part and parcel of her strategy: it is "good for business" to keep B. constantly aware of the prize within his reach. (Viewed in this light, it is not hard to understand why Pamela stayed to embroider the waistcoat, stayed to accompany Jervis, and failed to take advantage of her numerous opportunities to escape.) When marriage finally is offered to her, not for one moment does she consider refusing this villain whose courtship has consisted of revilement, incarceration, kidnaping, and attempted rape; indeed, so far is she from being indignant that she falls on her knees to thank him for his generosity. Moreover, in accepting him she unwittingly discloses the hypocrisy of her earlier repeated denials of the possibility of marriage between one so great and one so low. For when B. inquires how she will pass the time after her marriage, Pamela promptly presents a list of projected household duties whose extent and organization indicate hours of serious planning.

Pamela's actions show clearly that it is B.'s position as landowner which makes him such a desirable husband. As Clara Thomson put it:

… what makes her behaviour particularly repulsive is the conviction it forces upon one that it is mainly prompted by a disproportionate respect for her lover's wealth and position. No one can doubt that if equal insults had been offered her by a man of her own class she would have rejected him with scorn. But because Mr. B. is a gentleman, and has a large income, and two or three country seats, he is to be forgiven what would be unpardonable in a hero of low degree. Richardson's vulgar exaggeration of class distinctions permeates the book, and Pamela blissfully crawls to the feet of her master.26

Regardless of Richardson's intention, an attentive reading of the novel reveals behind the Pamela who minces across its pages the Shamela whom Fielding exposed.

While the cumulative effect of Shamela, and its main achievement, is an indictment of Pamela's total ethical view, Fielding, through his character Parson Oliver, also condemns the book on several specific points. Though the parson is careful to say that there are "many more objections" that may be made, his arraignment lists only five (p. 58).

First, there are many lascivious Images in it, very improper to be laid before the Youth of either Sex.

2dly, Young Gentlemen are here taught, that to marry their mother's chambermaids, and to indulge the Passion of Lust, at the Expence of Reason and Common Sense, is an Act of Religion, Virtue and Honour; and, indeed, the surest Road to Happiness.

Despite the harsh little note of class awareness that intrudes itself, this is a valid objection to B. He is apparently a satyr whose frustration by one girl blinds him to everything but the necessity to enjoy her. Such a basis for marriage is hardly reasonable or sensible; it is not even romantic. But the complaint about the effect of his example on "young gentlemen" can be discounted as an effort to capitalize on the eighteenth-century view that literature influences action by inducing emulation in an impressionable reader. It seems highly improbable that many young men were tempted to emulate B., although it is true that in 1754 Lady Mary Wortley Montague did write her daughter of a noble-commoner wedding which was stirring the Italian countryside, and which was "copied from, Pamela."27

3dly, All Chambermaids are strictly enjoined to look after their Masters; they are taught to use little Arts to that purpose; and lastly, are countenanced in Impertinence to their Superiors, and in betraying the secrets of Families.

This third objection, which is a commentary on a favorite theme of the eighteenth century, the prevailing notion of chambermaids as sluttish, avaricious, and scheming,28 must also be regarded with suspicion. For anything Pamela could teach the chambermaids, it would seem more than likely they already knew. Swift took back-stairs depravity for granted in his Directions to Servants. Addressing the "waiting maid," he wrote, "I must caution you particularly against My Lord's eldest Son: If you are dextrous enough, it is odds that you may draw him in to marry you and make you a Lady … [but] probably you will get nothing from him, but a big Belly or a Clap, and probably both together."29 Swift's satire leaves one wondering how far the exaggeration extends: that there is some factual basis for his view may be seen in Eliza Haywood's straightforward Present for a Serving Maid, a manual for girls going into service, which is an obvious attempt at a distaff duplication of John Barnard's famous Present For An Apprentice, and copies its title page and format closely. Haywood admits to the girls that a master's "importunities" will probably win out, but "resistance … is a Duty however owing to yourself to endeavour it."30 She provides precepts on how to act if the man is single or married—never tell the wife—and advises the maids that the master's son will not keep a promise of marriage: "This last Bait has seduced some who have been Proof against all the others … [do] not flatter yourselves, that because such Matches have sometimes happened, it will be your Fortune: Examples of this kind are very rare …" (p. 43). So objection number three is not all rhetoric.

4thly, In the Character of Mrs. Jewkes Vice is rewarded; whence every Housekeeper may learn the Usefulness of pimping and bawding for her Master.

This objection and the one to follow are both invalid, because they apply only to Shamela and do not carry over to Pamela. In Shamela, Booby is a dupe; the villain on his side of the struggle is Jewkes. But in Richardson's novel, regardless of his bungling, the arch-villain is B. and Jewkes is merely his tool—one must not be misled by her greater coarseness. Thus in the character of B. we have vice rewarded.

Pamela's contradictory reactions to B. and to Jewkes are very important because they picture so clearly her class attitude toward morals. The master villain is thanked by Pamela on her knees, but Jewkes, who has merely been carrying out B.'s orders (with perhaps unnecessary relish), must do penance with "humility and apprehension" before Pamela forgives her. Pamela, we see, has one set of standards for the master, another for the servants.

5thly, in Parson Williams, who is represented as a faultless Character, we see a busy Fellow, intermeddling with the Private Affairs of his Patron, whom he is very ungratefully forward to expose and condemn on every occasion.

This has even less validity in Pamela than number four. We can only object that whatever Williams did was not done forcefully enough. Pamela had good reason to stay away from the police,31 but Williams had none. Far from being a busy meddler, he is an ineffectual do-nothing.

However invalid these final objections may be, Shamela soon gathered her converts, of whom one, at least, was moved to pen a testimonial:

     To the Author of Shamela

Admir'd Pamela, till Shamela shown,
Appear'd in ev'ry colour—but her own:
Uncensur'd she remain'd in borrow'd light,
No nun more chaste, few angels shone so bright.
But now, the idol we no more adore.
Jervice a bawd, and our chaste nymph a w——
Each buxom lass may read our Booby's case
And charm a Williams to supply his place;
Our thoughtless sons for round ear'd caps may burn
And curse Pamela, when they've serv'd a turn.32


1 No attempt has been made to reproduce the typography of this title or of any subsequent titles, and occasional italicization is omitted.

2 Cf. Alan Dugald McKillop, Samuel Richardson, Printer and Novelist (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1936). pp. 4-7 and 284-291.

3 William M. Sale, Jr., Samuel Richardson, A Bibliographical Record of His Literary Career with Historical Notes (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1936), p. xv.

4 Paul Dottin, Samuel Richardson, Imprimeur de Londres (Paris: Perrin et Cie., 1931), p. 111.

5Daily Advertiser, April 28, 1741.

6 McKillop, op. cit., p. 71.

7Daily Advertiser, August 8, 1745.

8 Cf. Frank G. Black, "The Continuations of Pamela," Revue Anglo-Américaine, XIII (1936), 499-507.

9 Cf. Sale, op. cit., p. 122.

10 Dottin, op. cit., p. 118.

11 McKillop, op. cit., pp. 100-103.

12 E. Purdie, "Some Adventures of 'Pamela' on the Continental Stage," in German Studies Presented to H. G Fiedler (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938), pp. 352-384.

13 For a partial listing see: Francesco Cordasco, Samuel Richardson, A List of Critical Studies Published from 1896 to 1946 (Brooklyn: Long Island Univ. Press, 1948), Section VII, p. 10.

14Daily Advertiser, April 9, 1741.

15 Joseph Warton, "Fashion," in Vol. 18 of Works of the English Poets, ed. Alexander Chalmers (21 vols.; London: J. Johnson, 1810), p. 162.

16 Cf. Archibald Boiling Shepperson, The Novel in Motley (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1936), pp. 9-10.

Austin Dobson, Samuel Richardson ("English Men of Letters" [New York: The Macmillan Co., 1942]), p. 31.

McKillop, op. cit., p. 45.

17 Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, Thraliana, CD. Katherine Balderston (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942), I, 145.

18 Cf. Clara Thomson, Samuel Richardson (London: Horace Marshall & Son, 1900), p. 31.

Dottin, op. cit., p. 110.

McKillop, op. cit., pp. 47, 102.

19 Brian W. Downs, Samuel Richardson (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1928), p. 48.

20 James Boswell, Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1887), II, 175.

21 While no primary material has been discovered to link Fielding to Shamela, the circumstantial evidence is so strong we shall refer to him as the author without the modification of "supposed."

See Wilbur L. Cross, The History of Henry Fielding (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1918), I, 23, 303-309.

Notes and Queries, 12th Series, II (1916), 24-26.

R. Brimley Johnson, ed., An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (Berkshire: The Golden Cockerel Press, 1926), pp. iii-vi.

Brian W. Downs, ed., An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (Cambridge: The Minority Press, 1930), pp. ix-xi.

Dobson, op. cit., pp. 43-45.

And especially, Charles B. Woods, "Fielding and the Authorship of Shamela," Philological Quarterly, XXV (July 1946), pp. 248-272.

22 For a full account of these introductory letters, see Sheridan W. Baker, Jr., ed., Samuel Richardson's Introduction to Pamela ("Augustan Reprint Society Publication Number 48" [Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1954]), pp. 1-12. An equally fine account of the introductory pages of Fielding's Shamela may be found in Ian Watt's introduction to An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews ("Augustan Reprint Society Publication Number 57" [Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1956]), pp. 1-11.

23 Thomson, op. cit., p. 31.

24 Fielding, Shamela (Cambridge: Minority Press, 1930), p. 7.

25 Samuel Richardson, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, "Shakespeare Head Edition" (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1929), I, 67. All references to Pamela will be to this edition.

26 Thomson, op. cit., pp. 165-166.

27 Lady Mary Wortley Montague, The Letters & Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, ed. Lord Wharncliffe (London: George Bell & Sons, 1887), II, 272.

28 For contemporary views of this attitude, see Sir John Barnard, Present for an Apprentice (London: T. Cooper, 1740), pp. 30-31; Daniel Defoe, Everybody's Business Is Nobody's Business by Andrew Moreton Esq. [pseud.], (5th CD.; London: W. Meadows, 1725), p. 5; and Ralph Strauss, ed., Tricks of the Town (New York: Robert M. McBride & Co., 1927), p. 29.

29 Jonathan Swift, Directions to Servants (London: R. Dodsley & M. Cooper, 1745), p. 83.

30 Eliza Haywood, Present for a Serving Maid (Dublin: George Faulkner, 1743), p. 45.

31 See Downs, Richardson, pp. 100-101.

32London Magazine, X (June 1741), 304….

Ira Konigsberg (essay date 1968)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5335

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 could create the inner lives and outward existences of human beings.

Richardson achieved this dimension by writing his novels to some extent as he would have written plays. In his Postscript to Clarissa he calls that work a "Dramatic Narrative" (VIII, 309), and he even placed at the beginning of Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison the "Names of the Principal Persons" just as a playwright presents in the front of the publication of his work a list of characters. To understand Richardson's dramatic methods as a novelist, the three general techniques with which his characters write their letters must first be established. Frequently more than one of these techniques appear in the same letter, but each is used for different purposes.

In the Preface to Clarissa Richardson discusses the letters of that novel:

All the Letters are written while the hearts of the writers must be supposed to be wholly engaged in their subjects (The events at the time generally dubious): So that they abound not only with critical Situations, but with what may be called instantaneous Descriptions and Reflections (proper to be brought home to the breast of the youthful Reader); as also with affecting Conversations; many of them written in the dialogue or dramatic way.

"Much more lively and affecting, says one of the principal characters (Vol. VII. Let. 22.) must be the Style of those who write in the height of a present distress; the mind tortured by the pangs of uncertainty (the Events then hidden in the womb of Fate); than the dry, narrative, unanimated Style of a person relating difficulties and dangers surmounted, can be; the relater perfectly at ease; and if himself unmoved by his own Story, not likely greatly to affect the Reader."

(I, xiv)

Richardson is stating that his work is more realistic, moral, "affecting," and entertaining than previous novels because it recreates the immediate mental and emotional states of the characters and the immediate reality of individual episodes. When he speaks against those authors who write not "in the height of a present distress" but rather in "the dry, narrative, unanimated Style of a person relating difficulties and dangers surmounted," he attacks the very techniques of summary writing used by earlier novelists. But Richardson himself at times used such a narrative method. This technique occurs frequently in his earliest novel, Pamela:

In this Quandary, now considering, now crying, and not knowing what to do, I pass'd the Time in my Chamber till Evening; when desiring to be excus'd going to Supper, Mrs. Jervis came up to me, and said, Why must I sup without you Pamela? Come, I see you are troubled at something; tell me what is the Matter.

I begg'd I might be permitted to lie with her on Nights; for I was afraid of Spirits, and they would not hurt such a good Person as she. That was a silly Excuse, she said; for why was you not afraid of Spirits before—(Indeed I did not think of that.)…

She was so good to indulge me; but made haste to come up to-bed; and told the Servants, that I should lie with her, because she could not rest well, and would get me to read her to sleep; for she knew I lov'd Reading, she said.

(I, 21-22)

But even this episode is presented more skillfully than most scenes in earlier fiction. Although it is significant to the plot that Pamela begins to share the same bed as Mrs. Jervis, the scene in which she asks permission of the woman to do so is certainly not important dramatically. Hence, Richardson has Pamela summarize hastily the scene in her epistle; but on two occasions Mrs. Jervis breaks into a few lines of direct discourse to give this briefly described episode a bit of dramatic reality. Nevertheless, the scene is drawn quickly, and little attention is given to speech and action.

In Clarissa there is less expository writing and the technique becomes a device for quickly summarizing past events, linking important actions, and preparing for an approaching scene. Clarissa describes the visit of Dr. Lewis that precedes the dramatized visit of her brother and sister:

So the doctor came up.

We had a conversation of near an hour before dinner: But, to my surprize, he waved every-thing that would have led to the subject I supposed he wanted to talk about. At last, I asked him, If it were not thought strange I should be so long absent from church? He made me some handsome compliments upon it: But said, for his part, he had ever made it a rule to avoid interfering in the private concerns of families, unless desired to do so.

I was prodigiously disappointed: But supposing that he was thought too just a man to be made a judge of in this cause, I led no more to it: Nor, when he was called down to dinner, did he take the least notice of leaving me behind him there.

(II, 183)

There is no attempt in this passage to depict a pathetic situation through Clarissa's voice and movements, nor is there an attempt to develop character. Richardson merely wants to establish the fact that Clarissa's family has control of the pastor, and thus emphasize the hopelessness of her situation in the next scene. In Sir Charles Grandison Richardson uses "the dry style" of summary writing for similar purposes, but more sparingly.

Richardson's second technique of epistolary writing dramatizes the correspondent rather than action. In self-revealing passages the letter-writer's internal state is established and his or her personality further defined. Such passages are successful in creating character because they "are written while the hearts of the writers … [are] wholly engaged in their subjects." In many of these self-revealing sections the correspondent loses awareness of the recipient of the letter and seems to pour forth a dramatic soliloquy:

Can violence enter into the heart of a wretch, who might entitle himself to all her willing, yet virtuous Love, and make the blessings he aspireth after, her duty to confer?—Begone, villain-purposes! Sink ye all to the hell that could only inspire ye! And I am then ready to throw myself at her feet, to confess my villainous designs, to avow my repentance, and to put it out of my power to act unworthily by such an excellence.

How then comes it, that all these compassionate, and as some would call them, honest Sensibilities go off?—Why, Miss Howe will tell thee: She says, I am the devil.—By my conscience, I think he has at present a great share in me.

(IV, 239-40)

Lovelace here seems to step forward and deliver a monologue on his inner thoughts. Such soliloquies, functioning in Richardson's novels as they do in the theater, allow his characters to present their inner world with striking fullness. Long soliloquies were not uncommon in earlier fiction, but they were usually rhetorical, bloated, unreal, and frequently concerned with the passion of love. But Richardson's soliloquies are not set rhetorical pieces; they are dramatic, fairly realistic, and psychologically credible. The novelist's practice of having his characters disclose their thoughts and feelings in this manner indicates his ability to merge the theatrical soliloquy with the epistolary form, which is itself a natural vehicle for presenting states of mind.

But a more frequent type of the self-revealing passage is that in which the correspondent speaks more directly to another character while dramatically disclosing his or her thoughts and feelings:

Her virtue, her resistance, which are her merits, are my stimulatives. Have I not told thee so twenty times over?

Devil, as these girls between them call me, what of devil am I, but in my Contrivances? I am not more a devil than others, in the End I am at; for when I have carried my point, it is still but one seduction. And I have perhaps been spared the guilt of many seductions in the time.

What of uncommon would there be in this case, but for her watchfulness?—As well as. I love intrigue and stratagem, dost think, that I had not rather have gained my end with less trouble and less guilt.

(IV, 376)

Such letters by Lovelace are self-revealing in that he describes his immediate thoughts and feelings in a theatrical style that dramatizes his emotional state. Clarissa also exposes her inner world to her correspondent:

Forgive, O forgive, my rambling. My peace is destroyed. My intellects are touched. And what flighty nonsense must you read, if now you will vouchsafe to correspond with me, as formerly!

O my best, my dearest, my only friend! What a tale have I to unfold!—But still upon Self, this vile, this hated Self!—I will shake it off, if possible; and why should I not, since I think, except one wretch, I hate nothing so much? Self, then, be banished from Self one moment (for I doubt it will for no longer) to enquire after a dearer object, my beloved Anna Howe!—Whose mind, all robed in spotless white, charms and irradiates—But what would I say?—

(VI, 116)

This passage, written by Clarissa shortly after her rape, recreates the heroine's emotional existence in a manner not found in earlier prose fiction. By having the heroine write this letter so soon after her violation, Richardson reveals her immediate internal reactions to the experience. In the passage Clarissa's confusion melts into self-reproach, which then changes to self-disgust. She hesitates for a moment (in a parenthetical statement), then suddenly turns to the recipient of the letter, Anna Howe, for pity; but the thought of her virgin friend shocks her once more into a state of confusion and suffering. The vividness of these emotions is heightened by their being directed to another character. Throughout his novels Richardson has his major figures react to a variety of related experiences, until their complete emotional histories are revealed.

In a more playful manner than that of Clarissa, Harriet Byron in Sir Charles Grandison suggests her state of mind and personality by carrying on an imaginary dialogue with another character in her letter:

Well, but will you not, my Harriet, methinks you ask, write with less openness, with more reserve, in apprehension of the rod which you know now hangs over your head?

Indeed, I will not….

(I. 95)

At times a series of brief related letters of this type by one or several characters gives an impression of continuous dialogue which is rarely received from earlier epistolary fiction. Certain topics are bandied back and forth, arguments are sustained, and questions are asked in one epistle and repeated and answered in the next. It is the disclosure of personal thoughts and feelings through a dramatic and sometimes talkative type of letter which distinguishes Richardson's second technique of writing and helps bring to the novel for the first time emotionally realistic and psychologically developed characters.

Richardson's third technique is in direct contrast to his self-revealing manner of writing, though it too furthers the reality and fullness of his characters. In earlier fiction the predominant technique is narrative summary. Novelists seldom present individual scenes at length, and when they do such episodes generally are based almost entirely upon dialogue. The domestic conduct books, such as Defoe's The Family Instructor, with which Richardson was familiar, also present scenes of pure dialogue. Only rarely, as sometimes in the novels of Mrs. Haywood and Mrs. Davys, do we get a more developed scene. But Richardson's novels present many fully described scenes that are obviously a result of his knowledge of the theater.4 Clarissa, master of such a technique, partly describes for Anna Howe this method of narration: "And then you will always have me give you minute descriptions, nor suffer me to pass by the air and manner in which things are spoken that are to be taken notice of; rightly observing, that air and manner often express more than the accompanying words" (I, 8). An excellent example of this kind of writing appears early in Clarissa when the heroine describes a meeting between herself and her mother:

Sit down when I bid you.

I sat down.

You look very sullen, Clary.

I hope not, Madam.

If children would always be children—parents—And there she stopt.

She then went to her toilette, and looked in the glass, and gave half a sigh—The other half, as if she would not have sighed could she have helped it, she gently hem'd away.

I don't love to see the girl look so sullen.

Indeed, Madam, I am not sullen.—And I arose, and, turning from her, drew out my handkerchief; for the tears ran down my cheeks.

I thought, by the glass before me, I saw the Mother in her softened eye cast towards me. But her words confirmed not the hoped-for tenderness.

One of the most provoking things in the world is, to have people cry for what they can help!

I wish to heaven I could, Madam!—And I sobbed again.


I could hold no longer; but threw myself at her feet: O my dearest Mamma! Let me know all I am to suffer: Let me know what I am to be!—I will bear it, if I can bear it: but your displeasure I cannot bear!

Leave me, leave me, Clary Harlowe!—No kneeling!—Limbs so supple; Will so stubborn!—Rise, I tell you.

I cannot rise! I will disobey my Mamma, when she bids me leave her without being reconciled to me! No sullens, my Mamma: No perverseness: But worse than either: This is direct disobedience!—Yet tear not yourself from me [wrapping my arms about her as I kneeled; she struggling to get from me; my face lifted up to hers, with eyes running over, that spoke not my heart if they were not all humility and reverence] You must not, must not, tear yourself from me! [for still the dear Lady struggled, and looked this way and that, in a sweet disorder, as if she knew not what to do].—I will neither rise, nor leave you, nor let you go, till you say you are not angry with me.

O thou ever-moving child of my heart! [folding her dear arms about my neck, as mine embraced her knees] Why was this talk—But leave me!—You have discomposed me beyond expression! Leave me my dear!—I won't be angry with you—if I can help it—if you'll be good.

I arose trembling, and hardly knowing what I did, or how I stood or walked, withdrew to my chamber.

(I, 130-32)

Dialogue is presented directly; speech is individualized; movement and behavior are documented. The time duration of reading the passage approximates the duration of the event itself, since we are given a complete transcription of what was said and done. The scene is more minute, dimensional, temporal, visual, and real than any in previous prose fiction. Presented is a world in depth within which speech and action occur second by second. The relationship between the mother and daughter is carefully defined and their personalities are made evident by choice of words, specified qualities of voice, description of action, gesture, and facial expression. Richardson has given a dramatic dimension to the episode by imagining it as if it occurred on a stage and by blending the formal elements of the playscript with the narrative mode of writing. The method of this passage is sufficiently dependent upon the formal techniques of a dramatic script so that by impersonalizing the first person statements, rearranging the spacing, and altering only a few sentences, we can obtain an actual play form:

Mrs. Harlowe. Sit down when I bid you. [Clarissa sits down.] You look very sullen, Clary.

Clarissa. I hope not, Madam.

Mrs. Harlowe. If children would always be children—parents—[She goes to her toilette, looks in the glass, and gives a half sigh.] I don't love to see the girl look so sullen.

Clarissa. Indeed, Madam, I am not sullen. [Rises and turning from Mrs. Harlowe, draws out her handkechief.]

Mrs. Harlowe. [Looking softly at Clarissa in the glass, but speaking not tenderly.] One of the most provoking things in the world is, to have people cry for what they can help!

Clarissa. I wish to heaven I could, Madam! [Sobs.]

It is important to realize that the novelist generally describes more stage action in these scenes than would a playwright in an eighteenth-century playbook. A drama was written to be performed in the theater, and the playwright depended upon the actors themselves to supply much of the stage business. Richardson's medium was solely the printed word, and it was necessary for him to describe entirely an individual scene as it would appear on the stage. But in his dramatic scenes the novelist, as if he were a playwright, emphasizes dialogue more than any other factor. Such conversations, presented in the pseudorealistic speech of contemporary drama, are far more real than those in earlier fiction. Richardson's dialogue at least is individualized and has the language, sentence structure, rhythm, and tone of articulated speech.

Frequently Richardson's dependence on play form is more obvious than in the previously quoted scene:

Shall I conduct your Ladyship down? [offering to take my declined hand.]

What! not vouchsafe to answer me?

I turned from her in silence.

What! turn your back upon me too!—Shall I bring your Mamma to you, Love? [following me, and taking my struggling hand] What! not speak yet! Come, my sullen, silent dear, speak one word to me—You must say two very soon to Mr. Solmes, I can tell you that.

Then [gushing out into tears, which I could not hold in longer] they shall be the last words I will ever speak.

(I, 330)

Here the paragraphing, the separation into brackets of the description of action, and the use of the present participle to describe that action, clearly indicate the influence of the dramatic script. Only a few alterations are needed to change the passage into actual play form:

Bella. Shall I conduct your Ladyship down [offering to take Clarissa's declining hand.] What! not vouchsafe to answer me? [Clarissa turns from her in silence.] What! turn your back upon me too!—Shall I bring up your Mamma to you, Love? [following Clarissa, and taking her struggling hand.] What! not speak yet! Come, my sullen, silent dear, speak one word to me—You must say two very soon to Mr. Solmes, I can tell you that.

Clarissa, [gushing out into tears.] Then they shall be the last words I will ever speak.

In the letters of Anna and Lovelace in Clarissa Richardson frequently uses play form, but with more details of action:

M. [Lips drawn closer; Eye raised] Why, my dear!—I cannot but own—But how, I wonder, could you think of Mr. Antony Harlowe?

D. How, Madam, could I think of any-body else?

M. How could you think of any-body else!—[angrily, and drawing back her face] But do you know the subject, Nancy?

(IV, 172-73)

Clarissa often writes in a dramatic style, but she never uses exact play form. In Sir Charles Grandison scenes frequently appear in play form. Harriet Byron often describes total scenes in such a manner:

Sir Ch. I have a Letter of his to answer. He is very urgent with me for my interest with you. I am to answer it. Will you tell me, my sister (giving her the Letter) what I shall say?

Miss Gr. [after perusing it] Why, ay, poor man! he is very much in love.

(II, 408)

At times names are omitted before speeches, but the form of the dramatic script is still evident. Harriet does not use the play form or near-play form if she was involved emotionally in the scene when it took place and not a passive spectator, but her descriptions still maintain the characteristics of the dramatic style of writing in their full presentation of dialogue and movement:

He then on one knee, taking my passive hand between both his, and kissing it, once, twice, thrice—Repeat, dear, and ever-dear, Miss Byron, that this is all your doubt [I bowed assentingly: I could not speak.]—A happy, an easy task is mine! …

I took out my handkerchief—My dear Miss Byron, proceeded he.

(V, 145)

Richardson's correspondents rarely use exact play form to describe events in which they were seriously involved. Each correspondent's past involvement and often present attitude evoke a complex point of view that colors the action and prevents the complete objectivity of a playscript. Although the event is portrayed dramatically and the narrator presents himself or herself as one of the figures in the scene, the reader is made aware of the narrator's past and frequently his or her present reactions to the event that occurred. Passages written by Lovelace often appear as pages from a playbook since he relates events which, though of tragic consequence to Clarissa, present no threat to his own well-being. But Lovelace's use of this technique also manifests the mocking manner in which he views himself and Clarissa as part of a drama. Only when the heroine is near dying is Lovelace shocked into reality; he then relinquishes play form.

Richardson developed the dramatic dimension in his episodes more and more throughout his three novels. In his first novel, Pamela, the heroine's personality and point of view receive more dramatic emphasis than the individual scenes. Though much of the work is composed of brief episodes of dialogue and passages of exposition, Pamela constantly interposes her own thoughts and feelings. But the fact that so much of the work is in the form of brief scenes of dialogue and that some of these scenes do achieve a certain dramatic quality is significant:

Here was John, as I said; and the poor Man came to me, with Mrs. Jewkes, who whisper'd that I would say nothing about the Shoes, for my own sake, as she said. The poor Man saw my Distress, by my red Eyes, and my haggard Looks, I suppose; for I have had a sad Time of it, you must needs think; and tho' he would have hid it, if he could, yet his own Eyes ran over. Oh, Mrs. Pamela! said he; Oh Mrs. Pamela!—Well, honest Fellow-servant, said I, I cannot help it at present.

(I, 152)

The scene begins hastily with Pamela's bringing in John and Mrs. Jervis and relating indirectly the woman's warning; but before beginning a direct account of her conversation with John, the heroine interjects, as a result of the man's reaction, a brief description of her own appearance. In Pamela II, when the heroine is not lecturing, there is an increased emphasis on individual scenes, which seem closer to dramatic form:

Are you angry, Widow?

She affected a Laugh: No indeed; it i'n't worth while.

He turn'd to me—and I was afraid of some such Hit as he gave me—I hope, Friend, thou art prepared with a Father for the Light within thee?—That was his free Word.

Is this Wit? said I, turning to Miss: I have enough of this Diversion, where nothing but coarse Jests appear barefac'd.

(IV, 96)

Here all the dialogue is related directly, and each character's movement is described; as a result the time of the scene is not foreshortened, and a full, dramatized account of what took place is presented.

The Preface to Clarissa and the heroine's discussion of her writing style show that Richardson in his second novel is attempting consciously to make many of the episodes of his work more visible and real. Richardson visualizes his episodes as if they took place on a stage. This is obvious in a few of the more theatrical scenes:

And into a den they led me, with broken walls, which had been papered, as I saw by a multitude of tacks, and some torn bits held on by the rusty heads.


A bed at one corner, with coarse curtains tacked up at the feet to the ceiling….

The windows dark and double-barred, the tops boarded up to save mending….


She was kneeling in a corner of the room, near the dismal window, against the table, on an old bolster (as it seemed to be) of the cane couch, half-covered with her handkerchief; her back to the door; which was only shut to [No need of fastenings!]; her arms crossed upon the table, the fore-finger of her right-hand in her bible. She had perhaps been reading in it, and could read no longer. Paper, pens, ink, lay by her book on the table. Her dress was white damask, exceedingly neat; but her stays seemed not tightlaced…. Her headdress was a little discomposed; her charming hair, in natural ringlets, as you have heretofore described it, but a little tangled, as if not lately comb'd, irregularly shading one side of the loveliest neck in the world; as her disordered, rumpled handkerchief did the other. Her face … was reclined, when we entered, upon her crossed arms; but so, as not more than one side of it to be hid.

(VI, 297-98)

Here the detailed description of setting (something uncommon in earlier fiction) and of the heroine in a melodramatic pose gives a suspended, stagelike effect. This highly theatrical composition of setting and character seems to be taken directly from the stage or from an illustration in a playbook.5

But more important are the natural dramatic elements that the novelist emphasizes in his scenes:

He took the removed chair, and drew it so near mine, squatting in it with his ugly weight, that he pressed upon my hoop.—I was so offended (all I had heard, as I said, in my head) that I removed to another chair. I own I had too little command of myself. It gave my Brother and Sister too much advantage. I dare say they took it. But I did it involuntarily, I think. I could not help it.—I knew not what I did.

I saw that my Father was excessively displeased. When angry, no man's countenance ever shews it so much as my Father's. Clarissa Harlowe! said he with a big voice—and there he stopped.—Sir! said I, trembling and curtsying (for I had not then sat down again): And put my chair nearer the wretch, and sat down—My face, as I could feel, all in a glow.

Make Tea, child, said my kind Mamma: Sit by me, Love; and make Tea.

(I, 100)

There is here a remarkable sense of realistic characters speaking and moving in a spatial and temporal world. But though Clarissa makes a conscious attempt to recreate the scene dramatically and precisely, she is more than a passive spectator. The awkward movements of Mr. Solmes, her own defensive actions, Mr. Harlowe's facial expressions and the tone of his harsh voice, and the conversation are all woven carefully into a pattern with Clarissa's observations and thoughts.

Lovelace at times shows remarkable skill in adapting the dramatic style of writing to his own evil and energetic personality:

What's the matter, Dorcas?

Nothing, Madam.

My Beloved wonders she has not seen me this morning, no doubt; but is too shy to say she wonders. Repeated What's the matter, however, as Dorcas runs up and down stairs by her door, bring on, Oh! Madam, my master! my poor master!

What! How! When!—And all the monosyllables of surprise.

[Within parenthesis let me tell thee, that I have often thought, that the little words in the Republic of Letters, like the little folks in a nation, are the most significant…. ]

I must not tell you, Madam—My master ordered me not to tell you—But he is in a worse way than he thinks for!—But he would not have you frighted.

High concern took possession of every sweet feature. She pitied me!—By my soul, she pitied me!

Where is he?

Too much in a hurry for good-manners [Another parenthesis, Jack! Good-manners are so little natural…. ] I cannot stay to answer questions, cries the wench—tho' desirous to answer [A third parenthesis—Like the people crying proclamations….] This hurry puts the Lady in a hurry to ask [A fourth, by way of embellishing the third!] …

At last, O Lord! let Mrs. Lovelace know!—There is danger to be sure! whisper from one Nymph to another; but at the door, and so loud, that my listening Fair-one might hear.

Out she darts—As how! as how, Dorcas!

Madam—A vomiting of blood! A vessel broke, to be sure.

Down she hastens; finds every one as busy over my blood in the entry, as if it were that of the Neopolitan saint.

In steps my Charmer, with a face of sweet concern. How do you, Mr. Lovelace?

(IV, 292-94)

In this passage Lovelace uses the present tense and supplies a number of sudden exclamations to give immediacy to the episode and to intensify the rush and chaos of the action. He also uses long parenthetical statements to break suddenly the movement of the scene and impose grotesquely upon it his mockery and superiority. In such epistles Richardson seems to achieve the very height of his narrative skills, for here the dramatized point of view is integrated fully with the dramatized scene.

Richardson developed his dramatic technique to an extreme in Sir Charles Grandison, and the novel somewhat resembles a long dramatic script. Many scenes are in play form. Other scenes in narrative form give such little attention to point of view and action and so much attention to dialogue that they strongly suggest play form. Page after page is devoted to dialogue, and it often seems that the characters have not moved for a long duration. [It seems that] the excessively sentimental and benevolent nature of the novel's characters is the cause for a lack of conflict and dramatic action. The use, therefore, of long scenes composed mostly of carefully recorded conversations emphasizes the plotless nature of the work and adds to its static quality. But the episodes concerning Lady Clementina contain conflict and action, and Richardson dramatizes her scenes by describing dialogue, movement, gesture, and expression. The dramatic dimension could be achieved in the novel form only when the characters' situations were themselves inherently dramatic….


4 For a relevant discussion of the vividness of Richardson's episodes see George Sherburn, "'Writing to the Moment': One Aspect," in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature, ed. Carroll Camden (Chicago, 1963), 201-209.

5 Leo Hughes, "Theatrical Convention in Richardson: Observations on a Novelist's Technique," in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature, 247-49, suggests that Richardson may have been influenced in his description of gesture and dress by illustrations in playbooks and Aaron Hill's Art of Acting….

Leon M. Guilhamet (essay date 1972)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8061

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 premise of Richardson's detractors, Kermode has taken the position that Richardson enjoys a moral precedence over Fielding. But if we examine carefully what he means by "moral," especially in his analysis of Lovelace, we discover something more than ever Richardson meant by it:

He [Lovelace] is the product of an uncommon observation which penetrates to the level of archetypal integration of character and motive. There is no paradox in his respect for the principles he violates, so he is not merely a "round" character but a moral being with the vitality of a myth and the validity of a proverb tested on the pulses. A myth succeeds when it not only offers a total equivalent for the facts it explains, but possesses a suggestiveness transcending and sometimes even obscuring those facts. If this is true, Richardson's manner may be described as mythopoeic…. The aspect of Richardson's novel technique which may legitimately be called Shakespearean, is his refusal to allow the primitive nature of this simple situation to be obscured, and his willingness to let it talk and talk for itself.2

In other words, Richardson's manner transcends the mere technique of Fielding and in so doing renders the dichotomy between moral and technique false. In short, the way of explaining Richardson's poor technical skills is to suggest that his art transcends technique in rising to the status of myth, particularly, or perhaps only, in Clarissa. If I read Kermode correctly, Pamela and Grandison fail to achieve the Shakespearean miracle and so are too embarrassing to be considered.

Another way of granting Richardson importance is by declaring his skill as a realist. George Sherburn has emphasized the reliability of Richardson's visual imagination. He notes, tongue in cheek, I hope, that when Pamela clasps the knees of Mr. B. while he sits at table, we can probably assume that his legs are not under the table.3 Ira Konigsberg stresses Richardson's commonsense realism as it has influenced later novelists:

Richardson was … to make most future novelists realize that the novel should present an image of the everyday world, that it should convince the reader of the social normality of its characters and the probability of its action.4

Now I cannot deny either of these viewpoints nor Richardson's undoubted contribution to psychological realism. But the difficulty here is that these critics tend to declare that Richardson is pre-eminently a realist, that he portrays everyday life, the common experience of eighteenth-century England, and that his realism is the only virtue which justly recommends him to posterity.

The excellent work of Ian Watt and Christopher Hill has given us socioeconomic interpretations of Richardson based on these same realist assumptions. In a chapter purportedly on Pamela, Watt has given us, among other things, a history of courtly love, the economic, social, and religious bases of marriage, the status of servants, and theories of celibacy and general sexual conduct in the eighteenth century. The assumption is, of course, that all this paraphernalia is necessary to understand the book. Perhaps it is, but the reader is left with the uneasy feeling that these materials are substituted for the book, which, once again, as in the case of Kermode, seems too embarrassing to take seriously—except as a social document. In Watt's book only Clarissa gets careful literary treatment.5

More recent studies, in taking issue with the socioeconomic point of view, treat the religious backgrounds of Richardson's novels.6 John J. Richetti, in his study of popular fiction before Richardson, sees as a constant element in that fiction "an eighteenth-century version of the traditional confrontation of the secular and religious."7 Studies of Defoe have made us acutely aware of the possible impact of religion on eighteenth-century fiction.8

But if we need to correct interpretations based on social and economic realities, it is just as important to avoid the error of merely substituting religious and ethical ones as explanatory of the actions of the novels. The assumption underlying both critical approaches is that Richardson's works tend to mirror the real world. In other words those who seek to show the impact of religion on Richardson's art share the realistic assumptions of Professor Watt. They see Richardson as in the main a "naive" artist who is peculiarly at the mercy of historical forces. For them religion is simply more important than economics. Since both these theories are chiefly theories of imitation, their proponents depend for their literary judgment on how well and accurately the real world is represented.

Now what I propose here is that Richardson's novels are not essentially realistic, that they represent neither "social normality" nor probability of action, and that the strict criteria of realism are an improper imposition on Richardson's artistic technique.

It is important to point out that realism was not Richardson's primary intention. Answering criticism of Clarissa in his postscript to that novel, he reminds his readership that the work is permeated by a moral design:9

The Letters and Conversations, where the Story makes the slowest progress, are presumed to be characteristic. They give occasion likewise to suggest many interesting Personalities, in which a good deal of the instruction essential to a work of this nature is conveyed. And it will, moreover, be remembered, that the Author, at his first setting out, apprised the Reader, that the Story (interesting as it is generally allowed to be) was to be principally looked upon as the Vehicle to the Instruction.10

Richardson goes on to admit, however, that realism is part of that moral design:

there was frequently a necessity to be very circumstantial and minute, in order to preserve and maintain that Air of Probability, which is necessary to be maintained in a Story designed to represent real Life; and which is rendered extremely busy and active by the plots and contrivances formed and carried on by one of the principal Characters.11

But when Clarissa's excellencies are criticized as improbable, the "everyday world" must be put in its place. Having ascribed Clarissa's virtues largely to her education, Richardson continues with impatience:

It must be confessed, that we are not to look for Clarissa's among the constant frequenters of Ranelagh and Vaux-hall, nor among those who may be called Daughters of the Card-table. If we do, the character of our Heroine may then indeed be justly thought not only improbable, but unattainable. But we have neither room in this place, nor inclination, to pursue a subject so invidious. We quit it therefore, after we have repeated, that we know there are some, and we hope there are many, in the British dominions [or they are hardly any-where in the European world] who, as far as occasion has called upon them to exert the like humble and modest, yet steady useful, virtues, have reached the perfections of a Clarissa.12

What follows plainly from this is that Clarissa, Pamela, Harriet Byron, and Sir Charles Grandison are moral exemplars first and realistic characters second. But Richardson strenuously objects to the assumption that exemplars of virtue are necessarily unreal. On the contrary, what may seem unreal to realist critics was for him most real. The moral ideal he envisioned had a reality like that of the symbol for a Romantic poet. The general failure to admire Richardson for his treatment of moral ideals derives from our misunderstanding both of the nature of those ideals and of some basic aspects of eighteenth-century sensibility.


Richardson's settings and characters bear some relation to the England of his day, just as Jane Austen's idylls bear some relation to life as she knew it. But in the case of Pamela, for example, there are significant discrepancies. Is Pamela a typical waiting-maid?13 I suspect not. She is literate, sensitive to others, and, unless we have been overly intimidated by Fielding, we may suppose that she is a model of moral rectitude. Another quality that makes her quite unlike other waiting maids is her disarming and revolutionary notion that she and not her employer is the master of her own body.14 This idea and her concomitant behavior in support of it are an assertion of equality between her master and herself, or, worse, from an upper-class point of view, between her own class and a higher class.

Now what is the basis of this assumed equality where all evidence seems to be against equality? It is not the simple doctrine that all men are created equal (though a similar notion lurks behind it), but rather that, in certain demonstrable ways, Pamela is equal or superior to her master and to many (perhaps all) ladies of his class. Her literacy, most specifically, is symbolic of her moral superiority; and that moral superiority is asserted as a preliminary condition of material equality.

I should point out here that I am playing down the relevance of the sexual motif which is so important in realist interpretations of Richardson. Women are his central characters because they represented a particularly oppressed group, whose excellencies he knew first hand and who were oppressed because and by means of their sexual difference. Since the object of male concern is sex, sexual virtue is at the dramatic center of the novels, but the moral design of those novels includes much more.

Thus the virtues of women, as represented in the novels, are not limited to women, but seem appropriate for adoption by men as well. Mr. B.'s conversion by Pamela to her ideals is an anticipation of Sir Charles Grandison, who unites manly courage and strength with the "feminine" moral ideals of Pamela and Clarissa. These ideals center around a strict requirement for the cultivation of a feeling heart and the exact representation of that heart in external actions: in short, sincerity.

Indeed, it may be said that sex, portrayed as deceitful and disruptive, is seen by Richardson as antithetical to the coherent ideal of sincere behavior. Perhaps the most damaging accusation brought against Pamela in the course of the novel is that she is, in Mr. B.'s words, "an artful young Baggage."15 The accusation of disguise and hypocrisy is brought over and over again, and' it worries Pamela very much, as can be seen from her response to one such imputation:

I was out of Patience, then; Hold, good Sir, said I; don't impute Disguise and Hypocrisy to me, above all things; for I hate them both, mean as I am.16

Pamela takes external appearance very seriously; indeed so seriously that clothing takes on symbolic significance.17 Clothing and other externals ought to reflect one's true state. Thus, a person of humble station ought to wear humble clothing; neatness and cleanliness properly mirror his inner state. But also a man or woman of high station, wearing elegant clothing, ought to have a correspondingly fine inner state. Thus Pamela's reproach to Mr. B., "Let me ask you, Sir, if this becomes your fine Cloaths, and a Master's Station? …"18 makes clear that his inner state and outer appearance are at variance, another way of accusing him of hypocrisy. It should be noted that Pamela's remarkable self-control, considering the circumstances, reflects her moral balance, while Mr. B.'s excesses, both with Pamela and during his earlier life, reflect the chaos of his moral situation.

Pamela, of course, does resort to guile herself; but it is in self-defense. In order to leave notes for Mr. Williams, Pamela is forced to distract Mrs. Jewkes: "And so we chatted on about the Town, to deceive her. But my Deceit intended no Hurt to any body."19 It is important to note that Pamela feels guilt about her tricks and so needs to justify them morally. Her sexual virtue is absolutely secure; no serious issue is involved there.20 But the question of deceit is another matter, and in this Pamela is vulnerable. To signify the importance of the issue of guile, Richardson has Pamela and Jewkes plan to angle for fish the following day.

Fishing and deceit were regularly connected in eighteenth-century literature. James Thomson in Spring playfully suggests the implications of the fishing metaphor:

Richardson shows us, however, that for him the fishing metaphor has most serious implications. Pamela hooks a carp, reeling it in under the direction of Jewkes, but having landed it, casts it back into the pond. Then she sees the fish's state as representative of her own:

O the Pleasure it seem'd to have, to flounce in, when at Liberty!—Why this? says she. O Mrs. Jewkes! said I, I was thinking this poor Carp was the unhappy Pamela. I was likening you and myself to my naughty Master. As we hooked and deceived the poor Carp, so was I betrayed by false Baits; and when you said, Play it, Play it, it went to my Heart, to think I should sport with the Destruction of the Poor Fish I had betray'd; and I could not but fling it in again: And did you not see the Joy with which the happy Carp flounc'd from us? O! said I, may some good merciful Body procure me my Liberty in the same manner; for, to be sure, I think my Danger equal!22

Thomson, again in Spring, gives us an even more conventional statement of the use of guile in the male-female relationship:

Ah then, ye fair!
Be greatly cautious of your sliding hearts:
Dare not the infectious sigh; the pleading look,
Downcast and low, in meek submission dressed,
But full of guile. Let not the fervent tongue,
Prompt to deceive with adulation smooth,
Gain on your purposed will. Nor in the bower
Where woodbines flaunt, and roses shed a couch,
While evening draws her crimson curtains round,
Trust your soft minutes with betraying man

Opposed to the deceit of Mr. B., betraying man personified, is the frankness, the openness of Pamela. When her master determines to read her letters written to her parents, she counters,

Well, Sir, said I, since you will, you must read them; and I think I have no Reason to be afraid of being found insincere, or having, in any respect, told you a Falsehood; because, tho' I don't remember all I wrote, yet I know I wrote my Heart; and that is not deceitful.23

Thus part of Richardson's purpose in having his heroines write "to the moment" is that by so doing they reveal their true internal state.

What I am suggesting here, with only a fraction of the available evidence, is that Richardson is in Pamela delineating an ideal of morality characterized by sincerity, or the strict correspondence of internal state and external action, stated intention and actual intention, appearance and reality. Further, I am arguing that Richardson's art is symbolic as well as realistic and that he uses cultural myths common to his contemporaries to illustrate character and advance action. The novel Pamela presents an ideal of behavior, complex and coherent, which transcends social status and lends integrity to every individual who practises it. In Richardson's imaginative world, this transcendent virtue calls in question the hierarchy of wealth and position. Miss Darnford of Pamela, Part II, is quite specific on this point:

What an Example does this dear Lady [Pamela] set to all who see her, to all who know her, and to all who hear of her! and how happy are they who have the Grace to follow it!—What a publick Blessing would such a Mind as hers be, could it be vested with the Robes of Royalty, and adorn the Sovereign Dignity! But what are the Princes of the Earth, look at them in every Nation, and what have they been for Ages past, compar'd to this Lady? who acts from the Impulses of her own Heart, unaided, in most Cases, by any human Example. In short, when I contemplate her innumerable Excellencies, and that Sweetness of Temper, and universal Benevolence, which shine in every thing she says and does, I cannot sometimes help looking upon her in the Light of an Angel, dropp'd down from Heaven, and receiv'd into bodily Organs, to live among Men and Women, in order to shew what the first of the Species was design'd to be.24

From this we can gain credence for Aaron Hill's remark that Richardson's effort was to "unite all mankind in one sentiment!"25 This sentiment, as we shall see in Clarissa, is closely related to the ideal of sincerity.


Most readers of Clarissa will be suspicious of attempts to reduce that novel to the single idea of sincerity. Here Richardson's talent for character development is at its best in the creation of Clarissa, Lovelace, the Harlowes, and Anna Howe. His decision to resist the clamorous appeals that Clarissa be made happy by marriage to Lovelace was one of the best of its kind in all of English literature. The resulting tragic effect and the wealth of good artistic choices enlisted to achieve it render the novel indubitably major.

Yet the tragic action and the psychological realism of Clarissa are rooted in a moral soil of which sincerity is a chief component. A major theme of the novel is suggested early, in the verses by Miss Biddulph, answering a reproach from a gentleman; for which Clarissa expresses admiration:

These verses prepare us for an aspect of the conflict between Clarissa and her family, as well as between Clarissa and Lovelace; in almost every case the guileless Clarissa will be accused of deceit, by the very persons who most employ it. Thus Mrs. Harlowe, in the following exchange, believes that the girl's love for Lovelace stands in the way of acceptance of Solmes:

Are you determined to brave your Father's displeasure?—Are you determined to defy your Uncles?—Do you chuse to break with us all, rather than encourage Mr. Solmes?—Rather than give me hope?

Dreadful alternative—But is not my sincerity, is not the integrity of my heart, concerned in my answer? May not my everlasting happiness be the sacrifice? Will not the least shadow of the hope you just now demanded from me, be driven into absolute and sudden certainty? Is it not sought to ensnare, to entangle me in my own desire of obeying, if I could give answers that might be construed into hope?—Forgive me, Madam: Bear with your child's boldness in such a cause as This? Settlements drawn!—Patterns sent for!—An Early Day!—Dear, dear Madam, how can I give hope, and not intend to be this man's?

Ah, girl, never say your heart is free! You deceive yourself if you think it is.27

In a later altercation with Arabella, Clarissa is the object of more heated abuse: "Such a saucy meekness; such a best manner; and such venom in words!—O Clary! Clary! Thou wert always a two-faced girl!"28

It is Clarissa's exorbitant sincerity which opens her to the charge of deceit and renders her position increasingly difficult. A feigned willingness to countenance Solmes's courtship might have given her the time and opportunity to resist it effectively. But her commitment to sincerity is complete. She fears to violate this ideal even in little things: she is afraid, for example, that her letter to her mother is "a little piece of art…,"29 Later she makes a specific refusal to sacrifice sincerity, even for her immediate well-being:

Forbid It, Heaven! that Clarissa Harlowe should have it in her thought to serve, or even to save herself at the expence of her sincerity, and by a studied deceit!30

Though she evidently fears that she may be deceiving herself with regard to Lovelace,31 Clarissa gives the question of whether he is guileful or ingenuous primary consideration:

Sometimes we have both thought him one of the most undesigning merely witty men we ever knew; at other times one of the deepest creatures we ever conversed with. So that when in one visit we have imagined we fathomed him, in the next he has made us ready to give him up as impenetrable. This Impenetrableness … is to be put among the shades in his character.—Yet, upon the whole, you have been so far of his party, that you have contested, that his principal fault is overfrankness, and too much regardlessness of appearances, and that he is too giddy to be very artful: You would have it, that at the time he says any thing good, he means what he speaks….32

Clarissa's suspicions, however, tend toward a just verdict:

I used … to say, and I still am of opinion, that he wants a heart: And if he does, he wants everything. A wrong head may be convinced, may have a right turn given it: But who is able to give a heart, if a heart be wanting? Divine Grace, working a miracle, or next to a miracle, can only change a bad heart.33

Although there has been a tendency among some readers of Clarissa to see Lovelace in a more favorable light than Richardson seems to have intended, it is the Harlowes who pose the greatest threat to our ethical balance. Aunt Hervey reflects for a moment the reader's sense of the justice of Clarissa's position, but later takes her place among the least forgiving:

My Aunt retired to the window, weeping, with my Sister in her hand [sic]: I cannot, Indeed I cannot, Miss Harlowe, said she, softly (but yet I heard every word she said): There is great hardship in her case. She is a noble child, after all. What pity things are gone so far!—But Mr. Solmes ought to be told to desist.

O Madam, said my Sister, in a kind of loud whisper, are you caught too by the little Siren?34

If the reader resists Bella's attempts to turn justice on its head, Aunt Hervey and, indeed, Clarissa herself are very much confused by them. Especially since Clarissa has nurtured a regard for Lovelace, she fears the possibility that she is a siren. The fact that some readers have questioned her motives seems to prove that the Harlowes's charges have had their effect.

It is Clarissa's sincerity, then, which becomes the issue. Lovelace, following the strategy of the Harlowes, indicts her for deceit in order to justify his own immoral actions:

—Am I already Lord of the destiny of a Clarissa Harlowe?—Am I already the reformed man thou resolvedst I should be, before I had the least encouragement given me? Is it thus, that the more thou knowest me, the less thou seest reason to approve of me?—And can Art and Design enter into a breast so celestial? To banish me from thee, to insist so rigorously upon my absence, in order to bring me closer to thee, and make the blessing dear?—Well do thy Arts justify mine; and encourage me to let loose my plotting genius upon thee.35

Later, after Clarissa's escape from Sinclair's, Lovelace is even more emphatic:

I have heard her story!—Art, damn'd, confounded, wicked, unpardonable Art, in a woman of her character—But shew me a woman, and I'll shew thee a plotter!—This plaguy Sex is Art itself: Every individual of it is a plotter by nature.36

But Lovelace hates guile only when it is used against him. His protestations of sincerity and reform conduce to the production of a larger design. This fact Clarissa sees consistently, but her own ingenuousness forbids her to believe that such deceit is possible. Even when she catches him in a lie, her admonitions are tempered with Christian charity, as when he lies about his use of Joseph Leman:

I shook my head—Deep! deep! deep! said I, at the best!—Mr. Lovelace! God forgive and reform you!—But you are, I see plainly (upon the whole of your own account) a very artful, a very designing man.37

Lovelace's capital deceit intensifies as it borrows some of its metaphors from Paradise Lost. Clarissa calls her seducer a fiend:

O why was the great fiend of all unchained, and permitted to assume so specious a form, and yet allowed to conceal his feet and his talons, till with the one he was ready to trample upon my honour, and to strike the other into my heart!—And what had I done, that he should be let loose particularly upon me!38

When Lovelace reveals himself to Clarissa at Mrs. Moore's, he is even more specifically Satan:

I saw it was impossible to conceal myself longer from her, any more than (from the violent impulses of my passion) to forbear manifesting myself. I unbuttoned therefore my cape, I pulled off my flapt slouched hat; I threw open my great coat, and like the devil in Milton [an odd comparison tho'!]

I started up in my own form divine,
Touch'd by the beam of her celestial eye,
More potent than Ithuriel's spear!—39

At other points in the novel Lovelace is likened to a devil or a serpent.40 Elsewhere he takes different forms of personified deceit, as Clarissa views him:

I am strangely at a loss what to think of this man. He is a perfect Proteus. I can but write according to the shape he assumes at the time. Don't think me the changeable person, I beseech you, [Anna Howe] if in one Letter I contradict what I wrote in another; nay, if I seem to contradict what I said in the same Letter: For he is a perfect chameleon; or rather more variable than the chameleon; for that, it is said, cannot assume the red and the white; but this man can. And tho' black seems to be his natural colour, yet has he taken great pains to make me think him nothing but white.41

Pitted against this master of deceit, Clarissa finds it necessary to defend herself by guile; but even when she is conscious that it is defensive, she fears for her moral state:

I fear, I very much fear, that my unhappy situation will draw me in to be guilty of Evasion, of little Affectations, and of Curvings from the plain simple Truth which I was wont to delight in, and prefer to every other consideration. But allow me to say, and this for your [Anna Howe's] sake, and in order to lessen your Mother's fears of any ill consequences that she might apprehend from our correspondence, that if I am at any time guilty of a failure in these respects, 1 will not go on in it; but endeavour to recover my lost ground, that I may not bring Error into Habit.42

The height of Clarissa's forced duplicity comes when she feigns a reconciliation with her family in order to keep Lovelace away from her. Yet even this "innocent artifice," as Belford calls it, is used by Lovelace to turn her cousin Morden against her:

Lovel. I never knew her once dispense with her word; for she always made it a maxim, that it was not lawful to do evil, that good might come of it: And yet in this Letter, for no reason in the world but to avoid seeing me (to gratify an humour only) has she sent me out of town, depending upon the assurance she had given me.

Col. This is indeed surprising. But I cannot believe that my Cousin, for such an end only, or indeed for any end, according to the character I hear of her, should stoop to make use of such an artifice.43

When Lord M. attempts to construe some favorable meaning from Clarissa's deception, Colonel Morden gives an unmistakable reproof to all violators of strict sincerity: "Such an artifice would better become the Italian subtlety than the English simplicity."44

Clarissa portrays the struggle between a sincere, virtuous woman and a designing, moral leper of a man. To the extent that Lovelace's devices deprive Clarissa of the social effect she could otherwise command, the novel is a social tragedy. Society loses her as an exemplar of virtue and good sense when she is forced to make a series of tragic choices. With her defloration, the palpable and irremediable result of those bad choices, the reader is made to believe that her exemplary status can be regained only in death. She achieves this status by choosing to die in expiation for her supposed crimes against her parents and her own honor.

Clarissa's moral struggle encompasses more even than idealized sincerity. Her tragic end is an eloquent plea for an extension of female liberties. Early in the novel Clarissa compared her state of subjection to the freedom of her brother James:

How would you take it, if you had a Brother, who, in a like case, were to act by you, as you do by me? You cannot but remember what a Laconic answer you gave even to my Father, who recommended to you Miss Nelly D'Oily—You did not like her, were your words: And that was thought sufficient.45

The justice of this claim becomes more emphatic as Clarissa's reproach against Lovelace and his sex, the impersonal epithet "Man," reverberates throughout the later parts of the book. The need for the "female" morality of sincerity is manifest.

Although sincerity is fully delineated in Pamela and Clarissa, the problem of class in the former and the artistic and tragic success of the latter obscure much of the moral didacticism in those books for all but the most attentive readers. The full development of the ideal of sincerity and its transfer to a male figure await the creation of Sir Charles Grandison


In Sir Charles Grandison most of the action, at least early in the novel, is subordinated to the ideal of sincerity.46 The chief characters are analyzed for their sincerity or lack of it.

True sincerity is distinguished from false when we see Greville's attempt "to build up a merit for sincerity or plain-dealing, by saying free things…."47 contrasted with Sir Charles's combination of unreserve and politeness.48 Greville is hypocritical, but Sir Charles's spontaneity is a virtue.

It is no coincidence that a masquerade is the occasion for Harriet's abduction by Sir Hargrave Pollexfen. Though Richardson shared Fielding's disapproval of masquerades as places of licentious behavior and assignations, the disguise motif seems equally significant. In a world in which the internal state should be mirrored in the external, costumes, disguises, masquerades are symbolic of false seeming. Thus Harriet's bad judgment in consenting to attend a masquerade is made clear by the fact that she is almost undone by it. Her shame at making such a bad moral choice is intensified by her heroic rescue by Sir Charles:

Do you wonder, Lucy, that I cannot hold up my head, when I recollect the figure I must make in that odious Masquerade-habit, hanging by my clasping arms about the neck of such a yung gentleman? Can I be more effectually humbled than by such a recollection? And yet is not this an instance of that false shame in me, to which Sir Charles Grandison is so greatly superior?

Surely, surely, I have had my punishment for my compliances with this foolish world. False glory, and false shame, the poor Harriet has never been totally above. Why was I so much indulged? … But surely, I was past all shame, when I gave my consent to make such an appearance as I made, among a thousand strangers, at a Masquerade!49

In short the masquerade, as the world in microcosm, is the very antithesis of the frank, sincere ethic represented by Sir Charles and aspired to by Harriet.

During her account of her own disgrace at the masquerade, Harriet begins to show regard for Sir Charles and his sister, Charlotte Grandison. The issue of Sir Charles's possible reserve in failing to confide completely in his sister is raised; and Harriet sees this reserve as a failing in an otherwise perfect character:

Now this reserve to such a sister, and in points that she thinks it imports her to know, is what I do not like in Sir Charles. A friend as well as a sister! ought there to be a secret on one side, when there is none on the other? Very likely, he would be as reserved to a wife: And is not marriage the highest state of friendship that mortals can know? And can friendship and reserve be compatible? Surely, No.50

Here Harriet shows that even this early she has her eye on Sir Charles as a possible husband. But this question of reserve, which may seem a punctilio to the modern reader, is a serious moral problem in this book. Part of the difficulty for Harriet at this stage is that Sir Charles represents a new and not fully understood ideal. As Harriet learns from Charlotte, Sir Charles "lives to himself, and to his own heart, rather than to the opinion of the world."51

But a few pages later, Harriet begins to put things in proper perspective, after again reflecting on the probable superiority of Sir Charles's moral state to her own:

But I fansy I am acting the world, in its malevolence, as well as impertinence: That world, which thinks itself affronted by great and superior merit; and takes delight to bring down exalted worth to its own level. But, at least, you will collect from what I have written, an instance of my impartiality; and see, that, tho' bound to Sir Charles by a tie of gratitude which never can be dissolved, I cannot excuse him, if he be guilty of a diffidence and reserve to his generous sister, which she is above shewing to him.52

By seeing herself at one with the malevolent world, a deficiency of character revealed by participation in the masquerade, Harriet is on the way to full conversion to a new ethic. Though her vital concern for Sir Charles's moral state is motivated by her incipient affection for him, that growing love proves her desire to attain the better moral state which he represents and which, also, is natural to her. Harriet must, however, face and overcome a further irony. Although a goodness characterized by sincerity is the object of her feelings, convention dictates that she express those feelings with delicacy:

Nothing, surely, can be delicate, that is not true, or that gives birth to equivocation….

And are there some situations, in which a woman must conceal her true sentiments? In which it would be thought immodesty to speak out?—Why was I born with a heart so open and sincere? But why, indeed, as Sir Charles has said … should women be blamed, for owning modestly a passion for a worthy and suitable object? Is it, that they will not speak out, lest, if their wishes should not be crowned with success by one man, they should deprive themselves of a chance to succeed with another? Do they not propose to make the man they love, happy?—And is it a crime to acknowledge, that they are so well disposed to a worthy object? A worthy object, I repeat; for that is what will warrant the open heart. What a littleness is there in the custom that compels us to be insincere!53

But throughout the long and drawn-out difficulty over Clementina, it is Harriet's sincerity which is valued. Charlotte makes this clear early in volume five:

But, Harriet, I write to charge you not to increase your own difficulties by too much parade: Your frankness of heart is a prime consideration with him [Sir Charles]. He expects not to meet with the girl, but the sensible woman, in his address to you.54

This key phrase, "frankness of heart," is repeated by Sir Charles in one of his freer moments with Harriet:

My noble Harriet! said the generous man—Frankness of heart … is her characteristic. She means all she says; and will perform more than she promises.55

This exact correspondence between internal and external states is revealed in several other important metaphors, which provide an insight into the rationale of sensibility. Though natural endowment may be of importance, one's inner state of mind must be a cultivated one, susceptible of education and taste. Such cultivation is often reflected in a kind of bourgeois neo-Platonism: the human face expresses inner virtue, both religious and social. When Sir Charles introduces Harriet to Dr. Bartlett, he makes it clear that "Were there fifty Ladies here, my good Dr. Bartlett, whom you had never seen before, you would, I am sure, from the character you have had of Miss Byron, be under no difficulty of reading that character in this young Lady's face." Harriet's response is equally gratulatory: "I reverence … good Dr. Bartlett I borrow Sir Charles's thought: The character he has given you, Sir, is stamped in your countenance. I should have venerated you where-ever I had seen you."56

But the most ingratiating appearance means little or nothing unless it corresponds to the mind within. Sir Hargrave is wonderfully handsome, but his evil inner state renders him a hypocrite. Sweet-natured Emily Jervois, on the other hand, is "pretty" though her face is pitted with the smallpox. Ugliness is really a concomitant of evil: so Jewkes and Colbrand in Pamela are excessively ugly to Pamela's mind until they merit by their deeds more sympathetic appraisal.


If we can discern a persistent and developing preoccupation of Richardson's imagination, it is with the moral ideal of sincerity. Though we may find this ideal similar to some of the ethical precepts of Tillotson, Hoadly, and Clarke, it is not identical with them, since it is conveyed by dramatic situations and patterns of imagery peculiar to extended works of fiction. Indeed, though proof of it lies beyond the scope of this paper, it is probable that Richardson's imaginative ideal of sincerity, especially in its imagery, owes more to eighteenth-century poetry than to Christian apologetics.57

Richardson's movement from the lower-class heroine Pamela to one of the middle-class, Clarissa, and thence to Harriet Byron, who is relatively unaffected by social status, seems to point to his wanting to play down the question of class, which had plagued Pamela since its first appearance. Though his concern was largely the enunciation of a revolutionary moral ideal, the problem of maids marrying their masters, a social question, became the chief bone of contention. One might even suggest that this social question, not a moral one, is at the heart of Fielding's objections to Pamela. It may be noted, as an aside, that Shamela is characterized as much by lower-class vulgarity as by sexual immorality.

In Clarissa, on the other hand, since the issue of class is so much less important, the sincere virtue of the heroine is permitted to contrast with Lovelace's worldly guile and the hypocrisy of the Harlowe family. Richardson specifically points to the moral shallowness of society as it attempts to cover Clarissa's rape under the blessing of marriage. But neither she nor Richardson will allow their respective societies such an outrage. A social issue cannot be a substitute for a moral one.

Grandison is, in this regard, even more explicit. When the question of Harriet's inferior social position is raised, it is put largely in terms of her fortune. Sir Charles makes it quite clear that her fortune means nothing to him; and the generous contribution of her benefactor renders her something more than poor.58 Thus in an atmosphere where social issues are almost non-existent, the moral ideal develops fully.

If realist critics wish to prize Richardson for his realism, then, they do so only by denying the central import of his imaginative ideal of sincerity. Thus those who defend Richardson on the grounds of his realism and disparage Fielding as too strict a moral idealist run the risk of having their own guns turned against them. Andrew Wright, in defending Fielding from the charge of "preaching idealism," has pointed out that "He thought too ill of mankind to be able to idealize except as a desperate antidote to the facts of life—that is to say he idealizes only in his art as art."59

Richardson, however, cannot be defended from such a charge, for he preaches ideal behavior in all his novels. He thought too well of mankind not to idealize, as he tells us in his letters and in the concluding note to Grandison.60 But we can, by recognizing the coherence of his imaginative ideal and that it is in fact an imaginative ideal, see that such defense serves little purpose in this case. It is not only possible to accept Richardson on his own terms, but by understanding those terms to see that he is a better and more comprehensive writer than we might have thought.

If we feel prone to laugh at sentimental effusions in the novels, we should know at least what we laugh at. When a heroine expresses herself on bended knee, that signifies her attempt to represent the intensity of her sincere inner feelings; in short, to establish a correlation between external behavior and internal state. And so far are these "conventions" of sensibility from being insincere,61 that their impetus comes from the purity of the sincere heart. So too Richardson's novels themselves begin with the sincere ideal and shape external reality according to it. This is the very opposite of realism.

Although, as I have suggested, some aspects of Richardson's "feminism" are revolutionary for his time, most of his social attitudes are conventional in the extreme. It may therefore seem inappropriate to call him a revolutionary, especially since the term is open to any number of interpretations. But whether or not we can cast the sedate Richardson in the role of revolutionary, the originality of his work has serious implications for the development of the novel and of a new moral sensibility.

Richardson was the first English novelist to establish a coherent moral ideal well-suited to the imaginative character of his work. This was a serious departure from the crude moral conventions employed by Mrs. Manley, Mrs. Haywood, and their even less-gifted contemporaries. Regardless of the differences between the real world and fictional construction, these authors made little attempt to fit their moral assumptions to the exigencies of art. Consequently, we feel in reading them that the moral meaning, whether emphatic or weak, is unintegrated into the artistic design. The result is a profound disunity of the whole.

When Richardson, on the other hand, fashions and adapts a moral system, which illuminates the main action of each novel, the reader finds little undigested religious and moral matter because action and moral are unified into a whole. Thus the scholarship that emphasizes Christian apologetics, so illuminating in the case of Defoe, is of less value in approaching Richardson. This is true precisely because in Richardson action and moral are so successfully integrated as to be indistinguishable from one another.

In this respect he is the forbear of Jane Austen and Henry James, whose moral universes are the creations of their respective novelistic techniques. This in itself may entitle Samuel Richardson's achievement to be called "revolutionary." But there is even more reason. His affinity with sensibility and its conventions of behavior as idealized in art places him squarely in the line that leads to the Romantic revolt. By dispossessing from his art the dull conventions of a realistic morality and erecting in their stead a coherent imaginative ideal, Richardson has taken the first step in the Romantic act of desecrating the old and consecrating the new.


1An Introduction to the English Novel (New York, 1968), p. 59.

2 "Richardson and Fielding" in Essays on the Eighteenth-Century Novel, ed. Robert D. Spector (Bloomington, Ind., 1965), p. 71.

3 "'Writing to the Moment': One Aspect" in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature, ed. Carroll Camden (Chicago, 1963), p. 202.

4Samuel Richardson and the Dramatic Novel (Lexington, Ky., 1968), p. 56.

5The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1959).

6 See articles by John A. Dussinger, "Conscience and the Pattern of Christian Perfection in Clarissa," Publications of the Modern Language Association, 81 (1966), 236-45 and "Richardson's Christian Vocation," Papers on Language and Literature, 3 (1967), 3-19. Also Roger Sharrock "Richardson's Pamela: The Gospel and the Novel," Durham Univ. Journal, 58 (1966), 67-74 and Michael Davitt Bell, "Pamela's Wedding and the Marriage of the Lamb," Philological Quarterly, 49 (1970), 100-12.

7Popular Fiction Before Richardson: Narrative Patterns 1700-1739 (Oxford, 1969), p. 22.

8 See J. Paul Hunter, The Reluctant Pilgrim: Defoe's Emblematic Method and Quest for Form in Robinson Crusoe (Baltimore, 1966) and G. A. Starr, Defoe and Spiritual Autobiography (Princeton, 1965).

9 See William Park, "Fielding and Richardson," PMLA [Publications of the Modern Language Association], 81 (1966), 381-88. Mr. Park sees the novels as moral exempla, but assumes that the ideals represented are exact copies of ethical and theological positions. This is another form of realist criticism.

10 All references to Richardson's novels are to the Shakespeare Head Press Edition, Oxford, 1929-31. Volume references are to each novel individually, not to the entire 18-vol. set. Clarissa, VIII, 328.

11Clarissa, VIII, 328.

12Clarissa, VIII, 329.

13 An excellent account of household servants and their duties can be found in Gladys Scott Thomson, Life in a Noble Household, 1641-1700 (Ann Arbor, 1959), passim.

14 Arnold Kettle sees this issue, in part, but denies its relevance to the novel in question: "Had it been the purpose of Richardson to reveal ironically that Pamela's chastity (or that of any maiden of the day) was indeed her only material asset, a commodity which she could ill afford to prize cheaply, here would have been legitimate moral criticism, as both Defoe and Fielding show." Kettle, p. 60. Richardson's and Pamela's moral consideration would seem to be of a higher order than Mr. Kettle's. Pamela has more than her chastity to recommend her, and it is the sense of her high value as a human being which keeps her from permitting the violation of that chastity. Though sex is initially Mr. B.'s object, it is Pamela's task to deflect him from that to a recognition of her higher qualities.

15Pamela, I, 26.

16Pamela, I, 70.

17 See Carey Mclntosh, "Pamela's Clothes," English Literary History, 35 (1968), 75-83.

18Pamela, I, 88.

19Pamela, I, 162.

20 See Robert A. Donovan, "The Problem of Pamela, or, Virtue Unrewarded," Studies in English Literature, 3 (1963), 382-83.

21The Complete Poetical Works of James Thomson, ed. J. Logie Robertson (Oxford 1908); line numbers are included in the text.

22Pamela, I, 175.

23Pamela, I, 314.

24Pamela, IV, 53-54.

25Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Anna L. Barbauld, 6 vols. (London, 1804), I, 70-71.

26Clarissa, I, 11.

27Clarissa, I, 150.

28Clarissa, I, 317.

29Clarissa, I, 170.

30Clarissa, II, 270.

31Clarissa, I, 181.

32Clarissa, I, 295-96.

33Clarissa, I, 296.

34Clarissa, I, 344.

35Clarissa, III, 82.

36Clarissa, V, 19.

37Clarissa, III, 109.

38Clarissa, V, 54.

39Clarissa, V, 88.

40Clarissa, III, iii; V, 89.

41Clarissa, III, 154.

42Clarissa, III, 224-25.

43Clarissa, VII, 301.

44Clarissa, VII, 304.

45Clarissa, I, 200.

46 This is true also of Clarissa. The early volumes delineate the ideal upon which later action will be based.

47Grandison, I, 29.

48Grandison, I, 222.

49Grandison, I, 279-80.

50Grandison, I, 281.

51Grandison, I, 278. See also Sir Charles to Dr. Bartlett: "I live to my own heart; and I know (I think I do) that it is not a bad one…. " (II, 286).

52Grandison, I, 283.

53Grandison, II, 275-76.

54Grandison, IV, 124.

55Grandison, V, 154.

56Grandison, I, 349.

57 I hope soon to publish a study of sincerity in eighteenth-century literature, with special regard for the poetry.

58 See Grandison, II, 26 and V, 8°ff.

59Henry Fielding: Mask and Feast (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966), p. 147.

60Grandison, V, 329.

61 Brian W. Downs insists upon the insincerity of sensibility. See his Richardson (London, 1928), pp. 150-92.

William Beatty Warner (essay date 1979)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8458

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.

During her long, formal character-sketch of Clarissa, Anna Howe tells an anecdote about her friend which helps to show how this kind of aesthetic might work:

Once I remember, in a large circle of ladies, every one of which (I among the rest) having censured a generally reported indiscretion in a young lady—Come, my Miss Howe, said [Clarissa] … let me be Miss Fanny Darlington. Then removing out of the circle, and standing up, Here I stand, unworthy of a seat with the rest of the company till I have cleared myself. And now, suppose me to be her, let me hear your charge, and do you hear what the poor culprit can say to it in her own defence. And then answering the conjectural and unproved circumstances, by circumstances as fairly to be supposed favourable, she brought off triumphantly the censured lady; and so much to every one's satisfaction that she was led to her chair, and voted a double rank in the circle—as the reinstated Miss Fanny Darlington, and as Miss Clarissa Harlowe. "Very few persons, she used to say, would be condemned, or even accused, in the circles of ladies, were they present: it is generous, therefore, nay, it is but just, said she, to take the part of the absent, if not flagrantly culpable." [IV,492-93]

How does Clarissa's artifice function? Clarissa creates a game to effect a discrete purpose. She feels Miss Darlington has been treated unjustly, so Clarissa acts according to the general principle of fairness she enunciates after the game—"it is but just to take the part of the absent, if not flagrantly culpable." Now it is the special virtue of Clarissa's little game that it wins the company over to a just treatment of Miss Darlington without apparent force. Once Clarissa has engaged in role playing, everyone eagerly restores Miss Darlington and Clarissa to their rightful place in the group. But it is worth taking note of two details of this anecdote. First, the game involves a certain risk for the artist—Clarissa makes a barter to engage everyone's interest, by assuming the position of the outcast. If she cannot clear Miss Darlington, Clarissa expects to share her fate, ostracizing from the group. Secondly, the whole moral value of Clarissa's artifice comes from her ability to put a bit of untruth (her own "act") at the service of truth (winning justice for Miss Darlington). If the game had gone out of control, if Clarissa had become involved in the fun of being Miss Darlington for its own sake, or if she had failed to win over her friends, the value of the artifice would have vanished.

How does Richardson's practice with Clarissa compare with this account of Clarissa's use of art? Can Richardson win the ultimate control over his readers which this anecdote posits for Clarissa? If anything, Richardson's actual experience with Clarissa argues the opposite—it proves easier to provoke a reader's perverse independence than to win his docile compliance. Also, the position of this anecdote in the text of Clarissa should make us suspicious. Anna's formal characterization of Clarissa was greatly enlarged in the third edition as part of an attempt to silence critics of the heroine. It is designed as a formal panegyric of Clarissa. Richardson used Clarissa's status as an example to postulate general ideals in almost every area of womanly endeavor. It is entirely appropriate that, while he works to assert control over the reception of his own work of art, Richardson gives us a version of art's operation which dramatizes its radical subordination to an artist's moral intention. This picture of Clarissa as an ethical artist is more an expression of Richardson's aspiration for his own art than a faithful record of his practice. To the more uncertain cross-currents of that practice we now turn.

In writing Clarissa, Richardson took a calculated risk. Each move to enhance the immediacy and power of his fiction also threatened to undermine his own authority. Here is a list of several steps Richardson took in shaping Clarissa. Notice how each augments the power of Richardson's work by engaging the interest of the reader, at the same time that it disengages the work from Richardson's direct control:

1. Richardson publishes Clarissa in three installments over the period of one year. This stimulates the reader's curiosity and invites him to develop his own scenarios for the story's ending.

2. Richardson effaces his own presence in the text by adopting the low-profile role of an editor. At the same time he enhances the importance of each letter-writer's momentary presentation of events. In this way the reader gains the illusion of an unmediated experience of the major character and his or her unfolding predicament.

3. Richardson tells a story of romantic love to encourage reader identification and …

4. the story of a daughter's fateful disobedience to her father, in order to trigger debates about the propriety of her conduct.

With these techniques Richardson tosses his work into the neutral space that exists between an author and his readers. Clarissa seems to become the reader's plaything. And yet, Richardson cannot forget that it is he who started this game, that the book is after all "his" toy, and that the game is designed to be controlled by a higher purpose (reforming the reader). With the debates that begin around Clarissa "control" becomes the problem of this text; "control" becomes its question: how is control asserted and relinquished? what are the limits of that control for both the author and the interpreter of the text?

The Umbrage of Editor

Richardson's authorial control over Clarissa is put into question by the novel's central fictional presupposition: the notion that Clarissa and Lovelace are "real people," and that their letters have an independent existence as the written records of their lives. Even when Richardson acknowledges the fictionality of his characters, he never tires of insisting that his account is "taken from nature," or is, as we would say, "true to life." Clarissa, like all realistic fiction, invites the reader to test the extent to which the text corresponds to the "reality" we are assumed to share. This "reality" is the ultimate source of any authority the text may have. In this situation, the visibility of an author can be an embarrassment. His position is most problematic: he even begins to look like an unwelcome interloper.

For, to the extent that we accept the "reality" of Clarissa, Lovelace, and their story, the "author" as the creative genius who spins all of the book out of his mind (or borrows it from somewhere else) must discreetly withdraw from view. What we see instead is the dutiful editor—a trustworthy assembler of letters taken to have a prior existence as the "actual" correspondence of "real" persons. To sustain this illusion, it is important that there be no author around to take responsibility for the existence of this artifice—which explains Richardson's uneasiness with the preface Warburton offered him for the second installment of Clarissa.

Richardson was flattered by the attentions of this famous and learned man, but the preface alludes quite openly to Richardson as the gifted author of Pamela and Clarissa. Richardson's articulation of his misgivings about the preface, in a letter to Warburton, describes the subtle balance he wants Clarissa to maintain. It must seem real to the reader at the very same moment that it is understood to be fictional:

Will you, good sir, allow me to mention, that I could wish that the Air of Genuineness had been kept up, tho' I want not the letters to be thought genuine; only so far kept up, I mean, as that they should not prefatically be owned not to be genuine: and this for fear of weakening their Influence where any of them are aimed to be exemplary; as well as to avoid hurting that kind of Historical Faith which Fiction itself is generally read with, tho' we know it to be Fiction. [Letters, 85; April 19, 1748]

Richardson understands that the power of his fictional illusion, and the moral program linked to this fiction, are contingent upon the absence of a visible author or narrator. In place of the dominant author, we get a tactful and low-profile editor. Thus Richardson is blocked from extensive intervention in the fiction by the limits of the role of editor he has assumed.

In spite of the limits of this role, playing the editor gives Richardson important power, which he exercises with a good deal of astuteness. A letter to Aaron Hill allows us to step behind the scenes to watch Richardson making editorial decisions that modulate the power relationship between Clarissa and Lovelace. In the first drafts of the novel, Richardson had Clarissa and Lovelace give independent narratives of the big scenes where they encounter each other. While shortening the novel for publication, Richardson decided to abridge some of these duplicate narratives and quickly discovered the importance of how this is done. Thus he writes to Aaron Hill that he started by cutting Lovelace's accounts and putting the most interesting of his comments in the form of footnotes to Clarissa's account. But because these notes broke "in upon the Narration, and his wicked levity turning into a kind of unintended Ridicule half the serious and melancholy Reflections, which she makes on her Situation: So I alter'd them back" (Letters, 71; October 29, 1746).

Richardson, acting as editor, finds an alternative to protect Clarissa's sentiment from the force of Lovelace's raillery. He gives Clarissa the dominant role as narrator and supplements her account with connective summaries of his letters, "preserving only those Places in his, where his Humour, and his Character are shown, and his Designs open'd, [and I] have put many others, into a merely Narrative Form, referring for the Facts to hers, so of some of hers, vice-versa" (Letters, 71; Oct. 29, 1746).

If one follows the editorial interventions over the course of the novel, an interesting pattern emerges. The pendulum swing of power—from Clarissa, to Lovelace, and back to Clarissa—is faithfully reflected in which character delivers the central narrative of events. Thus, at St. Albans at the beginning of her stay at Sinclair's, Clarissa's letters are inviolate, while Lovelace's letters are subjected to summary (II,96-97; 207-09; 212; 213). As the action proceeds, Lovelace gains more and more of the narrative, until his first physical attempt on Clarissa, where his correspondence begins to overshadow Clarissa's in a most decisive fashion (II,379). From there on, until Clarissa's final escape from Sinclair's after the fire scene, Clarissa has only two complete letters totaling six pages, compared to almost five hundred pages of text written by Lovelace.

During this central segment of the novel, the editor will sometimes give segments of Clarissa's letters within Lovelace's letters. Some of her letters are intercepted by Lovelace, others are forged by Lovelace to deceive Anna. Clarissa's correspondence loses its autonomy as she loses control of her body. At one point, extraordinary circumstances are contrived to keep the narrative with Lovelace. Clarissa has escaped from Sinclair's and wanders around Hampstead, lonely and frightened, until she finds her way to Mrs. Moore's. We do not get an account of these events in a letter from Clarissa to Anna, as might be expected. Instead, Lovelace reconstructs her movements through the eyewitness accounts of a servant hired by complete strangers to follow the movements of this mysterious woman (III,28).

What is the logic behind these shifts in the location of the narrative? They are not arbitrary steps taken by Richardson to manipulate our sympathy. Nor do they depend very much on Clarissa's inability to write Anna at certain points in the action—for this is only the case between her rape and her final escape from Lovelace. We get a clue to the answer to this question when Lovelace's authority begins to ebb. In working to subdue Clarissa after the rape, he tries to lure her into an attempted escape from Sinclair's with the assistance of Dorcas. For some reason, Clarissa senses a trick and refuses to fall for the ruse. The editor breaks into Lovelace's narrative with these words:

Mr. Lovelace gives here a very circumstantial relation of all that passed between the lady and Dorcas. But as he could only guess at her motives for refusing to go off … it is thought proper to omit his relation, and to supply it by some memoranda of the lady's. [III,255-56]

Now we can understand the constraints which govern the editor's procedure. The editor shifts to Clarissa's account, and unveils her "book of memoranda," at the very point when Clarissa begins to regain control over the action. This is appropriate, for the editor must select an account that will give the reader the fullest possible understanding of how and why events are unfolding the way they are. In practice, this involves giving the narrative to the character who has the most initiatory power over the action. An author may favor one character over another, as Richardson favors Clarissa over Lovelace, but once he has assumed the role of editor "his" behavior is sharply circumscribed. Thus, on the vital matter of which character will deliver the narrative to the reader, the editor's moves become a function of all the other positions of the text: Clarissa, Lovelace, and the flow of power and awareness from one character to the next.

Our discussion of the author-as-editor has emphasized the limits Richardson accepts through the way he constructs his fiction. But when the novel becomes engulfed in controversy, Richardson steps forward as the staunch defender of the moral program of his art: in Clarissa, he has given the world an example of virtue. In this polemical moment, the role of editor is viewed as a temporary sleight of hand—a convenient fiction to enable the author to steal into the hearts of the unsuspecting readers. So, in the postscript to Clarissa, greatly lengthened for the third edition (1751), Richardson adds this passage to explain his own intentions and methods:

It will be seen by this time that the author had a great end in view. He has lived to see scepticism and infidelity openly avowed … and a taste even to wantonness for outdoor pleasure and luxury, to the general exclusion of domestic as well as public virtue, industriously promoted among all ranks and degrees of people…. He imagined, that, in an age given up to diversion and entertainment, he could steal in as may be said, and investigate the great doctrines of Christianity under the fashionable guise of an amusement. [IV,553]

By introducing the higher purpose of the artwork, Richardson can claim that the role of the editor is just a means to an end, not a way in which he "lets go" of the work, but a cunning method of disguising the ultimate control of an author who exercises his authority indirectly and at a distance. Thus Richardson explains to Aaron Hill that he can write an "assuming and very impudent preface" to Pamela, making great claims for his art, because he has "the umbrage of the editor's character to screen myself behind" (Letters, 42; 1741).

Does the role of editor disengage the text from authorial control, or merely give an inviting illusion of reader and character freedom from author manipulation? While we must defer our response to this question, we should note that Richardson's description of his art, as a means to steal into the reader's heart, coincides with a much more aggressive use of the role of editor in the second and third editions of Clarissa. For now the editor is no longer the benign and docile figure who invites the reader to judge and compare the rival claims of the protagonists. Instead he enters the text with an army of footnotes and textual addenda designed to expose Lovelace's plots and tip the scales of justice in favor of his heroine, Clarissa. Perhaps the role of editor always concealed the dual possibilities of dispassionate judge and manipulative prosecutor. By the third edition, Richardson has exploited both of these contradictory possibilities.

The Character: The Author's Impersonator (and/or) His Trope

If the role of editor offers a most uncertain vehicle for Richardson's control of the fiction, perhaps his characters—the children of his imagination who loom so large in the spectacle that is Clarissa—perhaps these characters will allow Richardson to direct the fiction toward its "proper" destination. Richardson has two ways of talking about his characters. Sometimes they are the people he loses himself in becoming; sometimes they are the rhetorical tropes he stands outside to manipulate. In the first case, Richardson emphasizes a movement beyond himself, toward something distinctly different from his self. Thus, to a Frenchman he describes his balanced treatment of the Catholics and Protestants in Sir Charles Grandison, and attributes this to an act of impersonation he undertakes during the process of writing: "in short, this Part is one of those that I value myself most upon, having been as zealous a Catholic when I was to personate the Lady, and her Catholic Friends, as a Protestant, when I was the Gentleman" (Letters, 238; July 5, 1753).1

In another letter, Richardson offers a careful description of what happens when he writes or speaks for a character. Lady Bradshaigh has reproached him for having Charlotte Grandison tease Aunt Nell, or allowing Aunt Nell to wear the pink and yellow ribbons that make her worthy of ridicule:

Was it I that dressed Aunt Nell? Fie upon me: I ought never to be forgiven—Only I know I did it not so much for Ridicule Sake as to give occasion to correct the Ridiculer…. But how can it be said I and not Charlotte dressed Aunt Nell?—here I sit down to form characters. One I intend to be all goodness. All goodness he is…. Another Lady G——ish; All Lady G——ish is she. I am all the while absorbed in the character. It is not fair to say—I, identically I, am anywhere, while I keep within the character. And if I have done so, why say you, madam, that I dressed Aunt Nell? [Letters, 286; Feb. 14, 1754]2

In this playful response to Lady Bradshaigh, Richardson reminds one of Lovelace, by offering an elegant alibi to separate himself from all the particular consequences of his artifices. But in doing this, Richardson also gives us a valuable analysis of his own practice. Richardson begins as removed from his fiction and in control of its unfolding. He writes the scene not to ridicule, but "to give occasion to correct the Ridiculer." He sits down "to form characters," and in every instance they mirror that intention. But during the process of writing, something new happens. Richardson as a separate entity disappears: "I am all the while absorbed in the character." It is in reference to this moment that Richardson offers his most radical formulation: "It is not fair to say—I, identically I—am anywhere, while I keep within the character."

Richardson-as-author is lost "within" his character, because the act of writing has displaced Richardson from the position of a firm public persona to that of a character who writes a letter. In this situation, Richardson cannot be held responsible for what a character does—for, to the extent that the character "is," the author as a separate controlling agent simply "is not." Richardson presumes that this process will also enfold the reader and prevent a reader's reproach of the author. To Mrs. Watts, Richardson wrote, "I am apt to be absorbed in my characters when I write for them, and the reader that is not, as he or she reads, must be too often alarmed, I doubt, especially by the things put into the mouths of the freer characters."3 In spite of these warnings, Richardson cannot prevent critics of the tragic ending from insisting on his responsibility as the "author" of the novel. Richardson responds, in a letter to Lady Bradshaigh, by sharing responsibility with his characters: "if the Author rather than the Characters in his story must be considered, I only hope to be weighed in an equal Balance" (Letters, 316; October 10, 1754).

Richardson's effort to conceal the author's presence in the fiction is not simply a function of strategy. It also responds to his most personal needs. When Harriet Mulso asks about his health, Richardson responds: "I write, I do anything I am able to do, on purpose to carry myself out of myself: and am not quite so happy when tired of my peregrinations, I am obliged to return home. Put me not therefore in mind of myself (Corr., III,190-91; Sept. 10, 1751). Writing does more than take Richardson away from his chronic illness. It helps to overcome the shyness and "bashfulness" Richardson customarily felt when he appeared in public. This shyness came in part from his modest origins and in part from his scanty formal education.4 We get a vivid glimpse of Richardson's feelings of inferiority, and the concomitant uses of his art, in a letter sent to Lady Bradshaigh. An admirer of Richardson's novels has visited the author, but then failed to write a follow-up note:

He has not written to me since he left London. I suppose I answered not, on a personal Acquaintance, the too high ideas he had of me from what I had published. I am always jealous of suffering in the Opinion of my Readers, when we come into personal Conversation—And why?—Because the simplicity of my Character (I hope I may say so) and the Frankness of my Communicativeness, lay me open all at once, and must convince the new Acquaintance that they had thought too highly of me, by their Reading. I design not either Affectation or Reserve; and if I appear to have Shyness, it is owing more to my native Awkwardness, than to Design. Let me own to you, that I never paid my personal Duty to your Ladyship, but I came away half dissatisfied with myself, from Diffidence I have mentioned; and glad at my Heart was I, when the next Visit from your Ladyship, or Command to attend you, gave me Hope, that your Goodness had not permitted me to sink in your Favour. In writing, I own, I was always an impudent Man. But need I tell your Ladyship that? [Letters, 318-19; August 13, 1755]

Here is a Richardson who is both self-conscious and ineffectual, making a confession that is difficult to read over two centuries after it was written. Little wonder friends reported that Richardson was quiet in public and only eager or confident in discussing his own books. Little wonder, too, that he should choose to win laurels and importance by effacing a public persona felt to be inadequate. Instead, Richardson displaces himself into characters that give free rein to an "impudence," assertiveness, and fantasy-life otherwise inaccessible to this awkward old printer.5

But, if Richardson is absent from the work of art because he has been "absorbed" into the characters, how can he hope to control the work so that it serves a useful moral purpose? Richardson's answer comes in the debates which follow publication of the novel. For Richardson, Clarissa is not just one character among many, she is an exemplar of virtue who excels all those around her. For this reason, any thoughtful and judicious reader should grant her priority over her adversaries. At least one prominent reader, Samuel Johnson, felt that it was Richardson's distinctive virtue as an artist to give us a picture of vice in Lovelace that would stimulate some admiration but ultimately draw a negative judgment. Johnson compares Richardson's treatment of Lovelace to Rowe's treatment of his rake, Lothario, in The Fair Penitent:

Lothario, with gaiety which cannot be hated, and bravery which cannot be despised, retains too much of the spectator's Kindness. It was in the power of Richardson alone, to teach us at once esteem and detestation; to make virtuous resentment overpower all the benevolence which wit, and elegance, and courage, naturally excite; and to lose at last the hero in the villain.6

In Rambler Number 4, Johnson rejects the notion of mixed character advanced by Fielding and makes the idea of the moral exemplar, as used by Richardson, the keystone of his fictional program.7 Richardson's practice in designing his novel—effacing himself and putting an exemplary character before the reader—will only lead to a predictable reader response if the reader feels the aspiration toward virtue shared by Richardson and Clarissa, and described so vividly by Johnson:

In narratives, where historical veracity has no place, I cannot discover why there should not be exhibited the most perfect idea of virtue; of virtue not angelical, nor above probability, for what we cannot credit we shall never imitate, but the highest and purest that humanity can reach, which, exercised in such trials as the various revolutions of things shall bring upon it, may, by conquering some calamities, and enduring others, teach us what we may hope, and what we can perform.8

When we descend from the high ground of prescriptive aesthetics to the more mundane terrain of actual reader response, we shall find that many do not share Johnson's judgment of Lovelace, Richardson's evaluation of Clarissa, or either author's concern with virtue. To describe Clarissa as an elaborate trope—an exemplar for the reader—subdues the novel to the original intentions of the author who manipulates that trope.

But this also does a good deal of violence to the illusion that the novel is designed to sustain. If instead we are dutiful readers, and embrace the terms of this illusion, the characters of Clarissa take on a life of their own within our reading. When Richardson "meets" these characters, and he does so in the correspondence which follows the publication of Clarissa, they will look somewhat strange to their author. They may stand opposite Richardson in the very way wayward teenagers stand opposite a parent. He knows he participated, in the most direct possible way, in their passage into this world, but he is not quite sure how they came to be what they are, and he has moments of uneasiness when he contemplates the discrepancy between his original intentions and the very independent existence they have come to assume. He still calls them "my" children, but he does so under protest.

The Uses of Love: To Interest (and/or) to Instruct

When Richardson tells his readers that he has presented Clarissa under "the guise of an entertainment" in order "to investigate the great doctrines of Christianity," he is invoking the oldest and most pervasive dictum of Western aesthetics: the notion that art should both entertain and instruct.9 Richardson's way of describing his own practice in this postscript to Clarissa serves as a heavy-handed reminder to wayward readers that instruction is more valuable and important than entertainment. This reminder is only necessary because many readers have gotten too "caught up" in the entertainment, and seem to want nothing more from this novel than the happy culmination of a story of love.

But the reader should not be blamed for this. For it is Richardson who has scattered the sweet and heady elixir of love through his fiction. He invents an immaculate and incorruptible heroine and then allows her to be raped. He presents Lovelace as a master of the art of seduction—a hero who engages the mystique of an irresistible male physical presence that can arouse the passions of every woman but Clarissa. To acknowledge the sexuality of this novel, one does not need to marshal all the sexual symbols together, the way Dorothy Van Ghent does; nor must one agree with D. H. Lawrence that "Boccaccio at his hottest seems to me less pornographical than Pamela or Clarissa Harlowe."10 Just look at the descriptions Clarissa and Anna offer of Lovelace's physical charms, and the effect on women of his winning arrogance and cool command (IV,18-26).

And when one has read how Lovelace disarms the ladies at the ball, ladies who all know of his cruel treatment of Clarissa, then turn to the very different description of the "rake" we find in Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon. The narrator explains:

Sir Edward's great object in life was to be seductive…. He regarded it as his duty—He felt that he was formed to be a dangerous man—quite in the line of the Lovelaces.—The very name of Sir Edward he thought, carried some degree of fascination with it … but it was Clara alone on whom he had serious designs; it was Clara whom he meant to seduce. He had … been long trying with cautious assiduity to make an impression on her heart, and to undermine her principles.—Clara saw through him, and had not the least intention of being seduced.

The simple finality of Clara's understanding and resistance brings the whole intricate sequence of seduction to an abrupt close. To have a story involving seduction, Clara would have to have some belief in Sir Edward's power. The clear style and good sense of the Austen narrator will not admit of mysteries about male potency. Here Austen does to Lovelace what Lovelace has done to others so often and so well. The rake's mastery is subjected to merciless formalization, so all Lovelace's enterprise and energy become stylized gestures—the delusions of the fatuous Sir Edward. One is not surprised to discover that a very mundane lack of funds delivers the final blow to Sir Edward's ambitions: if a forced abduction becomes necessary "he knew his business … he must naturally wish to strike out something new, to exceed those who had gone before him … but the expense alas! of measures in that masterly style was ill suited to his purse."" Austen's heroines are seldom in danger of seduction. When Anne Eliot and Fanny Price encounter suitors like Mr. Eliot and Henry Crawford, their "danger" arises from the possibility that they will be drawn into a dreary marriage with confirmed egotists.

The very idea of the rake cannot long survive the kind of laughter Austen develops at Sir Edward's expense. Reading Sanditon on the "rake" places the enabling fictions of Clarissa in sharp relief. For a novel to revolve around an act of seduction, we must have the shared acceptance, by all the major characters, of a group of related fictions: the virgin's purity, the man's potency, and the woman's constant danger. The characters of Clarissa accept these notions with dire earnestness, and every reader is invited to entertain these fictions as the conditions of the possibility for his imaginative participation in the life of this novel. But if the reader drinks the rich potion of love and seduction, will he be ready to return with the author at story's end to a spartan diet of moral instruction?

Some of Richardson's most avid readers had grave doubts. In the fall of 1755, Lady Echlin, the serious elder sister of Lady Bradshaigh, had read all three of Richardson's novels, and felt his collection of moral maxims to be "the pith and marrow of nineteen volumes." She calls herself an "old fashioned matron … better pleased with musty morals than a pretty love-story." For his next story she hopes Richardson will, as she writes, "disappoint your amorous readers, by not making the passion of love their entertainment." She adds:

Allow me to say, the finest lessons you have written, and the best instruction you can give, blended with love intrigues, will never answer your good intention. I wish to see an exemplary widow drop from your pen. [Corr., V,54; Sept. 2, 1755]

Richardson's response is significant. He says, in effect, "I have no choice"—"I am afraid, Instruction without Entertainment … would have but few Readers." And then he offers a celebrated formulation:

Instruction, Madam, is the Pill; Amusement is the Gilding. Writings that do not touch the Passions of the Light and Airy, will hardly ever reach the heart. [Letters, 322; Sept. 22, 1755]

Another letter, this one to his doctor and friend, George Cheyne, helps us to understand Richardson's metaphor for his art. Dr. Cheyne worries that there is too much "fondling" and kissing between Pamela and Mr. B. after their engagement. Richardson explains his purposes:

I am endeavouring to write a story, which shall catch young and airy Minds, and when Passions run high in them, to shew how they may be directed to Laudable Meanings and Purposes, in order to decry such Novels and Romances, as have a Tendency to inflame and corrupt: And if I were to be too spiritual, I doubt I should catch none but Grandmothers, for the Granddaughters would put my girl indeed in better company, such as that of the grave Writers, and there they would leave her; but would still pursue those stories, that pleased their Imaginations without informing their Judgments….

There is a Time of Life, in which the passions will predominate; and Ladies, any more than Men, will not be kept in Ignorance; and if we can properly mingle Instruction with Entertainment, so as to make the latter seemingly the view, while the former is really the End, I imagine it will be doing a great deal. [Letters, 46-47; August 13, 1741]

Richardson proceeds through a long analysis to demonstrate how every expression of physical affection between Pamela and Mr. B. is subtly paired with "some laudable Behavior or Conduct; Benevolence on his Side, which obliges her, or Gratitude on her's."

In these letters, Richardson makes extraordinary claims for his art by organizing an alliance with the very romances he scorns. He does not just acquiesce in the use of a story of love; through a calculated deception, he wraps instruction in love. The patient is drawn by the sweet gilding on the surface of the pill, but he is renewed by the bitter medicine within. In a similar way, young readers come to Richardson's novels to satisfy their sexual curiosity, only to be carried away on a swerve toward virtue. Has Richardson found a way to submit the reader's passions to the author's control? This is the megalomaniac dream of Richardson's art—he wishes to make his book the drug which induces a permanently altered state of consciousness. Young people with "light and airy minds" will be drawn to Richardson's story, hoping for the excitement of novels and romances rife with love; but unbeknownst to them, their hearts will be changed as their passions are linked to the purposes, meanings, and moral examples Richardson proposes for their reformation.

This kind of authorial control is implied in eighteenth-century descriptions of Richardson as the "master of the heart" and the "Shakespeare of the heart." Johnson's concise tribute, in introducing Richardson to the readers of Rambler Number 97, says it best: Richardson is the author "who has enlarged the Knowledge of Human Nature, and Taught the Passions to move at the Command of Virtue."12 Some of Richardson's readers accepted these extravagant claims of authorial control quite literally. A clergyman named Phillip Skelton wrote Richardson that Clarissa was not a "novel," but "a system of religious and moral Precepts and Examples, planned on an entertaining Story, which stands or goes forward, as the excellent Design of the Author requires."13

But there were always critics ready to be skeptical about the actual tendency of Richardson's art. In a pamphlet entitled "Critical Remarks on Sir Charles Grandison, Clarissa, and Pamela," published in 1754 by someone calling himself "A Lover of Virtue," Richardson is accused of stimulating the passions by making "Love eternal Love … the subject [and] burden of all your writings."14 After an allegorical reading of the story of the Fall—with Adam, reason, Eve, "outward sense," and the serpent, "lust or pleasure"—this critic declares that Richardson's volumes

contain nothing else but a minute and circumstantial detail of the most shocking vices and villainous contrivances, transacted in the most infamous characters, and all to satisfy the brutal and sensual appetite. Thus you act the part of the serpent, and not only throw out to men the tempting suggestions of lust and pleasure, but likewise instruct the weak head and the corrupt heart in the methods how to proceed to their gratification. That is, you tempt them to swallow the forbidden fruit of the tree which they were commanded not to eat. [p. 43]

The author of this pamphlet offers a vivid picture of the likely fate of one of the readers of Clarissa:

Accordingly our amorous youth sallies forth, fully bent to enjoy Clarissa in imagination; but before he has got halfway to mother Sinclair's, he meets a pretty girl in the streets, who invites him to a glass of wine, and the next tavern stands open for their reception. This is the natural catastrophe of a serious persual of the fire-adventure, [p. 47]

There is no record of Richardson's response to this pamphlet. But in the spring of 1749 he wrote his own pamphlet defending the "fire scene" against charges of indecency. He cannot believe the scene can be inflaming; in writing it

the passion I found strongest in me, whenever I suppose myself a Reader only, and the Story real, was Anger, or Indignation: I had too great an Aversion to the intended Violator of the honour of a CLARISSA, to suffer anything but alternate Admiration and Pity of her, and Resentment against him, to take place in my Mind, on the Occasion.15

Here we find Richardson imagining himself the reader of his own book, and then describing a response to the fire scene which he hopes will be normative. In this way, Richardson acknowledges an embarrassing fact. The reader had never relinquished his sloppy independence and impudent right to bring his own will and interest to bear on every text he reads. By entering into a dialogue with his readers, Richardson is no longer the artist with pharmacological control over the heart. He has reentered a political and transactional relationship with the reader.

When we examine many of Richardson's artistic decisions in this light, a very different image of the artist emerges. Now Richardson seems like a clever sideshow director, who never takes his eyes off his audience, and never stops seeking just the right "mix" of entertainment and instruction to arrive at the response he desires. When the Abbé Prévost cut much of the moral instruction out of his French translation of Clarissa, Richardson complained that the translation departed from "the very motive with me, of the story's being written at all" (Letters, 224; February 24, 1753 to Lady But when the didactic strain of the final installment—with Clarissa's slow death and Belford's interminable narratives—threatened to submerge the pathos and excitement of the protagonist's death, Richardson himself omitted large quantities of this material: Clarissa's reflections upon "transitory life," most of her formal meditations, Belford's meditations on death, and his "very serious answer" to Lovelace's letter implicating Belford in the plot to rape Clarissa (IV,458).16

Richardson always felt that Clarissa should be an instructive example to his readers. So when some of them are too critical of her and seem to have missed the point, he adds a paragraph to the preface in the third edition explaining her exemplary status. On the other side of this issue, the critic of the Gentleman's Magazine essay wants a flawless heroine, so Clarissa is criticized by him for disobedience to her father, disrespect to Solmes, and running off with Lovelace.17 Now, part of the interest of Clarissa's position in the first installment arises from the way she is entangled in a situation where there is simply no morally sanctified position, so casuistical debate becomes inevitable. But this invites the kind of heated reader debates which insure interest. Richardson playfully explains this to Lady Bradshaigh, in a letter about Sir Charles Grandison:

The whole story abounds with Situations and Circumstances debatable. It is not an unartful Management to interest the Readers so much in the Story, as to make them differ in Opinion as to the Capital Articles, and by leading one to espouse one, another, another Opinion, make them all, if not Authors, Carpers. [Letters, 296; February 25, 1754]

When the debates about Clarissa begin in earnest, Richardson soon gives up playing with his readers in this spirit. Like a cranky old schoolteacher, he loses interest in motivating his readers and tries to subject them to a solemn interpretive discipline.

The attempt to balance entertainment and instruction in Clarissa carries certain risks. For when Richardson blends love into his moral design, he risks losing ethics in eros. This repeats a pattern we have found elsewhere. To the extent that Richardson adopts the role of editor, he can't be the deity presiding over Clarissa; to the extent that he "speaks" in the voices of the characters, he effaces his own presence. Clarissa invites divergent interpretive response because it is a stratified text carrying these contradictory tendencies within itself. Sometimes its author acts like Clarissa—asserting identities, fixing boundaries, defining the "true" nature and meaning of the book; but sometimes Richardson reminds us of Lovelace: concealing himself behind a multitude of contradictory roles, he alienates the text from himself so as to initiate a game that will involve every reader.


1 The OED shows that the word personate carries all the several meanings of the modern term impersonate: (1) assume a mask, act a part; (2) deceive by pretending to be a person you are not; (3) to cheat someone in this way.

2 The OED shows that the appropriate meaning for identically is "the very same."

3 This is quoted from MSS of the correspondence of April 9, 1755, in Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel, Samuel Richardson: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 590.

4 Richardson often describes himself as "bashful" in public encounters. The accounts of others confirm this characterization. See ibid., p. 520.

5 Richardson's very first letter to Lady Bradshaigh is quite explicit about the gratification he feels when his artwork functions as an effective surrogate in stimulating intercourse with others. Richardson urges her not to be ashamed of the fervor of her opinions: "Indeed I admire it; and have reason to plume my self 'upon the interest you have in my story" (Letters, 89; October 26, 1748; Richardson's emphasis).

6 From Johnson's Rowe, in Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779-81).

7 A consideration of the moral programs advanced for the new prose fiction of the 1740s and 1750s might place these texts together: Richardson's practice in Pamela and Clarissa; Fielding's rejection of "models of perfection" and his preference for the efficacy of moving readers with "mixed characters," as explained in the first chapter of Book 10 of Tom Jones; Johnson's Rambler No. 4; and Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison, where the use of a moral exemplar is carried to an untenable extreme, and defended in "A Concluding Note by the Editor" in language which echoes Johnson's position (just as Johnson had earlier implicitly praised Richardson's practice). In this convergence of texts, Rambler No. 4 is the best systematic defense of Richardson's moral program for fiction. The briefest summary will show why this is so: Johnson opens with a comparison of the new fiction with romance that is strongly favorable to fiction "drawn from real life." Examples in this fiction have greater power over their readers—and this offers danger and opportunity for the author. The author must choose and describe his characters so the reader feels an appropriate attraction to virtue and disgust for vice. In advising an author how to guide his reader toward virtue, Johnson makes several related points: (1) Just because something exists in nature does not mean it should be drawn. (2) He explicitly rejects the notion of the "mixed character," for this tends to confound virtue and vice. (3) He insists that man may consult reason so as to choose between "gratitude" and "resentment," even if they "arise from the same constitution of the passions." (4) Art should offer an ideal of virtue to draw the reader toward virtue and away from vice—and the priority of virtue must be constantly maintained. A consideration of Johnson's central ideas and a close analysis of his language show that he is making a case for the vigilant assertion of virtue over vice in every phase of a novel's production. It is the difficulty of Richardson's doing just that in his actual writing of Clarissa that concerns me at this juncture.

8Rambler No. 4, in Samuel Johnson: Essays from the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler, ed. W. J. Bate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), pp. 14-15.

9 See Horace, Ars Poetica.

10 See Dorothy Van Ghent, The English Novel: Form and Function (New York: Harper & Row, 1953), pp. 60-83. Lawrence is quoted in Philip Stevick's edition of Clarissa (San Francisco: Rinehart Press, 1971), p. xxvii.

11 Jane Austen, Sanditon, ed. Margaret Drabble (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), pp. 191-92. All quotations are from these pages.

12 As quoted by Eaves and Kimpel, Samuel Richardson, p. 333.

13Preface, Hints of Prefaces, and Postscript, intro. R. F. Brissenden, The Augustan Reprint Society pub. no. 103 (Los Angeles: Clark Memorial Library, 1964), pp. 8-9.

14 The following quotations from this rare pamphlet by an unknown author are taken from the copy in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

15 This is quoted from the above pamphlet by Eaves and Kimpel in Samuel Richardson, p. 290.

16 See Eaves and Kimpel, "The Composition of Clarissa and Its Revision before Publication," PMLA 83 (1968): 427. Richardson wrote Lady Bradshaigh that he cut many of Clarissa's meditations for the first edition.

17Gentleman's Magazine (June and August 1749), pp. 245-46, 345-49.

Critical Bibliography

Richardson criticism has been haunted by one, often fruitlessly argued, issue more than any other. It may be stated this way: to what extent are Richardson's conscious intentions and aesthetic principles adequate to the work of art he produced? The "loyal" critics, like Eaves and Kimpel, do a scrupulous reading of the correspondence, deduce an aesthetic program from Richardson's statements, and then read the works in terms of that program. Two recent books work in this manner: Donald Ball, Samuel Richardson's Theory of Fiction (The Hague: Mouton, 1971); and Elizabeth Brophy, The Triumph of Craft (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974). The first half of Brophy's study describes Richardson's aesthetic "precepts" (the moral purpose, engaging the reader, epistolary form), and the second half describes Richardson's "practice." And this dual focus is said to demonstrate that Richardson has full conscious control over the direction of his artworks….

At the opposite side of this critical issue are the "subversive" critics—like Morris Golden, Leslie Fiedler, Ian Watt, and Dorothy Van Ghent—who are interested in Richardson precisely to the extent that he fails to comprehend the real (and purportedly "repressed") meaning of his works. These critics show little interest in doing a careful reading of Richardson's letters (though Golden is an exception). They assume that although Richardson voiced perfectly conventional aesthetic platitudes, his own practice carries on a powerful articulation of cultural myths and psychological drives which he was unwilling and unable to apprehend.

If the "subversive" critics find the position of the "loyal" critics naïve or uninteresting, the "loyal" critics develop a finely modulated contempt for the license of the "subversive" critics, and a smug confidence that their prosaic way of discussing the novels is the only really valid one. After their summary of Van Ghent and Fiedler, Eaves and Kimpel parade their own humility in this way:

Readers who find abstract statements about social relationships or illustrations of the doctrines of psychoanalysis of primary interest may read Clarissa in the light of one of these myths or, if they are clever enough, make up their own. We will discuss the novel, as Richardson's simple contemporaries (including Diderot and Johnson) read it, in terms of the realistic surface, of its characters and of the emotions they feel and inspire and the attitudes they embody and convey. [Samuel Richardson: A Biography, p. 241; my emphasis]

Is there tenable ground between the daring flights of the subversive critics and the dour fidelity of the loyal critics? Mark Kinkead-Weekes avoids the fallacy of the "excluded middle" on this issue, by focusing on Richardson's activity in writing:

In projecting himself into his characters and allowing them to lead him, Richardson achieved real exploration, self-extension, self-transcendence. He threw differing facets of himself into dynamic conflict, by means of which he reached beyond his ordinary limits…. This process, moreover … can never be subject to full authorial control. [Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist, p. 454]

This perspective allows us to deal with something that only the most "loyal" Richardson critic can avoid feeling: there are times when Richardson brings such a severe and impoverished moral perspective to bear on his own texts that he becomes the worst enemy of his own art. As Kinkead-Weekes suggests, "At the end of Clarissa, indeed, Richardson seems to realize that his deepest moral convictions run clean counter to the drama that gives his fiction its most vivid life" (p. 453).

The positions of the loyal and subversive critics are beset by the same fallacy—the idea that Richardson's awareness of his fiction is always at the same level, that what he says (whether it be right or wrong) must hold for the moments before, during, and after the work of art is produced. My notion of Richardson's aesthetic—as a calculated game with the reader—emerges from watching Richardson produce his art, placing each of his aesthetic statements and authorial decisions within the context provided by the gradual publication of Clarissa, and observing the responses this work provokes. This allows us to see Richardson as a plurality of authors: sometimes agile, flexible, insightful (i.e. sporting), and at other times rigid, dour, and authoritarian (i.e. a spoilsport).

Kerry Larson (essay date 1981)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6192

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 panegyrist by simply begging off the request: "after the inimitably fine Character and high Praises you have given the simple piece … how can I comply with your commands and name the Writer?" (11).

The insertion of those commendatory letters at the beginning of Pamela constitutes more than an act of self-promotion by its author. As many have noted, they reflect Richardson's need to thrust his fiction into a visibly social context and so perpetuate a community of real correspondents extending beyond and yet commenting upon the fictional world of Pamela's correspondence. More particularly, it is also reasonable to assume that the gathering of these letters served at the outset to fortify Richardson's image of himself as editor—a mask he felt it necessary to don throughout his writing career. Richardson's impersonation of the friendly editor has customarily been explained away as an inevitable device for anyone composing an epistolatory novel and left at that. It does not take much reflection to see that this assumption merely begs the question, however, since it does not tell us why Richardson found the conventions of the epistolary form so amenable to his needs as a writer.2 Given the exceedingly ambivalent and nervous treatment of such issues as intimacy, desire, and authority in the novel, Richardson's "bold stroke" of taking on "the umbrage of the editor's character to screen myself behind"3 goes beyond expediency to touch upon crucial concerns that preoccupy the author as much as his characters. It is not idle to observe, for example, that in accusing the editor of a "Kind of Violation," Richardson's admirer invariably calls to mind the novel's other "violator," Mr. B, another nameless figure of authority who enjoys editorial power over Pamela's writings.

In raising the possibility of such a kinship, I want at the same time to disavow any design of joining ranks with Richardson's self-proclaimed "subversive" critics, who speak airily of his "almost unconscious duplicity."4 Whenever it has worried the question of Richardson's intentions in writing Pamela and Clarissa, criticism has in the past decades tended to divide sharply between staunchly vindicating or gleefully debunking his morality. In the end, both factions inevitably create a Richardson whose art is either much more premeditated or unconsciously compelled than our experience of the text can justify. Like any artist, Richardson is forever wavering between both levels, and the text itself remains our best guide in tracing out the fluctuations of his voice. To reach any insight into the significance of the editor's disguised authorship, then, we might rephrase the question of that early admirer by asking: where is Samuel Richardson in these pages? At issue here is not the fact that we may overhear echoes of a sententious preacher surfacing occasionally through the more meditative moments of Pamela's prose, as A. M. Kearney has suggested.5 Ultimately, such a view reduces the novel to a clumsy ventriloquism and, more irreparably, restricts our sense of Richardson's presence to that of a crude moralizer. Richardson's didactic aims are of course crucial to his conception of the book, yet it is worthwhile to observe that the kind of blunt self-assertion that his forthright and often heavy-handed didacticism demands—witness the ostentatious rehearsal of "Applications" which close the book—is counterassertive to Richardson's evident diffidence in divulging his own name, in unveiling his authority behind the editorial screen he has thrown up for himself.

Richardson's anxious regard for his name is hardly peculiar to himself alone and it is not far into the book before we overhear B reproaching Pamela for taking "Freedoms with me, as to make my Name suffer" and for "daring to make free with names that she ought never to mention but with reverence and gratitude" (21, 39). Although Richardson curiously respects B's wish to remain anonymous throughout the story, we are not far from the predatory world of Restoration Comedy and the fearful power of naming it depicts—one recalls Wycherley's Pinchwife vowing to carve "whore" with his penknife on his spouse's forehead.6 For B, to be named is in effect to be "exposed," a term that reappears with peculiar insistence in B's early dialogues with Pamela. "And so I am to be exposed," B complains to her after his improper advances in the summer-house; "you should be ashamed, after your noise and nonsense, exposing me as you have done" (41, 44). Even when he finally releases Pamela from her imprisonment at Lincolnshire much later in the book, B's last request is that she forbear "to expose me any more than is necessary for your own Justification; and for that, I will suffer myself to be accused by you …" (214).

B's fear of exposure is so oppressive that it appears to go deeper than disquiet over a sullied reputation. In his encounter with Pamela in the summer-house it is clear that B is as discomposed and distraught as the nearly hysterical Pamela. Glimpsing his demeanor momentarily, Pamela writes that he "look'd so, as fill'd me with Affrightment, I don't know how; wildly I thought" (35). As Roy Roussel remarks in a perceptive and probing essay, "it is important to understand that when B seizes Pamela and violates both literally and figuratively the distance between them, he is not acting with the cynical callousness of a rake."7 Once repulsed, B promptly reclaims, as Roussel goes on to observe, his role as Master by scorning Pamela's squeamish apprehensions and explaining, "I own I have demeaned myself, but it was only to try you" (32). The excuse is of course patently flimsy, but that does not make it any less necessary for B. Intimacy induces a strange kind of trauma or disabling frenzy in Richardson's world, where desire oscillates crazily between explosive outbursts and a wary retentiveness. By withdrawing into the part of "wicked Master," B seeks to mask or screen the sudden and overpowering force of his infatuation from himself as well as from Pamela. After their marriage, B later confesses to Pamela that the "purer flame" of his love was originally kindled during their struggle in the summer-house, even though it was "a flame to which I was stranger" (279). The courtly language is somewhat misleading, however, for B is both a stranger to that flame and, as his panic at being exposed reveals, is consumed by it.

For B and Richardson, fears of public exposure are inextricably bound up with the greater, unnamed dread of self-exposure. Richardson's recessed position in the book parallels B's retreat to the status of Master insofar as Richardson's rewriting of himself into the text as nameless editor replays the complex process of turning to some public role as a way of withdrawing from intimacy while maintaining a privileged station of authority. The editor is attracted to and therefore seeks to distance himself from the seemingly unresolvable ambivalence of desire that possesses his characters through the greater portion of the narrative. It is not enough, therefore, to speak of Richardson's method of "dramatic projection," which enables him "to reach out imaginatively beyond himself, in exploring, criticizing, and transcending the attitudes from which he may have started."8 This model for Creative Transcendence is popular enough; still, what needs at least equal emphasis is the uncanny degree to which Richardson feels it necessary to recoil from his imaginative projections and so shield himself from the absorbing intimacies of his fiction. Less a self-transcending projector, Richardson more closely resembles Henry James's infamous portrait of the artist as "a wary adventurer" walking "round and round" his subject; "standing off … yet coming back" to its "secrets and compartments," its "possible treacheries and traps."9

Apart from the handful of letters he composes himself, our understanding of B is of course always being filtered through Pamela's perceptions. And yet even though the novel is entitled Pamela, its narrative suspense and intrigue largely hinges upon (at least in Part I) the volatile motives of B—the values and commitments of Pamela remain comparatively unshaken throughout. In effect, B becomes a kind of absent center; a strangely neutralized authority who wields absolute secular power, but finds that power thwarted, frustrated, and ultimately mocked by the violently disruptive energy of his sexual desires. The mastery of Pamela's "wicked Master" soon becomes so hopelessly compromised that it is difficult at times to say who is mastering whom: "I begin to think he likes me," Pamela writes before her abduction, "and can't help it; and yet strives to conquer it, and so finds no way but to be cross with me" (60). Pamela's remark, characteristically shrewd and ingenuous at the same time, underlies Leo Bersani's suggestion that some element of violence inheres in all desire. "Desire always includes some measure of angry frustration without which desire is inconceivable … and is intrinsically violent because its fantasies include a rageful recognition of the world's capacity to resist or survive our desires."10 B stands entangled in an unnerving paradox: the more vehemently he enforces his authority, the more that authority is crippled by a "rageful recognition" of its own desperate foundations. "You have robbed me," B at one point accuses Pamela, who remains "quite ignorant of his meaning," and to a degree he is of course correct. His fear of desire amounts to a dread of psychological fragmentation so severe as to rob him of all self-command. "He took me in his arms," Pamela recalls immediately before his mysterious accusation, "and presently push'd me from him. Mrs. Jewkes, said he, take the little Witch from me; I can neither bear nor forbear her! (Strange words these!)—But stay, you shan't go!—Yet begone!—No, come back again" (62).

Richardson's interest in B's compulsions extends beyond the simple unmasking of a rake to a fascination with the embarrassments and entrapments of an authority torn between desire and suppression, self-assertion and self-estrangement. It is true that our insight into B's dilemma is at best furtive and that critics from Fielding on down have summarily dismissed B as a laughably inept boob.11 Yet there are good reasons for B's shadowy and undeniably ridiculous posture in the book that also highlight Richardson's special responsiveness to his predicament. In B, passion is always threatening to explode what might be called the Pamelian view of character: identity as a fixed, coherent, and comprehensible unity. In Pamela, that unity is, quintessentially, lodged in her chastity. When B calls Pamela "thou strange Medley of Inconsistence" (76) it is clear that, rather than characterizing Pamela, he confronts within himself the same kind of troubled perplexity that baffles Hume when he admits in the Appendix to his Treatise Of Human Nature that "upon more strict review of the section concerning Personal Identity, I find myself involved in such a labyrinth that I must confess I neither know how to correct my former opinions, nor know how to render them consistent."12 Our impression of B's crisis, an extreme extension of Hume's resigned confusion, is necessarily furtive because it menaces, in short, the faith in the utter transparency or intelligibility of the self.

Where does Richardson stand between these two forces? Obviously, his moral sympathies lie with his heroine, yet it is essential to see how his engagement in the story as a writer and the pressures of exposure and authority this engagement brings into play problematizes any easy alignment between a single character and its author. Far from conceiving of himself as a visible center of authority or value, in order to write Richardson needed to imagine himself as a blank repository or empty space waiting to be filled by contending personalities. Thus, when Lady Bradslaigh accuses the author of Sir Charles Grandison of malicious treatment of one of his characters, Aunt Nell, Richardson offers the following reply.

But how can it be said / and not Charlotte dressed Aunt Nell?—Here I sit down to form characters. One I intend to be all goodness; All goodness he is. Another Lady G—ish; All Lady G—ish is she. I am all the while absorbed in the character. It is not fair to say—I, identically I, am anywhere, while I keep within the character. And if I have done so, why say you, madam, that I dressed Aunt Nell?13 (Text's emphasis.)

If this account of the creative process begins with the self-conscious intention to "form" characters, it ends with the desire to be absorbed and so formed by them. The very emergence of authority coincides with the need to diffuse it into a host of fictive identities. By denying the possibility of personal complicity in the world he creates, Richardson would in effect have us believe that he is at once everywhere and nowhere in the text. More radically still, writing begins with the repudiation of anything resembling a writing, authorial self—in order to thrive, Richardson's elusive "I, identically I" refuses to be localized or circumscribed in any answerable or absolute way.

Richardson's authority is in the most radical sense of the word eccentric: it resists centralization. For Richardson, the act of narration does not offer the opportunity, as it does for Fielding, to project a controlling or unifying personality. From the untrammelled continuity of Fielding's voice, we necessarily presuppose a certain psychological stability that assimilates and eventually synthesizes what initially appears to be random, fragmentary, or irrelevant in his plots. Yet, as Frank Kermode has suggested, precisely because Richardson withdraws from his fiction, the pressure to locate and affirm stable norms of authority within his characters grows doubly acute.14 The pressure is felt most intensely in the propensity of these characters to absolutize their sexual roles, to conceive of their desires as an implacable, immovable force that will not yield to any adversary. But the more nakedly one will collides against the other, the more intimately each individual defines as well as defends his or her self against that other. The powerful irony of such an interdependence is carried, as Leo Braudy has shown, to its fatal and pathetic extreme in Clarissa, where the relationship between Rake and Chaste Virgin "develops into a set of polarized self-images" so rigorous as to preclude any chance of reconciliation.15 Richardson's tragic theme is not so much the death of Virtue as the means by which identity becomes irrevocably locked into and petrified by the all-excluding rigidity of a role that makes such a death inescapable. Clearly, Richardson would have been shocked by such a reading, yet his own decentralization of authority, his habit of playing off and playing between those characters in his work who aspire to an absolute centrality, pointedly invites such an interpretation. Perhaps the final and most ambivalent paradox of Clarissa rests in such an incongruity. Even as Richardson devotedly celebrates the austere purity of his single-minded heroine, it is a purity he could remotely exalt but as a writer never willfully adopt. As Richardson alone could understand in his day, no ending was possible for Clarissa but self-destruction.

To speak of such oppositions is to explore the possible disparities at work between the exemplary extremes Richardson's characters are pushed to and the editor's cautious strategy of retreat into an undefined realm of being where he "keeps within the character" but reserves no ontological distinction for himself. Such disparities are admittedly less prominent in Pamela, particularly in light of its pastoral movement toward marriage and family. Even so, Richardson is no less anxious to disavow the kind of overriding excess of being that energizes his best and worst characters. In the Editor's Preface to Pamela he claims that "an Editor may reasonably be supposed to judge with an Impartiality which is rarely to be met with in an Author" (3). The disclaimer is entirely conventional, yet it interestingly sidesteps the question of precisely what is to be judged. The story? Its characters? Its author? Unlike Fielding and Sterne, whose narrators freely acknowledge the degree to which their perceptions and judgments are subject to the same contingencies and errors beleaguering their characters, Richardson cannot imagine himself seriously implicated in the world he has authored. Venturing didactic judgments always co-exists with a recognizable strain not (or not only) because Richardson is a tendentious or tedious moralist but because any exercise of control over the text is doomed to appear obtrusive given his insistent dissociation from it. As his prefatory remark suggests, the basis for his authority over his creations is grounded in the need to withdraw from them. As much as he appears to be publicly announcing his neutrality, Richardson also seems preoccupied in an arcane debate with himself, where the editor must banish that submerged portion of himself, the author, in order to lay claim to highest authority. Fielding captured such near schizophrenia with perhaps more penetration than he intended when he begins Shamela with a letter by "The Editor to Himself," which ends with the sublime leavetaking: "I am, Sir, Sincerely your Well-Wisher … Yourself."16

Fielding's more immediate target is of course what he considers the editor's inexcusable insincerity in offering up the opportunistic virtue of his heroine as a model. Whether or not in sympathy with his parody, subsequent critics have followed Fielding in assuming Pamela to be closest to Richardson. Richardson's biographers even declare that "one's impression on reading at least the first part of the novel is that he was indeed possessed by Pamela."17 Eaves and Kimpel are referring to the astonishing speed of Pamela's composition, yet the comment is suggestive for other reasons as well. Against the self-divisive pressures of desire in both B and Richardson, Pamela provides an ideal of an impenetrable self-sufficiency that each strive to be possessed by and so possess. By making her identity synonymous with her chastity (the violation of one implying the extinction of the other), Pamela presents a self which may be infinitely vulnerable to the machinations and assaults of B but which is firmly centered and fixed because it is invulnerable to the maddening ambivalences that afflict her Master.18 By externalizing the self, she in turn successfully externalizes its adversaries and so embodies, in B's words, "a speaking picture … of unspotted Innocence" (145); a character who aspires to a plainness as transparent as the writing style she cultivates.

Yet transparency is an ambiguous value, as Roland Barthes has noted, since "it is both what cannot be discussed and what there is most to say about… a site empty but eternally open to signification."19 Correspondingly, Pamela repeatedly seizes upon illustrative conceits to allegorize her predicament, but in such a way that reveals only the most elementary and openended feelings. The best known example occurs while she is fishing with Mrs. Jewkes during her imprisonment at Lincolnshire.

She baited the hook and I held it, and soon hooked a lovely Carp. Play it, play it, said she; I did, and brought it to the Bank. A sad thought just then came into my Head; and I took it, and threw it in again, and O the pleasure it seemed to have, to flounce in, when at Liberty!—Why this? says she. O Mrs. Jewkes! said I, I was thinking this poor Carp was the unhappy Pamela. I was likening you and myself to my naughty Master. As we hooked and deceived the poor Carp, so was I betrayed by false Baits; and when you said, Play it, play it, it went to my Heart, to think I should sport with the Destruction of the poor Fish I had betrayed…. (120)

Despite its forced quaintness, the entire passage is intriguing because it hints at without quite revealing the presence of the same kind of psychological fragmentation within Pamela that we have seen in B and, less overtly, in the editor. Like B, Pamela here plays the role of both victimizer and victim; she is "the unhappy Pamela" snared by her "naughty Master" and yet oddly likens herself to that same Master who sports "with the Destruction of the poor Fish" she fancies herself to be. Undoubtedly, readers skeptical of Pamela's exemplary virtue would not hesitate to construe such a muddle as a wishful fantasy to be so baited by B. While this view is by no means untenable, it does overlook the achieved autonomy of desire such a fantasy exhibits. Anxious to see in the world reflections of her present plight, Pamela projects a model of selfcontainment which elides possible discontinuities in the self by incorporating them into the larger compositional unity of her conceit. Distinct from B's panicky suppression of desire, Pamela unselfconsciously enacts a drama of self-creation that enables her to play the part of both the betrayer and the betrayed, master and slave, author and spectator.

Proverbially, the greatest danger to such autonomy does not come from without but from within. Pamela's paradoxical role-playing may be an accident of metaphor, but it obliquely confirms B's recurrent admonition that "you are your worst enemy, Pamela" (41, 54). The enemy appears in the form of a radical sufficiency; her situation, in effect, is the reverse of B's dilemma since the potential threat to identity does not lie in the illicit desire of another but in the possible eradication of Otherness altogether. Such a fate clearly foreshadows Clarissa's unforgettable declaration that "I am nobody's" and the opening stipulation in her will that her coffin should "not, on any account … be opened and that it shall not be touched but by those of my own sex."20 If Pamela's hardships are considerably less drastic, it is perhaps because she is so often thrust in the peculiar position of openly distrusting a self she also seeks to defend and justify.

This at least seems to be what is going on during Pamela's abortive attempt to flee from Lincolnshire late one night directly before B's equally abortive attempt on Pamela's honor. I say this tentatively because even as the episode ostentatiously advertises the perils of an excessive self-reliance, a curious ambivalence on Richardson's part intervenes. After squeezing through a bedroom window, Pamela proceeds to the outer garden wall, which she soon finds, to her dismay, she cannot scale. Badly bruised, exhausted, and despairing, she resolves to hurl herself into a nearby pond and "so put a period to all my griefs in this world" (151). An extended monologue ensues, however, between "Divine Grace," who counsels prudence by asking "who gave thee, presumptuous as thou art, power over thy life? who authorized thee to put an end to it?" and the "Evil Thoughts" prompted by "the Devil's Instigation," which please her with images of her Master's remorse once she has perished. In the end "Divine Grace" of course prevails and Pamela interrupts her "sad Relation" to express gratitude. "I will add that tho' I should have praised God for my deliverance, had I been freed from my Wicked Keeper and designing Master; yet I have more abundant reasons to praise God—that I have been delivered from a worse enemy—myself!" (154). As if to bring home the parable still more forcibly, she had earlier asked her "dear Parents" to rejoice with "the poor Pamela" in her triumph over "an Enemy worst than any she ever met with; an Enemy she never thought of before; and was hardly able to stand against … her own mind!" (150). The treacheries of the "lurking vileness of the Heart" come across clearly enough, yet the facile redundance of her ponderous moralizations ironically dissipates any impression that a real crisis has taken place. In fact, because she is so dexterous at compartmentalizing ("Divine Grace"/"Devil's Instigation") and thereby exorcising supposedly suicidal impulses, it is difficult to take her importunate expressions of thankfulness seriously. Compared to the traumatic intensity of her brief confrontation with B in the summer-house, the entire vignette seems a dismal failure—which is perhaps why it has been ignored in the criticism. Rather than the anxieties of self-confrontation, everything in Pamela's "last Act" (153) becomes flagrantly theatricalized. Most conspicuously, the rhetoric flounders in a meretricious, self-consciously hyperbolic excess: "what then presumptuous Pamela? … quit with Speed these guilty Banks, and flee from these dashing Waters, that even in their sounding Murmurs, this still Night, reproach thy Rashness! Tempt not God's goodness on the mossy Banks, that have been Witnesses of thy guilty Intentions …" (153). It is immediately obvious that such Gothic melodrama is not characteristic of Pamela's rustic earthiness at all. It belongs to Richardson and the self-conscious pressures upon his imagination to conceive a scene so much at odds with itself and its heroine. Because no anxiety can penetrate or challenge Pamela's self-definition, Richardson cannot envisage his "presumptuous Pamela" facing "the dreadful Gulph … of (her) benighted Mind" in any convincingly ambivalent way without making her sound absurdly "literary" and hopelessly insincere.

This is not to say that Pamela fails as a character (though the accusation is by now a familiar one), but that Pamela achieves the kind of psychological anonymity Richardson is anxious to claim for himself as a writer. As we have seen, writing not only offers the author an opportunity to form characters, but to disappear within them. "I write," Richardson relates to a correspondent during an illness, "I do anything I can on purpose to carry myself out of myself … put me not therefore in mind of myself."21 To carry the self out of the self and beyond the burdens of selfconsciousness is to engage in what we have been calling a drama of self-creation. The attraction of such an enterprise is to provide socially acceptable channels for self-definition that also avoids the embarrassments of prolonged introspection. Significantly, in her brush with suicide Pamela saves her self by typecasting it; by specifying a role for that self to perform. "Hitherto, Pamela, thought I, thou are the innocent, the suffering Pamela; and wilt thou be the guilty Agressor?" (153). Committing suicide would not only be morally unpardonable; it would destroy the consistency of the character she has sustained in the course of her writings. If, as Patricia Spacks perceives, Pamela "manipulates events with a steady awareness of their dramatic potential,"22 she places her personality at the center of such manipulations. She conceives of identity, in other words, as an object to be performed. Pamela the "person" virtually becomes a vehicle for total self-objectification. Asocial impulses, undersirable desires are projected into a psychomachia of rivalling forces that supposedly originate within the self but are considered beyond its capacity to understand or control. Thus, at a crucial moment in her journal where she must decide whether to return to B at Lincolnshire and accept his marriage proposal or return at last to her parents, Pamela coyly expostulates for three pages with her "old, lumpish, ungovernable Heart" whom she suspects of harboring an unforeseen affection for her "naughty Master." Characteristically, emotions are seen to act as foreign bodies intruding upon rather than emanating from within their ostensible owner. Like the editor who vanishes into his character, Pamela similarly averts recognition of personal agency: the self disowns its complicity in the very desires that agitate it. Predictably, then, "love" soon steals upon the scene as "a Proud Invader": "for I know not how it came, nor when it began; but creep, creep it has, like a Thief upon me; and before I knew what was the matter, it look'd like Love" (214).

Of course nothing could be further from B's confused rage when he cries out that he has been "robbed." By recasting private struggle into public ceremony, Pamela closes the gap between private and public self that so intrigued Pope some five years earlier when he collected his Moral Essays for publication. Provoked by the growing realization that "plain Characters we rarely find" since "puzzling Contraries confound the Whole," Pope seeks out an enriching, positive complexity to human behavior best expressed in women. In "the Picture of An Esteemable Woman," he suggests at the end of the second Epistle, we may discover the "best Kind of Contrarieties."23 Yet if Pope is writing to a lady (in this case Martha Blount), Richardson is writing as one and the poet's commanding ease of argument and perspective disappears. While Pope discusses the problem of "puzzling Contraries" Richardson acts it out in the drama of B's "painful struggle" against the "Deformity of Unreasonable Passion" (410). Pamela, on the other hand, remains untouched by such threats, is therefore prepared to comment upon herself in such a casual, unrestrained manner. Pamela is endlessly putting herself in mind of herself: if B and Richardson fear the exposure of their names, Pamela, who is forever addressing herself in the third person, thrives on such exposure. At the same time, self-consciousness is never an introspective burden but chiefly operates to remind "the innocent, the suffering Pamela" of the necessity to uphold a consistently public role. Conversely, for her Master and her Editor, the retreat into a role is manifestly a protective device which is traceable to some kind of repressive activity. It seems inappropriate, however, to see a similar movement "behind" Pamela's performances. While it is entirely possible to infer from her extended dialogue with her "treacherous, treacherous Heart" a panic over sexuality as deep seated as anything in B, such a disclosure is hardly startling and would probably be endorsed by Pamela herself. Despite the willingness of critics to impute hidden, compulsive motives to her behavior and despite her bizarrely prolonged debates with herself, Pamela is a character singularly devoid of psychological depth. Complexity rests wholly on the narrative surface, in its plots and counterplots, its stratagems and betrayals. Pamela's "I, identically I," no less than the editor's, keeps within the fiction and is indistinguishable from it. We are never allowed to forget that Pamela's language is always directed without; that it is a representation before an audience. Her identity relies, to an extraordinarily vital degree, on the continued performance of a "story."

Pamela's obsessive preoccupation with the safekeeping of her letters is therefore hardly surprising. One recalls the exceptional amount of concern expended over the simple security of her writings; where they are to be concealed, how they are almost uncovered, how they are to be delivered, exchanged, returned, etc. Characteristically, Pamela primarily regards her body of letters as a physical reality rather than a symbolic revelation of her innermost being. To be sure, she protests to B that although her journal may contain distortions and falsehoods, "I know I wrote my Heart and that is not deceitful" (200). Yet what is deceitful, or at least deceptive, in this profession is once again the quixotic belief in a radically transparent personality, which can be conveyed totally and without distortion through its language. Pamela the book stands as Pamela's final and supreme testament to her genius for self-projection—a self-projection that objectifies her presence in the text only to reveal its paradoxically impenetrable translucence.

In private conversation and in correspondence, Richardson would often inform acquaintances that Pamela was drawn from a real incident. Without disputing this claim, it is nonetheless possible to see Pamela as in many respects impossibly unreal. However true to life her mannerisms and speech, her character expresses an ideal of desublimated desire. In Pamela, that is to say, self-presentation is purged of the very mechanisms of repression and sublimation so evident in B. She is a character who can "escape" from herself because that self is so visibly the product of her own fashioning. Significantly, what moves B most "sensibly" when reading Pamela's journal and what, as it turns out, finally reforms his libertinism, is precisely this episode: "'Thanks for escaping myself' … he said, taking me about the Waist, 'O my dear Girl! you have touched me sensibly with your mournful Relation and your sweet Reflections on it'" (208).

B and Richardson might well indeed extoll their heroine as "the Mirror of her Age" and a "Character worthy of the Imitation of her Sex, from low to high life" (409, 412). She exists not to be interpreted but emulated. Richardson would probably welcome such a statement, for his explicit aim seems to be to construct a stable, psychologically inviolate personality designed to inspire "a laudable Emulation in the Minds of any worthy Persons" (412). And yet his own performance as a writer, which is energized by the conflicts and collisions of opposed individuals, works against the fixed purity of his heroines. One reason why the second volume of Pamela fails (B and Pamela are by then married) is because no psychological future exists for his characters outside of struggle. That struggle would of course erupt again, with a considerably more devastating and appalling outcome, seven years later with the publication of Richardson's masterpiece, Clarissa.


1 Samuel Richardson, Pamela, ed. T. C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971), p. 11. Subsequent references from this edition cited in parentheses.

2 For an extensive survey and discussion of the convention of editorial disguise common in Richardson's time see Lennard Davis, "A Social History of Fact and Fiction: Authorial Disavowal in the Early English Novel," in Literature and Society, ed. Edward Said (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 120-49.

3 Quoted from Selected Letters of Samuel Richardson, ed. John Carroll (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 42.

4 The phrase is from Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Criterion Books, 1960), p. 31. In Richardson's Characters (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1963), Morris Golden speaks at length of "Richardson's sadistic treatment of his heroines" and sees B and Lovelace as expressions of unconscious fantasies and appetites. Somewhat less boldly, Ian Watt briefly calls attention to Richardson's submerged "anxiety neurosis." See The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1957), p. 220.

5 "Richardson's Pamela: The Aesthetic Case," Review of English Literature, 7 (1966), 78-90.

6 See Act IV, Scene ii of The Country Wife. Despite her husband's threats, Mrs. Pinchwife notably possesses, like Pamela, a crucial power to "expose"—thus Homer is by the end of the play "the only man by her now exposed to shame…."

7 "Reflections on the Letter: The Reconciliation of Distance and Presence in Pamela," ELH, 41 (1974), 380.

8 Mark Kinkead-Weekes, Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1973), p. 400.

9The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces, ed. Richard P. Blackmur (New York: Charles Scribners, 1934), pp. 288-89.

10A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), p. 13.

11 Most recent examples of this well-known sentiment are Margaret Doody, who finds B a "farcical" figure whose "very clumsiness defeats the assumed brutality." See her book A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 47. More severely, in Samuel Richardson: The Triumph of Craft (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1974), Brigid Brophy speaks of B as "insufferably self-satisfied" and "intellectually mediocre" (p. 65).

12A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1888), p. 258.

13 Carroll, Letters, p. 286.

14 "Richardson and Fielding," Cambridge Journal, 4 (1950), 106-14. For a lively discussion about the differing techniques of "characterportraiture" in each of these authors see also C. J. Rawson's "Nature's Dance of Death: Part I: Urbanity and Strain in Fielding, Swift, and Pope," ECS, 3 (1970), 328-34.

15 "Penetration and Impenetrability in Clarissa," in New Approaches to the Eighteenth Century Literature, ed. Phillip Harth (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 177-205.

16Shamela, ed. Sheridan Baker (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1953), p. 7.

17Samuel Richardson: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 90. Such an expression is a common feature of criticism on Richardson—note David Daiches' passing observation that "It is as though Richardson knows Pamela so well that he has simply to let himself be Pamela in order to write…." Quoted from Literary Essays (London: Oliver and Boyd Ltd., 1966), pp. 26-42.

18 The interrelationship between personal identity and bodily constancy becomes still more irrevocable and ultimately fatal in Clarissa, as William Beatty Warner demonstrates in Reading Clarissa: The Struggles of Interpretation (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979).

19On Racine, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), pp. viii-ix.

20Clarissa, intro. John Butt (London: Dutton-Dent, 1932), IV, 416.

21The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Anna Laetitia Barbauld (London: Phillips, 1804), III, 190-91.

22Imagining A Self: Autobiography and Novel in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976), p. 198.

23Poetry and Prose of Alexander Pope, ed. Aubrey Williams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), pp. 162, 167.

Carol Houlihan Flynn (essay date 1982)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7699

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 thatthrough editorial power and attention to minutiaehe 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 Work, pined away in Sloth and Filthiness, and at last, broke her Arm, and died of a Fever." (IV, 438-41) [II, 462-64] As usual, evil, more than good, stimulates Richardson's imagination. Pamela also tells the rousing tale of "four pretty ladies [who] lived in one genteel neighbourhood," Coquetilla, Prudiana, Profusiana, and Prudentia, "their several Names denoting their respective Qualities." (IV, 442) [II, 465] Not a giant or a fairy in the lot.

Yet in spite of the prosaic quality of Pamela's tales, the Opies' choice for their frontispiece is still appropriate, for Pamela not only told nursery tales, but acted in them as well, playing in her less matronly days a plucky Cinderella to Mr. B.'s ill-conceived Prince Charming. Richardson's Cinderella won her prince not "once upon a time," but in the here and now, so convincingly that the good citizens of Slough celebrated her fictional wedding in reality.2 Readers believed in Pamela's fairy tale: an "anonymous gentleman" objected to Pamela's extraordinarily small waist, predicting a craze of tight lacing, and even Henry Fielding feared that Pamela's matrimonial success would inspire other servant girls to throw themselves at their masters, with dire results.3

In his best novels, Pamela and Clarissa, Richardson managed to combine the elements of romance and reality so effectively that he was able to convince his readers to accept the fantastic as commonplace. And if his readers did believe the "truth" of his fiction, Richardson did nothing to disillusion them. Hiding behind the mask of the editor, supplying prefaces, footnotes, and postscripts to manufacture one more level of reality, he encouraged, even insisted upon, maintaining what he called the "Historical Faith" in fiction. When William Warburton unwittingly called attention to the fictional nature of Richardson's work in his preface to Clarissa, Richardson politely objected, withdrawing the preface from later editions: "Will you, good Sir, allow me to mention, that I could wish that the Air of Genuineness had been kept up, tho' I want not the letters to be thought genuine; only so far kept up, I mean, as that they should not prefatically be owned not to be genuine: and this for fear of weakening their Influence where any of them are aimed to be exemplary; as well as to avoid hurting that kind of Historical Faith which Fiction itself is generally read with, tho' we know it to be Fiction." (Letters, p. 85) Richardson's hedging is painfully apparent here. In spite of his disclaimer, he did want his fiction to be "thought" genuine, depending upon "that kind of Historical Faith" to establish his sphere of exemplary influence.

Richardson always jealously guarded his moral sphere. He wanted, above all, to be taken seriously, to be placed, as he suggested to Lady Echlin, on the proper side of the bookshelf next to the graver moralists, where he could perfect as well as amuse his reader. As we have seen in the previous chapters, Richardson's desire to perfect his reader caused him to invent complex characters of independence and integrity who, in the process of perfecting themselves, create themselves. His perfectionism also led him to create fictional worlds that may appear commonplace but in fact are fantastic—prosaic nightmares. For to perfect his reader, Richardson first had to catch him, and to catch him, he had to lure him in with the promise of a sensationally romantic world, yet a world described realistically enough to pass his moral censor.

Richardson's admirers generally accepted the author's concern for the "Air of Genuineness" as evidence of his realism.4 Joseph Spence, for instance, praised Richardson's "plain and natural Account of an Affair that happened in a private Family, just in the manner it did happen. He has aimed solely at following Nature; and giving the Sentiments of the Persons concerned, just as they flowed warm from their Hearts." The "Sentiments" of the "natural" Harlowe family flow warm enough in Clarissa, a plain and natural account of duels (one on the first page), rape, abduction, and imprisonment—the everyday affairs of a "private" (privately mad) family. Nothing could be more natural. Philip Skelton, another of Richardson's contemporaries, also praised the author's attention to nature. Clarissa "comes home to the Heart, and to common Life," unlike those inferior romances filled with "a Croud of mere imaginary Amours, Duels, and such-like Events."5 Somehow Skelton managed to overlook the fantastic aspects of the "Amours, Duels, and such-like Events" crowding the pages of Clarissa.

This is not to Skelton's discredit, however, for Mr. Richardson was loath to allow anyone to focus upon the sensational nature of his fiction. He was, throughout his novels, the severest critic of the romantic inventions he exploited. Listen to Mrs. Pamela on the subject of romance. Apparently forgetting her own melodramatic role-playing, she rebukes romantic Miss Stapylton for filling her commonplace book with the "beautiful Things and good Instructions, to be collected from Novels and Plays, and Romances." There were "very few Novels and Romances that my Lady would permit me to read," Pamela sternly recalls, "and those I did, gave me no great Pleasure; for either they dealt so much in the Marvellous and Improbable, or were so unnaturally inflaming to the Passions, and so full of Love and Intrigue, that hardly any of them but seem'd calculated to fire the Imagination rather than to inform the Judgment."

Romantic heroines tend to be especially faulty:

what principally distinguishes the Character of the Heroine is, when she is taught to consider her Father's House as an inchanted Castle, and her Lover as the Hero who is to dissolve the Charm, and to set at Liberty from one Confinement, in order to put her into another, and, too probably, a worse: To instruct her how to climb Walls, drop from Windows, leap Precipices, and do twenty other extravagant Things, in order to shew the mad Strength of a Passion she ought to be asham'd of: to make Parents and Guardians pass for Tyrants, and the Voice of Reason to be drown'd in that of indiscreet Love, which exalts the other Sex, and debases her own. And what is the Instruction that can be gather'd from such Pieces, for the Conduct of common Life? (IV, 425-26) [II, 453-54]

Pamela could well be outlining the plot for Clarissa, Richardson's moral primer for "the Conduct of common Life."

In her introduction to Richardson's correspondence, Anna Laetitia Barbauld discussed the "natural" aspects of Richardson's writing: "That kind of fictitious writing of which he has set the example, disclaims all assistance for giants or genii. The moated castle is changed to a modern parlour; the princess and her pages to a lady and her domestics…. we are not called on to wonder at improbable events, but to be moved by natural passions." (Correspondence, vol. I, xxi) Mrs. Barbauld at least acknowledged the romantic elements of Richardson's fiction, but it would be more precise to say that "the modern parlour is changed to a moated castle." For Richardson transformed common reality, investing the most ordinary situations with menace and wonder. The Harlowe family's "modern parlour," filled with swelling Arabella, squatting Solmes, ranting James, raging Father, and wraithlike Mama, holds horrors. Richardson was able to abstract the terrors of common life—the envy, jealousy, fear, and lust—make them part of his character's psyche, and then project them back to the reader. James, consumed with a monstrous jealousy, becomes a monster to Clarissa. Since we see and experience what Clarissa does, we also see him as a monster, as terrible as any that ever stalked a fairy tale. By making the horrors and wonders part of his character's psyche, Richardson authenticated his fairy tale, never hesitating to supply a few "real life" horrors of his own: the monstrous Colbrand, Uncle Antony's moated house, and Clarissa's squalid prison. But the most effective horrors remain closest to home: in the cozy parlor conferences that erupt into violence; in those scenes in which Clarissa and Lovelace, sedately sipping tea, suddenly fling each other about the room. Incorporating the elements of fairy tale and romance, Richardson always attended to the menace of the ordinary.

When he laid down the uncompleted volume of the Familiar Letters to begin writing Pamela, Richardson moved from the familiar to the novel. And moral aphorisms were always "familiar." [One can see] his obvious delight in making moral maxims in The Apprentice's Vade Mecum. In his edition of Aesop's Fables, Richardson revised and to some extent moralized L'Estrange's version of the Fables, first published in 1692. Highlighting the "useful," and banishing the "trivial or a loose Conceit," he "presumed to alter, and put a stronger Point to several of the Fables themselves, which we thought capable of more forcible Morals."6 The mammoth Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Maxims, Cautions, and Reflexions, gleaned from his three novels, reflects his continuing pride in his ability to make a moral with the best of them. We need only look at a few of the maxims Richardson found in Pamela to see the great difference between the simple moral aphorisms and the more complex dramatic action of his novel.

In his "Cautions to young Female Servants," he warns that a "handsome Female Servant should not wish to live in the house of a Single man, since she will be likely by it to suffer in her reputation in the world's eye." Sage enough advice, but unheeded by Richardson's own "handsome Female Servant," Pamela Andrews, who gladly reported to her parents that she was staying on to take care of Mr. B.'s linen after the death of her mistress. Richardson also warns "young women" to avoid the company of a man "capable of rudeness": "A young Woman whose virtue has been once attempted, yet throws herself into the same person's company, or continues where he is, when she can avoid it, ought to charge herself with the consequences, if she receive new indignities." But in his first novel, Richardson examines the actions of his own "young woman," who ostensibly avoids B. after his first attempts, yet manages to stay in his way. "Trick'd up" to make her farewell, Pamela effectively throws herself into B.'s company and rekindles his waning desire for her. Pamela's mixed feelings, expressed through actions both ambiguous and calculating, complicate Richardson's simple maxims. Richardson can firmly state that "the man who is capable of rudeness to a woman, to whom he professes honourable love, ought to be rejected as an husband, by a woman of virtue and spirit, for his sake, as well as for the sake of her own honour."7 But at the same time, Richardson created a world of far greater latitude, in which a woman of "virtue and spirit" gratefully and humbly accepts the man "capable of rudeness" as her husband and master.

In his preface to his Collection, Richardson explains that since the narrative "was only meant as a vehicle for the instructive," he would now separate the maxims "expressing elevated thoughts, beautiful sentiments, or instructive lessons" from the "engaging incidents" that might divert the reader's attention from the moral.8 But to separate the maxims from the action is to alter the very meaning of the novel by ignoring the complications provided by such "engaging incidents." Although he never lost sight of the moral in Pamela, Richardson's experiments with the epistolary novel indicated his need to make his moral in a wholly different way, replacing aphorisms with characters and transforming the commonplace with the elements of romance, fairy tale, and myth, thereby complicating his simple moral in the process.

In Richardson's novels we find a sense of fantasy made concrete, almost commonplace. Richardson created a literature "having both body and hidden depths," a literature Roland Barthes would describe as "clouded." In an analysis of the difference between the "transparent" literature of the early eighteenth century and the "clouded" literature of the late eighteenth century, Barthes argues that "literary form" in the late eighteenth century "develops a second-order power independent of its economy and euphemistic charm; it fascinates the reader, it strikes him as exotic, it enthralls him, it acquires a weight. Literature is no longer felt as a socially privileged mode of transaction, but as a language having both body and hidden depths, existing both as dream and menace."9 Richardson's readers "felt" the dream and menace of his novels. Aaron Hill's servant boy sobbing over Pamela; Aaron Hill himself, confessing that he can never escape Mrs. Jewkes, "who often keeps me awake in the Night"; and even Fielding's Parson Tickletext, complaining that "if I lay the book down it comes after me"—all testify to the emotional power Richardson enjoyed over his readers.10 Combining romance and reality, Richardson uncovered the dream and the menace implicit in the ordinary.

The terms romance and fairy tale are often used interchangeably in this chapter, for it is almost impossible to separate them in any sensible way. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the romance and the fairy tale were often considered to be one and the same, nursery links to the "world of fine fabling."11 By 1740, the middle-class reading public tended to reject the aristocratic French heroic romance, as well as its English imitations by writers like Roger Boyle and Aphra Behn. Even as early as 1691, a spokesman for The Athenian Mercury mocked "knight-errantry" for its "Loving, Sighing, Whining, Rambling, Starving, Tilting, Fighting, Dying, Reviving, Waking, Staring, Singing, Crying, Praying, Wishing, Composing, Writing, Serenading, Rhyming, Hoping, Fearing, Despairing, Raving."12 But while it was judged to be "not at all convenient for the Vulgar, because [it] give[s] 'em extravagant Ideas's of practice," and generally "soften[s] the Mind,"13 the romance was still preserved in the nursery.

Arthur Johnston traces the gradual descent of the medieval romance to the chapbook, deciding that "few nurseries in the eighteenth century can have been without the chapbook version of the romances, little twenty-four page booklets, badly printed on poor paper with crude illustrations of Guy of Warwick, Bevis of Southampton, Valentine and Orson, Don Bellianis and The Seven Champions of Christendom."14 "Authentic" medieval romances as well as imitations, such as Tom a Lincolne, the Red Rose Knight, which went into a thirteenth edition in 1704,15 remained popular throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although severely abridged, romances like The Seven Champions, "suited to the meanest Capacity," were still expected by their high-minded prefacers "to enrich the Fancy, as well as to divert the Learned." Thomas Warton found that the chapbook romances, "however monstrous and unnatural" they might appear "to this age of reason and refinement," were the source "from which young readers especially in the age of fiction and fancy, nourished the SUBLIME."16

One such young reader was Samuel Johnson, who learned to read from The Seven Champions. And Richardson, as we have already seen, "early noted for having Invention," was frequently asked to make up romances to amuse his schoolmates. "One of them, particularly … was for putting [him] to write a History, as he called it, on the Model of Tommy Potts … of a Servant-Man preferred by a fine young Lady (for his Goodness) to a Lord, who was a Libertine." (Letters, pp. 231-32)17 Certainly Richardson came in contact with chapbooks in the printing house of John Wilde, where he served as an apprentice. Wilde printed "jest books or old-fashioned popular fiction like The Most Pleasant History of Tom a Lincolne"18 Always diffident about his lack of learning, Richardson was not one to brag about his familiarity with low chapbook romances; he preferred to reminisce about his early passion for Orlando Furioso.19 Dictionary Johnson, secure in the public recognition of his erudition, could more carelessly, even gleefully, indulge himself in animated discussions of Jack the Giant Killer, but Samuel Richardson, master printer, would remain silent or, if pressed, deny the claims of romance.

For the record, Richardson, along with many other novelists, firmly rejected the "romance" and all it represented. But when Richardson rejected the romance in his various prefaces and letters, he was not necessarily rejecting heroic or even chapbook romance at all, but more likely disassociating himself from the novella, that shortened, more lurid form perfected by Eliza Haywood and Mary Manley. Dieter Schulz suggests that Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding reacted against the romanticized novella, a "shorter and debased variant of the heroic romance," rather than the romance itself.20 The novella, as John Richetti points out, appealed to a middle-class audience unprepared to "cope with the sheer bulk and complication of the heroic romance, but too 'sophisticated' to be satisfied with chapbooks." Mrs. Manley recognizes in the preface to her Secret History of Queen Zarah that "these little Pieces which have banish'd Romances are much more agreeable to the Brisk and Impetuous Humour of the English, who have naturally no Taste for long-winded Performances." The English may have lost their taste for psychological complexity and convoluted idealism, but they had retained their taste for sexual fantasy. Mrs. Manley's secret histories and Mrs. Haywood's novellas exploit the sexual antagonism of the romance, appealing to the communal "myth" of the "destruction of female innocence by a representative of an aristocratic world of male corruption."

This myth, the plight of the helpless, virtuous female pitted against the malign, masculine, aristocratic world, is, Richetti reminds us, a "well-known eighteenth-century preoccupation, from its prominence in the drama to the prose fiction which begins with Richardson and expands all over Europe."21 This sexual conflict pervades the sentimental drama, where many of the themes and conventions of the heroic romance surfaced. The physical distresses that plagued beleaguered virtue—the archetypal shipwrecks, captures by pirates, and occasional bouts of slavery—all became stock features of the drama as well as the romance. This strange mixture of romance, novella, and drama complicates an analysis of Richardson's work. When Clarissa compares herself to a ship foundering, ready to split on the rocks or strike on the sands, when she wildly begs to be sold into slavery rather than marry Solmes, she could be echoing dramatic, heroic, or popularly romantic conventions—all at the same time.

An attempt to unravel strands of the romance from strands of the fairy tale is further complicated by a critical search for the "true" romance, the medieval romance. The medieval romance can also be traced back to that "phenomenon that the anthropologists call 'the cultural lag,'"—the chapbook. Henry Knight Miller dismisses French heroic romances, not to mention their debased novella followers, for deviating from the true chivalric path of romance as preserved in the chapbook.22 We are back once again in the nursery, where tales of giants, along with the adventures of Guy of Warwick, nourish a taste for the sublime.

It is equally difficult to trace fairy tale conventions in any definite way. We know they were about, but since so many tales were transmitted orally it proves almost impossible to pin them down. Once the tales were printed, we can at least suggest that they were being read. Johnson is one of the fairy tales' more vigorous champions, insisting that babies need not moral tales but giants and castles to "stretch and stimulate their little minds."23Jack the Giant Killer, first printed in England in 1711, was a favorite tale. Confessing to Mrs. Thrale that in an idle moment he had been reading of Jack's exploits, Johnson teased her with the notion that "so noble a narrative" could call up in him the soul of enterprise.24

Many other tales besides Jack's had been published in the early eighteenth century, and certainly even more were extant orally. Perrault's Histories ou contes du temps passé, translated into English in 1729, introduced Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Blue Beard, and Puss in Boots. Jack in the Beanstalk first appeared in 1734, while Tom Thumb, glorified in many chapbooks and celebrated in Fielding's farce, had been in print since 1621. In their study of the fairy tale, the Opies trace an early version of Cinderella, "Rashin Coatie," back to the Complaynt of Scotland, first published in 1540.25 Through tales both printed and oral, preserved in the nursery and published abroad, the stories of giants and damsels, shipwrecks and heroic slaves, mingled in the popular imagination.

Although we cannot be certain exactly how various fairy tales and romances extant in the eighteenth century actually began, we can be fairly certain how they ended: happily ever after. The romance, patterned and providential, "is a way of ordering the world under God in secular times."26 Presenting an "ideal type" of romance, Henry Knight Miller argues that although the genre does not deny "that the 'actual world' is full of mutability and fluctation and chaotic particulars … it normally seeks to transcend this merely present and mutable physical scene, to find values in a 'real' order that is unchanging and eternal."27 The transcendence can be spiritual or magical, depending upon the degree of enchantment in the tale, but always a higher order is restored. "The romance structure, like that of comedy, wherein larger world and smaller world are harmonized at the last, is almost inevitably that of the completed figure." While literature that refuses resolution generates a certain pleasing anxiety, "the characteristic pleasure of romance and of comedy comes, rather, from their natural completion of the figure, and their inevitable suggestion that a new figure is thereby generated."28 We shall see the way Richardson closed his own circles in Pamela and Clarissa. Fearful of losing her accustomed place upon the death of her mistress, subject to the whims of her master, Pamela, imprisoned, exiled from her own parents, wins B. and returns to her true home as mistress of Mr. B.'s domain, enlarging a circle of moral regeneration through her gently didactic letters. Driven off by her harsh relations, Clarissa leaves her father's house, wanders in exile from St. Albans to London to Hampstead and back again, where once again in the wilderness of London she becomes initiated into the ways of the fallen world. After her rape, through her will, she makes her painful return at last to her true father in heaven, closing the figure as she closes another circle in the serpent motif of her coffin. However, her completed figure, unlike Pamela's, excludes her persecutors. As she ascends to her true home, she leaves her family and Lovelace hanging, suspended in guilt and grief that are impossible to resolve.

Ostensibly, Richardson the moralist, reconciled to earthly woe, had little truck with happy endings. "'Happy, happy.' That is such a word with you chits," he taunted Miss Mulso. (Letters, p. 312) When Lady Brad shaigh demanded her happy ending for Clarissa, Richardson severely reminded her that life must be endured, not necessarily enjoyed. Richardson seemed to associate a desire for happiness with the undeveloped aspirations of the young ladies he both advised and chided. "I am not," he told Miss Mulso, "a woman, child. I do not think the world made for me." (Letters, p. 321) Yet despite his scorn for happy endings,29 in his first novel, Richardson celebrated the Cinderella story, significantly assuming the character of a fifteen-year-old chit to make his point. The fairy tale formula freed Richardson from the demands of reality, allowing him to create a world of absolute moral values where virtue is not only desirable but rewarded, and not in heaven but in the here and now….

Why do we believe in Richardson's violent fairy tales? How does he authenticate his nightmares and convince us that we are reading "plain and natural" accounts of real life? He gives us a clue in the "hints" of prefaces for Clarissa: "Attentive Readers have found, and will find, that the Probability of all Stories told, or of Narrations given, depends upon small Circumstances; as may be observed, that in all Tryals for Life and Property, the // Merits of the Cause are more determinable by such, than by the greater Facts; which usually are so laid, and taken care of, as to seem to authenticate themselves." To the objection that "the History is too minute," Richardson answers that "its Minuteness [is] one of its Excellencies."50 In his postscript to the fourth edition of Clarissa, Richardson defends the epistolary method as a way to document reality. "The minute particulars of events, the sentiments and conversation of the parties, are, upon this plan, exhibited with all the warmth and spirit, that the passion supposed to be predominant at the very time, could produce, and with all the distinguishing characteristics which memory can supply in a History of recent transactions." (VIII, 326) [IV, 562] The components of the Richardsonian formula are all here: minute particularities, sentiments, and passions. "The probability of all Stories told, or of Narrations given, depends upon small Circumstances." These in turn render probable improbable passions and sentiments.

No one follows Richardson's attention to "minute particulars" more closely than Lovelace, who boasts to Belford that "I love always to go as near the truth as I can." (III, 52) [II, 13] As Morris Golden has pointed out,51 to achieve a convincing union of truth and fiction, Lovelace pays strict attention to "small Circumstances." It is no coincidence that Lovelace, impresario and artist, sounds much like Richardson, impresario and artist, in his admiration for the minutiae: "I never forget the Minutiae in my contrivances. In all matters that admit of doubt, the minutiae closely attended to, and provided for, are of more service than a thousand oaths, vows, and protestations made to supply the neglect of them, especially when jealousy has made its way into the working mind. (III, 201-202) [II, 115] In Richardson's world, the "working mind" creates its own reality. Clarissa is susceptible to Lovelace's use of the minutiae because her working mind is in the process of creating her personal reality. Reality lies within—within the mind, within the writing closet where Clarissa retires to make sense of her experience.

As he tutors his gang of rakes in the proper way to behave in front of the divine Clarissa, Lovelace warns them that "deep, like golden ore, frequently lies my meaning, and richly worth digging for." Attend to the minutest circumstance, he advises, parodying the desired end of his own use of minutiae—seduction and fatherhood. "The hint of least moment, as you may imagine it, is often pregnant with events of the greatest" (III, 353) [II, 218] Be implicit, he tells his rakes. And Richardson advises his reader to do the same. "The hint of least moment, as you may imagine it," may completely alter our sense of what we are reading. The Tomlinson fraud is perhaps Lovelace's greatest triumph of minutiae. He passes off one of his own itinerant servants as the respectable neighbor of Uncle John Harlowe. Along with Clarissa, the reader accepts the reality of Tomlinson's identity without reservation.52

Lovelace's strategic attention to detail can be seen in Tomlinson's explanation of his recent friendship with Uncle John: "But through an acquaintance of no longer standing, and that commencing on the bowling-green [Uncle John is a great Bowler, Belford]." (IV, 313) [II, 449] "Uncle John is a great Bowler." This authentic circumstance lends credibility to the fiction of Tomlinson. Lovelace's (and Richardson's) talent for making the incredible credible can also be clearly seen at Hampstead. The suspicious Miss Rawlinson, wary of Lovelace's good intentions, protests that his affair with Clarissa "bore the face of Novelty, Mystery, and Surprise." True, admits Lovelace, "Ours was a very particular case: That were I to acquaint them with it, some part of it would hardly appear credible." Since they all "seem" to be "persons of discretion," he agrees to give them "a brief account of the whole; and this in so plain and sincere a manner, that it should clear up to their satisfaction every-thing that had passed, or might hereafter pass between us." (V, 101) [III, 50] In just such a "plain and sincere … manner," Richardson authenticated his fictional world of "Novelty, Mystery, and Surprise," careful to make the incredible credible to the severest critic. Like Lovelace, he created fantastic contrivances, building up his fantasy with solid facts, pieces of commonplace reality.

We can find many examples of the way Richardson authenticated fantasy in Pamela as well as in Clarissa. Colbrand becomes a creature of nightmare proportions in Pamela's letters: "He is a Giant of a Man, for Stature; taller, by a good deal, than Harry Mawlidge, in your Neighbourhood, and large-bon'd, and scraggy; and has a Hand!—I never saw such an one in my Life. He has great staring Eyes, like the Bull's that fright'd me so." (I, 225) [I, 145] Here Richardson authenticates Pamela's nightmare of the "great staring Eyes, like the Bull's that fright'd me so" with homely detail: "taller, by a good deal, than Harry Mawlidge," in the neighborhood. Colbrand's hideous masculinity threatens Pamela sexually: like the bull, he represents the animalistic forces of sexuality, nature out of control.

In his attempt to present Mr. B. as a redeemable rake, Richardson introduced threatening foils like Colbrand and Mrs. Jewkes. While Mr. B. plots the seduction, his underlings actually act out his desires: B. gets the girl while Colbrand and Jewkes get the blame. Pamela can eventually love Mr. B., in spite of his repeated outrages, because her fears are deflected towards Colbrand, who is the scapegoat, like the bull, for his master's lust. Pamela even connects the two men in her mind: "When I went to bed I could think of nothing but [Colbrand's] hideous Person, and my Master's more hideous Actions; and judg'd them too well pair'd, and when I dropp'd asleep, I dream'd they were both coming to my Bed-side, with the worst Designs." (I, 226) [I, 145]

Richardson goes even further, suggesting that Colbrand will soon be the author of "more hideous actions" to accommodate his master. Mrs. Jewkes has told Pamela that "she has Reason to think [Mr. B.] has found a way to satisfy my Scruples: It is, by marrying me to this dreadful Colbrand, and buying me of him on the Wedding-day, for a Sum of Money! Was ever the like heard?—She says it will be my Duty to obey my Husband; and that Mr. Williams will be forced as a Punishment, to marry us; and that, when my Master has paid for me, and I am surrender'd up, the Swiss is to go home again, with the Money, to his former Wife and Children; for, she says it is the Custom of these People to have a Wife in every Nation." "Was ever the like heard?" "But this," Pamela adds, "to be sure, is horrid romancing!" (I, 243-44) [I, 156] Horrid romancing to be sure. Pamela's qualifications understate the highly unlikely nature of B.'s marriage plot. The reader of eighteenth-century fiction is accustomed to an occasional Fleet marriage, but Mr. Williams, "forced as a Punishment," to perform the marriage of an unwilling Pamela, strains the most generous reader's belief. But we still believe in the romantic possibility of the sham marriage because Pamela invests the plot with realistic detail. She evaluates its legal possibility, takes it seriously, and convinces the reader to do the same: "Yet, abominable as it is, it may possibly serve to introduce some Plot now hatching! … But can a Husband sell his Wife, against her own Consent?—And will such a Bargain stand good in Law?" (I, 244) [I, 156]53 The moment Pamela entertains the legal possibility of such a marriage, the reader believes in the legal (and actual) dilemma. Pamela's fears, fed by her most "horrid romancing," become reality.

Richardson's careful attention to the minutiae convinces us that his fairy tales, filled with violence and passion, are plain and natural accounts of real life. As Hazlitt pointed out, Richardson's novels have "the romantic air of a pure fiction, with the literal minuteness of a common diary. The author had the strongest matter-of-fact imagination that ever existed, and wrote the oddest mixture of poetry and prose."54 It is in the union of the nightmare and the diary, romance and reality, that Richardson demonstrates his genius.

It only remains for us to wonder about Richardson's reasons for using fairy tale elements in his novels. Richardson always cared deeply about the truth of his fiction. He wanted to be believed, and to be heeded. Let us reexamine his letter to Warburton, in which he insisted upon retaining the "Air of Genuiness." He feared that if his "letters" were "owned not to be genuine," their influence would be weakened. From the beginning of his literary career, Richardson jealously guarded his influence. He wanted to direct his reader's behavior, tell him how to become a proper apprentice, how to dun a debtor politely, how to propose marriage, how to reject such a proposal—in short, how to live and, finally, how to die. Richardson was always fascinated with the process of becoming, with social transformations. The flexible nature of the "young girl," as yet undeveloped, about to "become" a wife, mother, saint, strongly attracted him, as we can see in his selection of both heroines, friends, and correspondents. Fairy tales suited Richardson's interest in transformations, in Eliade's "sacred history" of "creation," allowing him to focus on the "natural" development of his characters.

In Pamela, Richardson sought a dramatic form to convey his moral: virtue will be rewarded. Significantly, he chose the fairy-tale formula, for Pamela's progress could only be found in fantasy, not in "real" life. But, as always, Richardson wanted to be believed. His realism, his attention to the minutiae, authenticated his fairy tale. The fairy tale was necessary in order to make the moral work, and the realism was necessary in order to make the fairy tale believable.

In Clarissa, Richardson left the optimistic world of Pamela, moving beyond his moral altogether. Clarissa expresses Richardson's dreams of social and spiritual integration, but even more strongly it reveals his fears of the menace of the ordinary, the threat of the separated self, the inevitable clash of cultures implicit in the battle between Clarissa and Lovelace. While Pamela celebrates the morals of the always rising middle class, Clarissa examines these morals more closely, and finds them wanting. Clarissa achieves spiritual elevation at the expense of the society that condemned her. After he introduced fairy-tale elements into his novel, Richardson reversed his reader's expectations, leaving us with a bleak world of triumphant giants, false Prince Charmings, and raped princesses. The happy ending we long for takes place not on earth but in heaven.

We must feel the strain of such a solution. Melvyn New suggests that Richardson's providential scheme, at odds with his method of characterization and the radical individualism it entails, reflects "that moment in Western thought when the antithetical ideas of man as God's creature and man as the radical product of his own autonomous will came together in uneasy and temporary alliance." Richardson is able to project both views simultaneously. "Clarissa can respond to the world as God's creation and yet open to us her whole subconscious mind, in which God himself is merely one more creation."55 This synthesis was, at its best, a tenuous one, a strange mixture Richardson was to reject altogether in his final novel, where the moral consumes the individual. Clarissa's happy ending leads into death.

In his essay on the fairy tale, J.R.R. Tolkien suggests that the element of "escape" can be found in all fairy tales—escape from the fallen world, from our sense of separation, and from harsh reality. The "oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape," is "the Escape from Death."56 In Clarissa, Richardson forced the harshest reality upon his reader: Clarissa disowned, Clarissa raped, Clarissa imprisoned, Clarissa dead. There are no happy endings here, only a sense of shame and waste. Yet he also offered an escape from the nightmare, "the Great Escape" from death through the myth of eternal life. Clarissa, untouched, sublime, escapes the sordid reality of the Harlowes and Solmeses of the world. The shame and waste remain for mere mortals, but for Clarissa, at least, annihilation offers the final escape into joy.

Richardson needed to write fairy tales to convince his readers and himself of the truth of his moral—for his moral alone, sadly inoperable in a reality his artistic imagination forced him to confront, was never enough.


1 Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales (London, 1974), frontispiece.

2 A. D. McKillop, Samuel Richardson, Printer and Novelist (Chapel Hill, 1936), p. 45. "The oft-repeated story of the good people of Slough, who gathered at the village smithy to hear Pamela read aloud, and at last went off in a group to ring the church-bells in honor of her marriage … is significant because it shows how Pamela took hold of what we may call the folk-imagination."

3 A letter by that "anonymous gentleman," Aaron Hill, published in the introduction to the second edition of Pamela (1741), complains that "Females are too apt to be struck with Images of Beauty; and that Passage where the Gentleman is said to span the Waist of Pamela with his Hand, is enough to ruin a Nation of Women by Tight-lacing." Richardson objected to this "too tight-laced Objection…. What, in the Name of Unshapliness! cou'd he find, to complain of, in a beautiful Girl of Sixteen, who was born out of Germany, and had not, yet, reach'd ungraspable Roundness," he wonders, neatly side-stepping Hill's point. Pamela, eds. T. C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel, (Boston, 1971), pp. 13, 16.

In An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741), Parson Oliver, Fielding's moral spokesman, objects to the instruction he finds in Pamela: "To look out for their masters as sharp as they can." The consequences: "If the Master is not a fool, they will be debauched by him; and if he is a fool, they will marry him." Joseph Andrews and Shamela, ed. Martin C. Battestin (Boston, 1961), p. 307.

4 When I talk about "reality" and the ways of rendering reality, I shall be using Ian Watt's definition of "formal realism": "the narrative embodiment of a premise that Defoe and Richardson accepted very literally, but which is implicit in the novel form in general: the premise, or primary convention, that the novel is a full and authentic report of human experience, and is therefore under an obligation to satisfy its reader with such details of the story as the individuality of the actors concerned, the particulars of the times and places of their actions, details which are presented through a more largely referential use of language than is common in other literary forms." Ian Watt, Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967), p. 32.

5 Samuel Richardson, Clarissa: Preface, Hints of Prefaces and Postscripts, ed. R. F. Brissenden for the Augustan Reprint Society, no. 103 (Los Angeles, 1964), p. 8.

6 T. C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel, Samuel Richardson: A Biography (Oxford, 1971), pp. 76-77.

7 Samuel Richardson, A Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Maxims, Cautions, and Reflexions, Contained in the Histories of Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison (London, 1755), pp. 8, 4.

8 Richardson, Moral Maxims, pp. vii, ix.

9 Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (London, 1967), p. 9.

10 Hill's letter about his precocious servant boy, as well as his fear of Mrs. Jewkes, was included in the introduction to the second edition of Pamela (1741), eds. Eaves and Kimpel, pp. 18-19. Watt, Rise of the Novel, cites Hill's fears in his discussion of the "deep and unqualified identification" between Richardson's readers and characters, (pp. 200-203) In Shamela (p. 305), Fielding is actually transcribing the raptures of Aaron Hill, which Richardson included in his introduction to the second edition of Pamela: "If I lay the Book down, it comes after me.—When it has dwelt all Day long upon the Ear, It takes Possession, all Night, of the Fancy.—It has Witchcraft in every Page of it: but it is the Witchcraft of Passion and Meaning." Pamela, eds. Eaves and Kimpel, p. 10.

11 In his Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762), Richard Hurd described the "revolution" in taste in the eighteenth century's "anti-romantic" bridling of fancy and the imagination. "What we have gotten by this revolution, you will say, is a great deal of good sense. What we have lost is a world of fine fabling." W. P. Ker cites Hurd in his essay on "Romance," Pastoral and Romance: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Eleanor Terry Lincoln (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1969), pp. 235-36. He goes on to suggest that the world of fables and romance was preserved in the nursery.

12 Arthur Johnston, Enchanted Ground: The Study of Medieval Romance in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1964), p. 35.

13 From The Athenian Mercury, 17 December 1692, as cited in Novel and Romance, 1700-1800: A Documentary Record, ed. Ioan Williams (London, 1970), p. 29.

14 Johnston, Enchanted Ground, pp. 27-28.

15 Ibid., p. 30.

16 Ibid., pp. 32-33.

17 Ibid., p. 37. Richardson refers to the ballad entitled "The Lovers Quarrel: of Cupid's Triumph. Being The Pleasant History of fair Rosamond of Scotland. Being Daughter to the Lord Arundel, whose Love was obtained by the Valour of Tommy Pots: who conquered the Lord Phenix, and wounded him, and after obtained her to be his Wife. Being very delightful to Read. London, Printed by A. P. for F. Coles, T. Vere, and J. Wright" [?1675] as cited in Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub, ed. A. C. Guthkelch and D. Nichol Smith (Oxford, 1968), p. 69.

18 Eaves and Kimpel, Samuel Richardson, pp. 11-12.

19 Ibid., p. 581.

20 Dieter Schulz, "'Novel,' 'Romance,' and Popular Fiction in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century," Studies in Philology, vol. 7 (1973), pp. 80-83.

21 John Richetti, Popular Fiction Before Richardson: Narrative Patterns, 1700-1739 (Oxford, 1969), pp. 175-76, 126-27, 125. See Ira Konigsberg's study of Richardson's own connections to the drama in Samuel Richardson and the Dramatic Novel (Lexington, Ky., 1968).

22 Henry Knight Miller, "Augustan Prose Fiction and the Romance Tradition," Studies in the Eighteenth Century, vol. 3, ed. R. F. Brissenden and J. C. Eade (Toronto, 1976), p. 249.

23 Johnston, Enchanted Ground, p. 40.

24 Opies, Classic Fairy Tales, p. 50.

25 Ibid., p. 117.

26 See Melvyn New's discussion of the providential aspects of romance under secular stress. The eighteenth-century novel unites two conflicting visions of life at the moment of an uneasy transition, partially reconciling romance and realism, providence and secularization. "The Grease of God': The Form of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction," Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, vol. 91, no. 2 (March 1976), pp. 235-43.

27 Miller, "Romance Tradition," p. 254.

28 Henry Knight Miller, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and the Romance Tradition (Victoria, B.C., 1976), pp. 40-41. Miller also discusses the importance to the romance tradition of the "monomyth," that controlling pattern of "Departure (or Exile), Initiation, and Return—or in one of its more significant variants, Fall, Suffering, and Salvation." (p. 23)

29 The Opies, Classic Fairy Tales, p. 11, do not consider the happy ending inevitable in the fairy tale. "Most events in fairy tales are remarkable for their unpleasantness…. in some … there is no happy ending, not even the hero or heroine escaping with their life." I suspect, however, that the common reader's tendency to "overlook" the unhappy ending reveals a desire for reconciliation stronger than the "reality" of the tale….

50 Richardson, Hints of Prefaces, p. 5.

51 [Morris] Golden, [Richardson's] Characters, [Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 1963,] p. 27.

52 Tomlinson's real identity comes as no surprise to Richardson's ideally "attentive" reader, who consults the "Names of the Principal Persons," in which Tomlinson is listed as "the assumed name of a vile pander to the debaucheries of Mr. Lovelace." Richardson expects his reader to be ever vigilant, trusting no one, not even the author.

53 Ivan Block reports that "marriage by purchase continued in England up to the nineteenth century." It was especially frequent at the end of the eighteenth century, when he finds Archenholtz reporting that "never was the sale of women so frequent … as now. Scenes of this kind, once so rare, have become common. The sale of women among the common people is more frequent than ever." Often, "the husband led his wife with a rope round her neck, on a market day, to the place where cattle were sold, bound her to a post and sold her to the highest bidder in the presence of the necessary witnesses." Her price was seldom more than a few shillings. The "ordinary place in London where these sales of women were held was Smithfield Market, where … the cattle market was held." Ivan Block, History of English Sexual Morals, trans. William H. Forstern (London, 1936), pp. 54-58. Derek Jarrett cites the example of John Lees, a steel burner in Sheffield, who sold his wife in 1796 to Samuel Hall, a fellmonger, for sixpence. "Mrs. Lees was handed over to her new owner with a halter round her neck; but since the clerk of the market took fourpence for toll it is hardly likely that the purpose of this offensive pantomime was monetary gain. This was in fact the labourer's equivalent of divorce by Act of Parliament," Derek Jarrett, England in the Age of Hogarth (St. Albans, Herts., 1976), p. 120.

54 William Hazlitt, "On the English Novelists," Lectures on the English Comic Writers (London, 1819), p. 233.

55 New, "The Grease of God,'" p. 241.

56 J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (London, 1974), p. 59.

Michael McKeon (essay date 1987)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6588

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 conflict entails the struggle of a "free Person" against "lawless Tyranny" (126, 147). She remains conscious of B.'s very real status as justice of the peace (63, 64, 156), and his power to subject her to a legal "trial" colors scenes like that of the attempted rape and contributes to the complex and shifting significance of the "trial" in their relationship. This period in England saw the growth of informal friendly societies, "confederacies," and protounion groups among domestic laborers. And B.'s perception of Pamela's access to the sympathy and support of her fellow servants as a fomenting of "parties" and "confederacies" among them no doubt owes something to these developments as well as to forms of political opposition in the analogous, public sphere of service (68, 116, 144, 163, 202, 231).17

Pamela's dangerous insubordination as a servant is even related to the specifically literary mode in which she exercises power. The eighteenth-century system of domestic service, dependent as it was on the circulation of character references among prospective employers, was hampered by a trade in counterfeit references sufficiently lively to provoke periodic proposals that servants' characters be subject to mandatory registration at a centralized agency, and that (in the words of one projector) "every Servant producing any counterfeit Testimonial, shall, upon Conviction, by Confession, or Oath of one Witness, before Justices of Peace … be committed to the House of Correction." But this is precisely B.'s complaint against Pamela: not only that she is "a great Plotter" and the author of "treasonable Papers" but that she grossly misrepresents herself, displaying "her own romantick Innocence, at the Price of other People's Characters" (162, 199). In fact Pamela's offensiveness is aggravated by the fact that the idealizations of herself and her "Confederates" that she circulates by letter always entail a reciprocal libel against the "character" of her master (69, 181, 199, 201-2), who does indeed bring her to trial and commit her to his house of correction. Pamela's dignified plea remains that of the naive empiricist: "I have only writ Truth; and I wish he had deserv'd a better Character at my hands, as well for his sake as mine" (206).18

The vestigial but resilient ties of eighteenth-century domestic service to the cultural ethos of feudal service made it a particularly unstable social institution, balanced uncertainly between status and class orientations. This can be seen in what happens to the conventions of servants' wearing apparel. Livery remained customary for lower menservants, but a system of signification that once conferred the honor of service was now as likely to suggest a demeaning slavery. "Body servants" received a more subtle "livery," the cast-off clothing of their master or mistress. Although such a custom might aim to advertise the elevation of the employer, it could equally serve a contrary end by blurring the sumptuary distinctions between ranks, so that the servant appeared not as the signifier of his betters but as the self-sufficient signified. In Pamela's case this is true to an extraordinary degree. Early on, Lady Brooks is so impressed by Pamela's "Face and Shape" that she exclaims to Lady Towers, "Why she must be better descended than you have told me!" (59). Richardson is playing with the romance convention preparatory to demystifying it, for Pamela makes it plain that her personal graces can be very well accounted for by the nurture of her deceased mistress, Lady B. As her new master implies and Pamela anticipates, it would not take long for "these fair soft Hands, and that lovely Skin" to become "as red as a Blood-pudden" should she depart for her parents' and "return again to hard Work" (71, 78). Indeed, one of the prefatory letter writers remarks that the fact of Pamela's service to Lady B. is a pragmatically antiromance device without which "it must have carried an Air of Romantick Improbability to account for her polite Education" (20).19

From Mr. B.'s mother Pamela learns the more delicate labor of needlework and the gentle arts of singing, dancing, and drawing; and from her she receives the cast-off clothing B. so liberally and alarmingly supplements after his mother's death (30-31, 52, 77). Pamela entertains no romance fantasies about her origins. If she is a foundling, then it is not gypsies but gentry who stole her away; as she tells B., "I have been in Disguise indeed ever since my good Lady, your Mother, took me from my poor Parents … and … heap'd upon me rich Cloaths, and other Bounties" (62). The disguise is so successful that it amounts to a transformation. Pamela's natural graces, Lady B.'s indulgence, and the customs peculiar to body service have conspired to make Pamela seem not an accomplished lady's maid but a lady. This reality lies behind B.'s insistence that "I will no more consider you as my Servant," and behind Pamela's reproach that she might well "forget that I am your Servant, when you forget what belongs to a Master" (35, 82; see also 71). So although it seems to Pamela a removal of disguise to replace her lady's silks with homespuns preparatory to the trip home, to everyone else—not only B., but all her fellow servants—she is now "metamorphos'd," "a Stranger" whom no one knows because she has assumed the leveling disguise of a country girl (60-62). B.'s speechless confusion at Pamela's witchery in this scene specifies the mutabilities of his growing love to a total discomposure at the status inconsistency of this half-girl half-lady, half-servant half-mistress. "Thou strange Medley of Inconsistence!" he calls her presently, and he does not begin to know how to approach her (76).

This is not so much to say that Pamela is an antiromance as to argue that it is a progressive specification of romance to the conditions of eighteenth-century domestic service. As Pamela tells her parents, "You see by my sad Story, and narrow Escapes, what Hardships poor Maidens go thro', whose Lot is to go out to Service" (73). And entailed in this specification is a naturalistic "escape" from the condition of service which is quite alien to the marvelous methods of romance. Socialized to the very top of what J. Jean Hecht has called the "chain of emulation" in Lady B.'s household, Pamela has learned to internalize and to project an expectation of herself for which no accessible social category exists. Like an overeducated younger son, she remarks, "I have been brought up wrong, as Matters stand" (77). Lady B. acted only out of goodness, but as Pamela puts it suggestively, "All her Learning and Education of me … will be of little Service to me now" (80). The return to her parents is difficult to contemplate, since her education "will make me but ill Company for my rural Milkmaid Companions that are to be" (77). Yet as far as the household servants are concerned, B. observes that "they had rather serve you than me" (99). B.'s advances trap Pamela between veiled and highly implausible intimations that he might elevate her to the status of gentility (83, 85, 124, 126), and the daily reality of incarceration by a brutal housekeeper whose nominal deference Pamela is obliged to protest candidly: "Pray … don't Madam me so … for I am a Servant inferior to you, and so much the more as I am turn'd out of Place" (103). The desperate crisis in this "romance" adventure of service is that Pamela, like the courtier whose excellence exceeds not only his peers but even his prince, has no social niche, no place to go.20

The solution to the crisis is, of course, marriage. The chief obstacle to it is B.'s consciousness. He must learn to reconceive marriage among the gentry as an institution that, rather than being strictly inconsistent with the institution of domestic service, may under the proper conditions provide the great and culminating link in the chain of emulation. But for this to be possible it is also required, paradoxically, that the theory of marriage be severed from what persists as the theory of domestic service—that marriage cease to be conceived so thoroughly as a form of female service within the patriarchal family. Needless to say, the reconciliation of love and marriage, the reconception of marriage as a public ceremony that is taken primarily to confirm the prior and private fact of love, is a momentous and far-reaching development of the early modern period. For B. it proceeds through several painful stages. As we have seen, his proposals to (in Pamela's words) "make me a vile kept Mistress" are for B. a kind of openly "sham-marriage." Despite her dismay, they are B.'s sincere attempt to invent a status dignified enough to accommodate Pamela's elevated position at the top of the servant hierarchy. If he cannot conceive of marrying her, marriage becomes at least his model for this rather touchingly inadequate invention. Thus the proposals soberly imitate the concerns of a formal contract aimed primarily at the satisfaction of financial convenience, and they even promise Pamela the jewelry that was bought for the gentlewoman whose match with Mr. B. had once been proposed (166). On the night of the attempted rape, when B. tries to force Pamela to accept these proposals, he compounds the offer to clothe her in the jewels of gentility by assuming the leveling disguise of a servant girl, as if by raising her he could simultaneously lower himself to her status, so as somehow to meet her in the middle (175).

In the days that follow this attempt, marriage to Pamela becomes possible for B. And one sign that we have reached this critical point of change is, paradoxically, the explicit and scarcely rationalized absoluteness with which B. now insists on the impossibility of marriage—to Pamela or to anyone else (184, 188). Much later B. will reveal that his violent aversion to marriage was a reaction against a typically aristocratic education, which taught that in the marriage choice, "Convenience, or Birth and Fortune, are the first Motives, Affection the last (if it is at all consulted)" (366). In other words, B. has long been theoretically receptive to a progressive view of the institution (this is one sign that his social identity, too, is fluid). But while the priority of love over convenience seemed a manageable heresy so long as a general consistency of birth and fortune remained the background reality, with Pamela the demand for a radical constancy to internals—to love over convenience, to virtue over birth, fortune, and honor—becomes so overdetermined that the rebellion is inconceivable. B.'s ultimately successful struggle to conceive it, all the same, is inseparable both from the irresistible force of his love for Pamela and from the triumph of her notion of "honor" over his. And these circumstances, in turn, depend entirely on the power of Pamela's mind, on her extraordinary capacity to create a utopian projection of possibility while she is ostensibly and passively contained by the limiting boundaries of domestic service and domestic incarceration at the Lincolnshire estate.

When Pamela is kidnapped she is relieved of her duties as an industrious worker and enters a period of enforced leisure. She had already differed with Mr. B. on the utility of her "scribbling," and had stoutly defended it against the charge of "idleness" (34, 37, 55). Nevertheless, Pamela knows that hard manual labor leaves no opportunity for writing, and she anticipates no "Writing-time" once she returns to her parents—"little thinking it would be my only Employment so soon" (82, 95). In Lincolnshire, writing becomes highly ambiguous. On the one hand, B.'s early judgment that it is idle activity is reinforced by Pamela's recognition that "now it is all the Diversion I have": "I have so much Time upon my Hands, that I must write on to employ myself (106, 134). On the other hand, Pamela's clandestine self-employment is clearly a subversive activity—subversive not only of her master's "character" but of his right to set the terms of her employment—and she realizes that it is in her interest to compose some inconsequential scribbles in Mrs. Jewkes's presence so that she will "think me usually employ'd to such idle Purposes" and "suppose I employ'd myself … to no better Purpose at other times" (113).

A purposeful impersonation of idleness, an act of ostensible leisure that conceals industrious labor, Pamela's writing becomes a self-serving "self-employment" that flourishes only because her service to her master has been formally interrupted. In a way this transformation is a Utopian parable of the economic circumstances that accompanied and conditioned the reconception of marriage in the early modern period. More literally even before her marriage than after, Pamela is the type of the "new" woman who is liberated from both the constraints and the freedoms of the old, family-based, domestic system of industry. The institution of marriage becomes humanized at the same time that the scope and significance of domestic activity are narrowed; marriage becomes the exclusive work of women, a realm of enforced leisure, passive consumption, and unpaid labor.21 What is Utopian about Pamela's experience is that with her domestic incarceration comes "self-employment" and the creative labor of writing. The more confined she is, the greater her productivity, the more industrious and ingenious her efforts to circulate and distribute her work (the "sunflower correspondence" is a safer method and accommodates larger packets than the corrupted John Arnold).

The value of Pamela's labor is its capacity to mediate her personal value—her "Person and Mind," "the Merit of your Wit," mental qualities that B. values from the outset and that are not easily distinguished from what various characters mean when they praise her exemplary virtue (54, 202). As a signification of personal value and virtue, Pamela's writings are both parallel and superior to the conventional code of dress. Clothing, after all, is preeminently an instrument of disguise and duplicity (Pamela notes distractedly that B. rushed from her closet "in a rich silk and silver Morning Gown" [66]). Writing provides a less fallible access to the heart. But the positive analogy between words and clothing as modes of self-expression also is insisted on throughout Pamela: in the language of the prefatory material (7, 12); in the proximity of Pamela's thoughts on how both her letters and her dress must become less formal (51-52); in the way her division of her clothing into three "parcels," whose contents are then "particulariz'd," is later echoed in her division of the journal into two "parcels" and in the periodic particularization of the journal's contents (78-79, 197-98, 204-8, 238-39, 256-57). But since in Lincolnshire she has taken to wearing her writings "about my Hips," to particularize them she must literally disclose herself: "I must all undress me in a manner to untack them" (198, 204). Thus the modulation from an epistolary to a journalistic mode is further justified by the fact that it confronts B. with an accumulated "corpus," Pamela objectified, which can exercise its creative and aestheticizing powers more effectively than single letters might.22

In this subtly figurative sense, the creative labor of Pamela's writings is also that of pregnancy. Earlier, when she first discovers that the sunflower correspondence will be a successful means of publishing herself once again, she exclaims to her parents: "How nobly my Plot succeeds! But I begin to be afraid my Writings may be discover'd; for they grow large! I stitch them hitherto in my Under-coat, next my Linen" (120).23 And later B. refers to the period of her imprisonment and clandestine journalizing as "the Time of her Confinement" (267). When Pamela learns to clothe herself in her papers, she discovers a method of signifying her value that is far more immediate, efficient, and inalienably "authentic" than those to which women customarily are limited, but that is also an imaginative extension of custom, of bodily decoration and childbirth. Unlike Sally Godfrey, Pamela channels her female "virtue" into the procreative act not of biological generation but of literary persuasion. Her reward is to remain in control of the "issue" of her own plot, and later to find that her "currency" has real value on the marriage market. Ashamed that she does not bring Mr. B. a portion, Pamela exclaims: "But how poor is it to offer nothing but Words for such generous Deeds!" Yet he is now convinced that "you bring me what is infinitely more valuable, an experienc'd Truth, a welltry'd Virtue, and a Wit and Behaviour more than equal to the Station you will be placed in" (283).24

Thus Richardson seeks to empower his protagonist through behavior whose masquerade as the old powerlessness is convincing enough to evade comprehensive invalidation, and thereby to be truly successful; and it is this assimilationist ambition that has encouraged readers, from B. onward, to see Pamela as a scheming hypocrite. In this respect and in others, the resemblance to Robinson Crusoe's Utopia, although discontinuous, is often suggestive. "Beached" at the top of the hierarchy of domestic service, in her very incarceration Pamela finds an unprecedented access to her imprisoner and to the autotelic authority that is his by birth. Her transformation from servant to lady involves an internalization of that authority. It alters her "character" no more than Robinson's is altered on the island, but in facilitating her change in status it reorients her position in the world and changes everything. Pamela too undergoes a species of conversion, although it is not explicitly conceived as such, and it is marked by some familiar signposts. Shortly before their wedding, for example, Mr. B. assures Mr. Andrews that his daughter is as "virtuous" "as the new-born Babe" (248), and the day of the wedding superstitiously commemorates not only Pamela's birthday but also the days of her arrival at Bedfordshire and of her abduction from it, both of which have already been associated with a rebirth (46, 62, 275). Always highly conscious of the need to preserve her "good name" (28, 41, 49, 179), Pamela feels obliged to apologize to her parents for signing herself "PAMELA B——" after the wedding and thereby "glorying in my Change of Name" (301; see also 302-3).

Christian's rebirth entailed an embrace of service; Pamela's requires a repudiation of it, but the lesson is not easy to act upon. Thus her persistence in calling Mr. B. "Master" and herself "servant" is marked enough to be commented on by the local gentry, and she goes so far as to "assist" Mrs. Jewkes in serving them cake (243, 257). Privately she vows "to rise to a softer Epithet" for B. on occasion, and it may only be the later experience of enforced service at the hands of the insufferably haughty Lady Davers that dissuades her from that role in the future (315, 318, 321). And yet, in an odd way, the difficult momentousness of the transition is communicated not only by the gulf between status terms but also by the terms' indistinguishability. B. once sought to make Pamela "a vile kept Mistress" (164), but the word "mistress" is used more often to designate, as a parallel to "master," the lady of the house by reference to her authority over the servants. From time to time we hear speculation that Pamela herself may assume such a position (103, 183, 238, 253), but we can appreciate nonetheless why her father is "grieved" to hear at the local alehouse that the squire had at his estate "a young Creature … who was, or was to be, his Mistress" (247). The word "family" itself is ambiguous. It is still used patemalistically to embrace the domestic staff in a gentle household like B.'s, as well as to refer to the gentle family proper, and it is Pamela's misfortune to be accused of demeaning B. in the eyes of both of these "families" (57, 75, 92, 213, 214, 221, 247, 380). But of course this also implies Pamela's power to redeem B.'s reputation in each of them, a process that is coextensive with her mediation of the families themselves through her successful passage from service to gentility.25

This passage is the work of the entire narrative. Like Robinson's conversion, Pamela's marriage marks not the end of struggle but the beginning of a long period of socialization. Marriage and conversion define the essence of the new role, but its practical reality requires the gradual accretion of layers of social experience: not the fundamental, unitary relationship, but multiple group reference and the accreditation of the community. Mr. B.'s perspective on Pamela's future seems almost to demand this sociological sort of language: "For some Company you must keep. My Station will not admit it to be with my common Servants; and the Ladies will fly your Acquaintance; and still, tho' my Wife, will treat you as my Mother's Waitingmaid" (225). Suspended between yahoos and houyhnhnms, Pamela sets out to solidify the nature of her relationship to each of these "families." And to each of these ends her writing continues to be serviceable. In fact, before the wedding, Pamela self-consciously imagines that her powers of "scribbling" will be exercised explicitly in a role of social mediation, that they "will be employ'd in the Family Accounts, between the Servants and me, and me and your good Self (227). Not only the keeping of accounts, but also the writing of letters, is central to Pamela's longed-for power of doing good by charity and reward (299-303, 387-88). And these modest elevations of the lowly provide a discreet confirmation of her own more permanent ascent (382-84, 387, 400, 403). At the same time, Pamela recognizes that having risen out of the servant hierarchy altogether, it remains her duty, now as mistress, to continue in what Hecht has called "the role of servants as cultural intermediaries."26

With gentility, the task of socialization is considerably more difficult. Contemplating her first appearance in "company," Pamela is acutely conscious both of the social significance of her dress and of its treacherous status as an unreliable signifier. If she dresses well, "it would look as if I would be nearer on a Level with him: And yet, should I not, it may be thought a Disgrace to him" (223; cf. 386-87). Soon enough it is clear that for the present task Pamela's literary powers of persuasion will not be appropriate. It is Pamela herself who must be read. B. reports that the ladies beg "to see you just as you are," and now it is Pamela's turn to make the skeptical distinction between things as they are and the interpretative "Light" in which they are read, for she doubts the ladies "will look at me with your favourable Eyes" (233). What follows is a far more elaborate version of those early dramatic "scenes" in which, Pamela artlessly charms the closeted Mr. B. (64-66, 78-81). Now the stage is "the longest Gravel Walk in the Garden," and the local gentry study her minutely as she slowly approaches the alcove in which they sit—"They all so gaz'd at me," Pamela says, "that I could not look up" (242-43). Shortly the scene shifts to the parlor, where Mr. B., telling the company that "I would make you all witness to their first Interview," engineers the reunion of Pamela and her father so as to maximize its spectacle and sentiment (249-50). It is as though the act of social accommodation must first be founded on the most ritually powerful and socially engaged—but also most vulnerable—mode of self-representation.

Thereafter Pamela is allowed to perform in the more distanced media of language and narrative. Of course, she is already a subject of narrative: they "have all heard of your uncommon Story" (243). But in the coming days the local gentry will experience the facility of her wit and mind, hear her story from her own mouth, and be conquered by the journal itself, which now begins to circulate among rural gentry whom Pamela has never even met (334-35, 339-41, 374, 377). Both as a servant and as a gentlewoman, in other words, Pamela's power comes from her ability to master the existing means of conferring and creating value. Initially a commodity on the domestic-service market, she appropriates the employer's power by writing her own character references, whose circulation not only governs her own circulation as labor but also effectively transforms her into her own employer. The same method conquers the marriage market. Self-employed, Pamela becomes her own reference, her own signifier: first through her physical presence, but most efficiently by objectifying her character in language and story and dispatching it for publication.

This culminating process of circulation is achieved, ironically, under the auspices of Lady Davers, whose victimization of Pamela before her conversion to her is the most dangerous trial of socialization of all; and it also provides a heightened version of Pamela's initial trials at the hands of Mr. B. Enamored of "ancient and untainted" blood far more than her brother ever was, Lady Davers recapitulates his offenses by keeping Pamela "Prisoner" once again and by even subjecting her to the attenuatedly sexual assault of Jackey's halfunsheathed sword (221, 320-21, 328, 329). Unlike B.'s rape attempt, here aristocratic pride is scarcely displaced by sexual innuendo, and Jackey appears as some foppishly ineffectual noblesse d'épée acting out his aunt's apoplectic, obsolescent fury. For her own part, Lady Davers had long sought to act the "domineering" patriarch by arranging, in the absence of the real parents, her brother's marriage to an earl's daughter (224, 341, 367, 374). To her the marriage of Pamela and Mr. B. must appear a sham-marriage most of all if it is legitimate, because "unequal Matches" institutionalize by definition an "utterly inexcusable" and "disgraceful" condition of status inconsistency (221). The onslaughts of Lady Davers spur both Pamela and B. to essentially Christian condemnations of aristocratic vanity (222, 350). Threatened by her with a familial renunciation, B. imitates Bunyan's Faithful by imperturbably, then passionately, renouncing his family in her person (221, 224, 347). And Pamela is moved to speculate, in a manner worthy of Defoe, on the relativity and circularity of all genealogy (222).

Of course all three are reconciled well before the end of the story, but in a way that is instructive with respect to the larger instability of Richardson's narrative. It is obvious that within this dense texture, questions of virtue cannot be unraveled from questions of truth. To inquire into the morality and social justice of Pamela's upward mobility is necessarily to inquire into the truth of her story, and the thread of epistemological reversal that runs through Richardson's naive empiricism is continuous with a subversive strain in his progressive ideology. In one respect the subversion is self-evident, since we have witnessed it before in other narratives and because it is so much of a piece with its epistemological counterpart. There is an inherent tension between the dynamic form in which Pamela's personal merit is manifested—the plastic powers of her mind—and the progressive ideal of meritocracy, which envisions the replacement of arbitrary aristocratic culture by a rigorous consistency of moral and social success, not by the ethically uncertain force of persuasive self-creation. It is not just that Pamela the assimilationist seems occasionally inclined, as in contention with Lady Davers, to supersede the traditional system of social status; it is also that the deceptive strength of her character has the potential to convince us both of its own rectitude and of the source of this judgment in an autonomous and external moral order.

There is however another subversive potentiality in Pamela, and it is a function of the fact that her progressive social character is a complex compound composed at the intersection of her two identities as a common servant and a woman. So long as her social rank remains humble, the compound is stable: her subordination as a woman rather unobtrusively deepens what is the more ostensible (and basically analogous) condition, her subordination as a servant. But once Pamela is raised through marriage, the compound becomes volatile: her social rank becomes superordinate, yet she remains subordinate because she remains a woman. Like Mary Carleton, she encounters a species of status inconsistency that is impervious to the reparations of social mobility. On her way home before B.'s final change of heart, Pamela writes in bewilderment, "Lack-a-day, what strange Creatures are Men!"—and then, remembering the goodness of her father, "Gentlemen, I should say rather!" (212). In accord with the main thrust of the narrative, the force of the critique is directed at aristocratic, not male, pride. And this tendency is encouraged, even after the wedding, by the aristocratic tyranny Pamela endures at the hands of Lady Davers. Even so, Pamela appeals at one point to her ladyship's sense of solidarity that she, "be the Distance ever so great, is of the same Sex with me" (321). But the appeal must be in vain so long as Lady Davers is incensed enough at the notion of Pamela's claim to be her familial "Sister" to overlook any other sense of the term (323, 329). The only force capable of quelling this aristocratic rage turns out to be that of her brother, not because it is stronger but because it consists more purely, by right of gender, in the patrimonial privilege that is the essence of their shared arrogance. "Leave my House this Instant!" he shouts, the family house being his by inheritance. And with this outburst the lines of conflict are momentarily and suggestively redrawn, for his sister is now obliged to recall that she is a woman first and a lady second.27

B. makes the crucial point when he refutes Lady Davers's notion that his marriage to Pamela is no different from the case of her marrying her father's groom: "The Difference is, a Man ennobles the Woman he takes, be she who she will; and adopts her into his own Rank, be it what it will: But a Woman, tho' ever so nobly born, debases herself by a mean Marriage, and descends from her own Rank, to his she stoops to" (349). The contemporary currency of B.'s rule of thumb is grounded in the patrimonial and patrilineal nature of English property law, and it effectively argues that in the end, gender-based categories are prior even to status-based categories. Indeed it makes sense that if B. really has shed his due share of aristocratic prejudice—the admiration of honor and titles, for example—the distillation of prejudice that remains must be not aristocratic but male. B.'s rage at Lady Davers causes her to relent, Pamela to become her advocate, and B., vastly irritated, to exclaim, "Your Sex is the D——1" (360). The next day the two women are reconciled enough for Lady Davers to tell Pamela, "You deserve the Praises of all our Sex," and to apply to her brother the derogatory term that until now she has applied to Pamela herself: "I believe, if the Truth was known, you lov'd the Wretch not a little" (372).

In this fashion, the very terms of conflict undergo a subtle but arresting modulation toward the end of Pamela. As we have seen, B.'s early sexual desire was equivocal, for it masked the more profoundly felt vestiges of aristocratic pride. Now that he is Pamela's husband, that pride has withered and been replaced by the more recognizably gendered passion of patriarchal authority in its relatively liberal, progressive guise. Hoping that he "shan't be a very tyrannical Husband," B. officiously enlarges now on what he expects in a wife. Pamela's response—to us rather than to him—takes the implicitly ironic form of a document interspersed with running editorial comment that she used earlier to refute B.'s "articles" and that Lady Davers has lately employed against her brother's letter (326-27). Pamela's version of "this awful Lecture," and her commentary upon it, have an extraordinary tonal range that permits her to combine several shades of assent with occasional raillery at B.'s masculine presumption (see esp. nos. 22, 24, 30 [pp. 370-71]). So the remarkable utopianism of Pamela's achievement is faintly colored, at the end, by the recognition that there may yet be something more to be achieved. But the problem remains unformulated: for Pamela to aspire to the social status of a man might seem as humanly untenable to the progressive Richardson as Gulliver's aspiration to the condition of a Houyhnhnm does to the conservative Swift. And in fact the emergence of gender conflict here at the end of Pamela may work less to supersede the terms of status conflict itself than to afford a venerable vehicle—"the battle of the sexes"—by which to accommodate a supersessionist tension that we can detect from time to time in Pamela's basically assimilationist progressivism. Nevertheless, the volatility of Richardson's ideology has a real significance that is closely analogous to that of his epistemology. Just as Richardson's "objective" claim to historicity is driven so far that it seems at times to unearth its dialectical antithesis, the subjectivity of perception, so the progressive empowerment of individual merit leads in the end to the crucial case of women, a condition of social injustice so deeply rooted that its very disclosure only marks the limits of progressive ideology, the point beyond which it will not venture. Even as it mediates old problems in a new way, Pamela reveals these new and analogous ones—the problem of the subject and the problem of women—to which it must remain unresponsive. The revelation should be seen, I think, as testimony not to Richardson's failure but to his success, to the extraordinary power of his conception to carry him further, in the end, than he ever meant to go.

Yet even in its own terms the achievement can be undervalued. Often against the positive backdrop of Clarissa critics have attacked Pamela's denouement as an unconscionable pattern of female fulfillment: freedom as a truckling matrimonial subservience.28 But the choice between Pamela and Clarissa is a classic one between two strikingly and reciprocally imperfect alternatives: manifest material and social empowerment, which can be only fitfully acknowledged on the plane of discourse; and manifest discursive and imaginative empowerment, whose material register consists in nothing more substantial than the posthumous requital of one's persecutors. Pamela is not an inferior first attempt to achieve what is fulfilled only in Clarissa; it successfully achieves an authentic species of fulfillment which Clarissa, ambitious of other ends, does not even attempt. Limited to the horizon of contemporary ideology and its view of social possibility, the choice must be recognized as inherently untenable: a choice between not comic repression and tragic freedom but two different kinds of repression. Within these limits, then, what is most remarkable about Pamela's Utopian achievement is precisely the image it provides of real empowerment under conditions that seem somehow to be unaltered (as even Lady Davers in the end would agree) by the reconstructive process that is implied in the experience. By this means social change takes on the face of a seamless continuity.


17 On the tension between the theory and practice of domestic service, see J. Jean Hecht, The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956), chap. 3; on servants' "confederacies" see ibid., pp. 85-87. On the powers of the justice of the peace see David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, [1934] 1963), 487-90; Christopher Hill, Reformation to Industrial Revolution, 1530-1780, Pelican Economic History of England, vol. 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), 140-42. After Pamela escapes from Lady Davers, Sir Simon Darnford domesticates the political office he shares with Mr. B. by telling her that had she not a good excuse for being late, "your Spouse and I should have sat in Judgment upon you, and condemned you to a fearful Punishment for your first Crime of Laesae Majestatis (I had this explained to me afterwards, as a sort of Treason against my Liege Lord and Husband)" (Pamela, 334). On the meaning of "trial" in Pamela, see Albert M. Lyles, "Pamela's Trials," College Language Association Journal, 8, no. 3 (March, 1965), 290-92. Pamela briefly "hopes to get a Party among" the farm tenants with whom she stays during her kidnapping to the Lincolnshire estate (Pamela, 100).

18 The projector is Christopher Tancred, A Scheme for an Act of Parliament for the Better Regulating Servants, and Ascertaining Their Wages (1724), 19-20, quoted in Hecht, Domestic Servant Class, 92; see also ibid., 83-85.

19 On livery as resonant of enslavement see Hecht, Domestic Servant Class, 35, 179. On the dangers of cast-off clothing see ibid., 120-23, 209-11.

20 On the "chain of emulation" see ibid., 204.

21 For useful discussions see Robert P. Utter and Gwendolyn B. Needham, Pamela's Daughters (New York: Macmillan, 1936), chap. 2; Watt, Rise of the Novel, 135-51. Needless to say, there is no single "parable" that can describe the experience of both upper- and lower-rank women.

22 See [n. 8 in "The Institutionalization of Conflict (I): Richardson and the Domestication of Service," in The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740, by Michael McKeon, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 357-81.]

23 Cf. Richardson's use of the word "enlargement" to describe his own creation of Pamela, [in n. 2 of "The Institutionalization of Conflict (I): Richardson and the Domestication of Service," in The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740, by Michael McKeon, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 357-81.]

24 On these matters Pamela has important predecessors: compare the epistolary powers of Mercy Harvey, the creative ambitions of Mary Carleton, and the self-publication of Francis Kirkman ([in chap. 6, nn. 45, 32-36 of "The Institutionalization of Conflict (I): Richardson and the Domestication of Service," in The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740, by Michael McKeon, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 357-81.]). See, in general, Ruth Perry, Women, Letters, and the Novel (New York: AMS Press, 1980), chap. 5.

25 On the "little" and the "great" family in the gentle household, see Randolph Trumbach, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family: Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England (New York: Academic Press, 1978), 129.

26 Hecht, Domestic Servant Class, 223. Compare Pamela, 280, where Pamela enunciates her hope to incite respectively in the good, the indifferent, and the bad servant encouragement, emulation, and reform. For the role of charity in confirming the protagonist's ascent see Deloney's Jack of Newbery, [in] chap. 6, nn. 14-15 [of "The Institutionalization of Conflict (I): Richardson and the Domestication of Service," in The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740, by Michael McKeon, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 357-81.]

27 On Mary Carleton see … chap. 6, nn. 32-34 [of "The Institutionalization of Conflict (I): Richardson and the Domestication of Service," in The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740, by Michael McKeon, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 357-81.]

28 See, most recently, Eagleton, The Rape of Clarissa, 37, 39, who concedes that Pamela "contains, grotesque though it may sound, a Utopian element," but derides it nonetheless as "a cynical displacement of women's sufferings into consolatory myth" and sharply opposes its comic "celebration of male ruling-class power" to the "devastating demystification" and "tragic reality" of Clarissa.

John A. Dussinger (essay date 1989)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4991

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 juxtaposing these two competing forms of discourse is made quite explicit in the author's preface to A Collection of Moral and Instructive Sentiments, which touts the 'improvements' of modern storytelling to represent specific moral qualities in action as opposed to the abstract maxims recorded by Plutarch from among his contemporaries.3 But notwithstanding the new writing-tothe-moment realism, the universal statement—pithy sayings, oaths, sacred texts, absolute assertions—remains functional to Richardson's narrative style. McKillop's remark that the Sentiments 'was intended as a kind of rebuke to those who read for the story'4 is misleading because Richardson believed that the aphorism, though detachable from the moment, articulates the design of the story. Moreover, since many of the sententious observations topically indexed in A Collection of Moral and Instructive Sentiments are not directly quoted from the novels but revised freely into general interpretation of behaviour, they co-exist with the narrative as 'spare parts' for widening the story's significance, and even changing its direction altogether. Rather than codifying the complex action of the novel dualistically in a quasi-Manichaean system of good and evil, of light and darkness, the moral sentiments often read like Blakean 'contraries', implying some higher synthesis as the only alternative to discord. The issue of Clarissa's sincerity as storyteller is really parallel to the issue of merging the universal aphorism with the particular scene represented: the truth is always out of reach, beyond language and the mind's reductive categories of experience.

Granted the epistolary contract, Richardson's characters have almost no moment when they are not somehow presenting themselves to a reader within the story; and thus, even in a novel whose plot carries individualism to a tragic extreme, there is nothing like the representation of consciousness found in Jane Austen's novels, where the third-person narrative often describes the heroine's solitary daydreaming. Rather, the illusion of subjectivity derives from the two kinds of discourse already noted—the non-temporal meditations, apothegms, proverbs, mottoes, and other autonomous sentences regarding the self; and the temporally reported speech, including both direct discourse and a variety of indirect discourse, which individualizes expression by word choice, emphasis, rhythm, and even spelling. As Sentiments makes clear, not only Clarissa but Lovelace, Anna Howe, James Harlowe, and other characters have a share in the general commentary; however, it is mainly the protagonists who have the burden of reported speech and who consequently lose themselves in the language of other characters.

Richardson's epistolary technique creates not one but at least three Clarissas: the proud exemplar of her sex, vigorously self-assertive, with Anna's feminist spunk and even some of Lovelace's wit; the religious ascetic withdrawing from all worldly ambition, self-abnegating and sincere to the death; and the sentimental heroine, delicate, yielding, and erotically speechless, as seen through Lovelace's narrative. Each of these characters manifests a particular genre of literary language, but the first two are most at odds with each other.

Hardly an accidental effect, this problem of the heroine's character is even thematized in the presentation. From the beginning, Richardson draws attention to the difficulty of telling the 'whole story' and emphasizes that the character is usually absent at the moment. Yet the reporter who is present is also unreliable, always subjective in describing events according to a prescribed text, the character already generically determined. When Anna Howe enters in medias res, then, with the excitement over the duel between Lovelace and James fresh in everybody's mind, the implied reader belongs already to the gossips anxious to find out whether it is true 'that the younger Sister has stolen a Lover from the elder' (I,3; I,2). 'Public talk' forces Clarissa into the centre of the family conflict, but always she remains an enigma for the reader to fathom, or more accurately, to 'fill in' to answer his or her desires. Letters I-IV of the first volume comprise a narrative unit concerning the rumour about Clarissa's part in the feud, and nearly every paragraph of Anna Howe's letter educes witnesses to the recent events and mystifies the heroine with the community's inquisitiveness: 'I know how it must hurt you to become the subject of the public talk' (I,1; I,1). What is remarkable about this technique of introducing information (a reflexive strategy used throughout the novel) is its way of complicating the story by querying its sources and media. From the beginning a relatively sincere I-thou relationship between writer and reader throws into relief the various public speakers at the periphery, but neither the 'inner' nor the 'outer' circles know exactly what has happened.

What we see represented in Richardson's complex epistolary technique, then, is the means itself of generating the text. If 'public talk' expresses the romantic wishfulfilment of the conventional reader, the absent character resists fulfilment, closure, and thereby keeps the story in motion through seemingly endless unfolding of narrative layers. Fundamentally, while asking for information, Anna's first letter emphasizes the inherent difficulties of telling not only this particular story but any story, drawing us into a complex situation that spawns a variety of interpreters. Ostensibly for the sake of setting the record straight, Anna 'longs to have the particulars' from Clarissa herself; meanwhile, she reports what all the witnesses to the conflict are saying, capped by the bold insinuation that Clarissa has 'stolen a Lover' from Arabella. Whether Clarissa likes it or not, gossips have already inscribed her in their story of star-crossed love; and not even Anna, her most trusted friend, really wants to save her from this fate.

At the outset of Clarissa the correspondents seem nervously aware of the inherent difficulties in reporting, but still pretend that the objective truth is ever accessible. Anna's desire for 'the whole of your Story' (1,3; I,2) is no more realistic than Clarissa's promise in her first letter to 'recite facts only' (I,6; I,4); and in the end, when viewing the heroine's corpse, Anna remarks significantly: 'And is this All!—Is it All, of my CLARISSA'S Story!' (VIII.79; IV,402). Because character is always a marginal presence, a truth brought home by the utter vacuity of death, the 'whole' of the story can never be told.

Again, we see the tension between the atemporal, static identity signifying Virtue and the temporal, narrative subject who is continually becoming immersed in reported speech. According to Sentiments, from a global perspective the heroine is presumably as flawless as humanly possible: 'A pure intention, void of all undutiful resentments, is what must be my consolation, says Clarissa, whatever others may think of the measures I have taken, when they come to be known, vi.195 [vii.114]' (p. 102). But as if aware that the temporal presentation of herself inevitably undermines the fixed character of moral propositions, Clarissa remarks to Anna: 'I fear, I very much fear, that my unhappy situation will draw me in to be guilty of Evasion, of little Affectations, and of Curvings from the plain simple Truth which I was wont to delight in, and prefer to every other consideration' (III,206; II,130). Despite the preliminary encomiums on her innocence in Anna's opening letter, for instance, as a writer Clarissa immediately demonstrates a wily sense of the 'facts' and seems at least as interested in the craft as in the content of the storytelling. In response to her reader's curiosity, she is in the embarrassing role of gossip; and if not exactly relishing it, she at least does not regret the disparagement of a hateful elder sister and brother by a handsome aristocrat. Instead of reciting merely the 'facts', Clarissa editorializes freely, breaking into the other's discourse with parenthetical asides to Anna as confidante:

'So handsome a man!—O her beloved Clary!' (for then she was ready to love me dearly, from the overflowings of her good humour on his account!). 'He was but too handsome a man for her!—Were she but as amiable as Somebody, there would be a probability of holding his affections!—For he was wild, she heard; very wild, very gay; loved intrigue—But he was young; a man of sense: would see his error, could she but have patience with his faults, if his faults were not cured by Marriage.'

Thus she ran on; and then wanted me 'to see the charming man', as she called him.

(1,7; 1,5)

Richardson wants us to sympathize with Clarissa's point of view here; but no matter how despicable Arabella may be, the reciter of the 'facts' compromises herself by compromising her own family to outsiders.

Safely away at the time of its occurrence and thus aloof from the ill-fated courtship, Clarissa also assumes a reporter's neutrality and relies on mimicry to condemn the speaker by her own words. An unattractive elder sister's jealousy suffices as a motive for all the insinuations of triumph ('He was but too handsome a man for her!—Were she but as amiable as Somebody …') over the heroine, but the mere replication of the other's language involves the writer as well as the speaker in a vicious sibling rivalry. Furthermore, Arabella's rationalization of Lovelace's character is itself based on report ('For he was wild, she heard; very wild …') and on truisms about reforming a rake by marriage. Since Clarissa subsequently remarks that Lovelace is not physically displeasing, her quoting Arabella's desire for her ' "to see the charming man", as she called him' may possibly betray more of an interest in him than she would care to admit. At any rate, the act of reporting her sister's speech and manner is less than innocent.

After mentioning Lovelace's repeated visits, Arabella attributes his delay in proposing marriage to his bashfulness; and apparently unable to restrain herself, Clarissa quips to her friend, 'Bashfulness in Mr. Lovelace, my dear!' (1,8; I,6) Circumstances soon dislodge the heroine from her privileged observation, but a moment like this one shows that she is not incapable of Lovelace's delight in the ridiculous. Such irony goes against the notion of the childlike person that the grandfather had rewarded in his will. Clarissa herself of course warns us that she is a Harlowe and thus hardly the sweet, timorous creature that Anna Howe and even Lovelace conjure up in their descriptions of a sentimental heroine; neither is she, in these moments, the ascetic Christian heroine impatient to die.

Since the bare presence of another is a threatening circumstance, Clarissa seldom writes without a cautious eye on her audience in the process. Initially, she enjoys portraying herself as an ingenuous, sociable person: 'You know, my dear, that I have an open and free heart; and, naturally, have as open and free a countenance; at least my complimenters have told me so. At once, where I like, I mingle minds without reserve, encouraging reciprocal freedoms, and am forward to dissipate diffidences' (III,300; II,202). Yet mingling minds without reserve is not an action represented in Clarissa or indeed anywhere else in Richardson's fiction. With a proper balance of frankness and tact, however, conversation between the sexes and between the various social classes may be mutually satisfying rather than a power struggle: 'A manly sincerity, and openness of heart, are very consistent with true Politeness, ii.331 [iii.67]' (Sentiments, p. 179).

Sincerity is not only a moral ideal in Richardson but a class ideology, an attack on the legitimacy of the ruling caste by proving its discourse to be cynical, without moral substance. Libertinism may be an evil on conservative religious grounds, but above all it reflects a hegemony that must be discredited for political reasons: 'The free things that among us Rakes, says Belford, pass for wit and spirit, must be shocking stuff to the ears of persons of Delicacy, v.377 [vi.295, 296]' (p. 112). In the spirit of the Spectator revolution in manners, the new standard of gentility is allegedly feminine: 'That cannot be Wit, that puts a modest woman out of countenance, iv. 146 [345]' (p. 214). Lovelace redeems himself in Clarissa's eyes by exhibiting the requisite delicacy: 'Even Lovelace declares, that he never did, nor ever will, talk to a Lady in a way that modesty will not permit her to answer him in, vii.222 [viii.145]' (p. 114). This evidence of his sensibility mitigates her willingness to correspond with him at the outset of the story. Presumably delicate feelings portend a moral disposition. Besides, despite her repeated complaints about Lovelace's role-playing, Clarissa is hardly above dissembling herself, having impersonated an elderly lady in a letter full of precocious wisdom (11,78-9; I,295-6). She is remarkably suspicious of servants and other working-class people, especially the clever ones whose coy sense of language threatens her sovereignty. Some of her most trying moments are her attempts to cope with the colloquialisms, slang, half-witticisms, garbled syntax, or 'provoking sauciness' (1,184; I,135) that designate the uneducated: in dealing with such people the task is not to uphold sincerity in communication but rather a hierarchy of manners to protect traditional class-consciousness. If Lovelace is the enemy from above, attempting to prove that all women are alike, namely whores, the servants are the enemy from below, attempting to prove the same thing to gain power over their mistresses.5

Although a dilemma may arise between sympathizing with Betty Barnes's egalitarian ideas of education, and preserving the necessary distance toward subordinates (II,111; I,319), the invasion of privacy is finally Clar issa's uppermost concern. When Betty rushes excitedly into her room, for instance, to announce that the family is waiting with Solmes below, Clarissa takes offence at the familiarity of her entrance and gesticulates with her fan. As on other occasions, however, no matter how irritating to her auditor, Betty does have a point: 'Bless me! said she, how soon these fine young Ladies will be put into flusterations!—I meant not either to offend or frighten you, 1 am sure' (II,187; I,376). Despite her protestation of innocence, Betty, of course, flaunts her momentary power over the heroine and and summons her choicest words for the occasion. Like her stomachfulness, Betty's flusterations may illustrate a view in Sentiments: 'Female words, tho' of uncertain derivation, have generally very significant meanings, vii.67 [408, 409]' (p. 215). Perhaps combining the idea of frustration as cause and being flustered as effect, flusterations is a useful neologism for an imper tinent maid who delights in paralysing her mistress with fear ('I trembled so, I could hardly stand' (II,187-8; 1,376)). Clarissa knows perfectly well Betty's in tention, but is helpless to do anything about it: one of the heroine's worst tribulations while still in the family is to be affronted by tricky servants who mischievously carry out orders from above and then coldly observe the painful consequences on their young mistress.

Curiously, although the main action of Clarissa is a sexual assault, the subject of rape arouses only a few banal comments in Sentiments concerning just prosecution and punishment. One of the most ample categories, however, entitled 'Masters. Mistresses. Servants', focuses instead on an on-going class conflict that sometimes draws hero and heroine closer together in a political alliance. There is a nervousness about whether the lower orders are naturally good or whether they are prone to betray their employers. 'People in low stations have often minds not sordid, ii.59 [150]' (p. 159): 'Take number for number, there are more honest low people, than high, ibid.' (p. 159). Other assertions go so far as to allow only the disenfranchised the right to live: 'Were it not for the Poor, and the Middling, Lovelace says, the world would deserve to be destroyed, iii.189 [321]' (p. 181). But against this occasional sentimentalization of the poor, Richardson's text reiterates the theme that good masters make good servants and warns against a loss of authority: 'He that rewards well, and punishes seasonably and properly, will be well served, vi.260 [vii.182]' (p. 160): 'The art of governing the under-bred lies more in looks than in words, ibid.' (p. 160). Perhaps most urgent is the injunction to protect one's independence: 'The Master who pays not his Servants duly, or intrusts them with secrets, lays himself at their mercy, vi.260 [vii.183]' (p. 160). Reticence may go against the grain of a naturally open temper, but familiarity is the real danger: 'A Master's communicativeness to his Servants, is a means for an enemy to come at his secrets, ii.226 [309]' (pp. 159-60). Conversely, the subordinate is required to maintain deference toward the master at all times: 'Wit in a Servant, except to his companions, is sauciness, Lovel. vi.261 [vii.184]' (p. 161). Although fre quently corrupting servants with bribes to carry out his plots, Lovelace agrees in principle with Clarissa about the need to keep them at a safe distance.

At Harlowe Place the heroine already suffers humiliations at the hands of servants, from the sly Betty Barnes to the unfaithful Joseph Leman, whose illiterate messages suffice to incriminate them. By way of contemning both upper and lower classes at one stroke, Clarissa praises Betty Barnes underhandedly for a natural wit comparable to that not only of ladies of fashion but even of the university-educated young gentlemen: 'I have heard smarter things from you, than I have heard at table from some of my Brother's Fellow-collegians' (II,111; 1,319). For instance, to repress her servant's egotism Clarissa unluckily ascribes her 'liveliness or quickness' to the nature of women in general: 'The wench gave me a proof of the truth of my observation, in a manner still more alert than I had expected: If, said she, our Sex have so much advantage in smartness, it is the less to be wondered at, that you, Miss, who have had such an education, should outdo all the men, and women too, that come near you' (II,111-12; I,319). Clarissa then makes the chilling remark: 'I was willing to reward myself for the patience she had made me exercise, by getting at what intelligence I could from her' (II,113; I,320)—and this from one who has just explained to the girl the difference between ingenious and ingenuous!

If Clarissa only feigns intimacy in her conversation with Betty here, moments before, however, mistress and servant did come dangerously close while exchanging proverbs about poverty, suffering, and health; and the heroine does not blush to record the effect on the girl: 'She was mightily taken with what I said: See, returned she, what a fine thing scholarship is!' But as the conversation drifts to Betty's inadequate childhood education and her subsequent 'great improvements', the underling's comical affectation of snuff-taking does not completely detract from her criticism of pedants:

Your servant, dear Miss; dropping me one of her best courtesies: So fine a judge as you are!—it is enough to make one very proud. Then, with another pinch—I cannot indeed but say, bridling upon it, that I have heard famous scholars often and often say very silly things: Things I should be ashamed myself to say—But I thought they did it out of humility, and in condescension to those who had not their learning.

(II,111; I,319)

By now there is something amiss in the tone: Betty is making too much sense, and Clarissa can no longer depend on the girl's undiluted admiration of her 'scholarship' in mouthing proverbs. Before things get out of hand, Clarissa makes a condescending remark on the liveliness of women's imagination in general and on Betty's 'smartness' in particular. Several entries under 'Vivacity' in Sentiments warn against Betty's natural bent: 'Lively talents are oftener snares than advantages, i.186 [194]' (p. 210).

While intelligence among the working class is potentially sinister, trustworthiness may reflect simply an ineffectual naiveté. Just as the quick-witted servant is subversive, so a 'clown' like the tenant farmer Anna Howe sends to inquire after Clarissa proves to be an honest, humble, and loyal retainer; but he is also duped by Widow Bevis into surrendering a valuable letter to the enemy. Perhaps most remarkable in this scene is the way servants are foregrounded—Clarissa being absent at church and Lovelace eavesdropping within earshot from a closet—to represent the conflicting attitudes of clever mimicry and dumb ingenuousness.

Although pretending to defend his rights as Clarissa's husband, Lovelace feels obliged, nevertheless, to bribe the Hampstead maidservant into complicity:

Lovel. Well, child, if every you wish to be happy in wedlock yourself, and would have people disappointed, who want to make mischief between you and your Husband, get out of him his Message, or Letter, if he has one, and bring it to me, and say nothing to Mrs. Lovelace, when she comes in; and here is a guinea for you.

Peggy. I will do all I can to serve your Honour's Worship for nothing [Nevertheless, with a ready hand, taking the guinea]: For Mr. William tells me what a good gentleman you be.

(V,240; III,158)

The messenger announces his solemn mission exactly as ordered, but his rustic idiom gives him away: 'I must speak to her her own self;' 'He will speak to Mrs. Harry Lucas her own self;' 'Nay, and that be all, my business is soon known. It is but to give this Letter into your own partiklar hands—Here it is' (V,240-2; III,159-60). Against the widow's vanity of appearing too 'fresh and ruddy' to be mistaken for Clarissa 'bloated, and in a dropsy', Lovelace rejoins wryly: 'True—but the Clown may not know That.' Despite his shrewd manipulations, however, in trying to reward him with a half-guinea, Lovelace underestimates the cottager's simple allegiance to his mistress: 'Widow. How shall I satisfy you for this kind trouble? Fellow. Na how at all. What I do is for Love of Miss Howe. She will satisfy me more than enough.' But as if to obviate sentimentality, this servant also has a Falstaffian humour for drinking and amorous play, allowing Peggy to retreat only after an unexpected double entendre, 'For if he could not make sport, he would spoil none', and a hearty 'smack, that, she told Mrs Bevis afterwards, she might have heard into the parlour' (V,242-4; III,160-1).

For the sake of conveying information, a character's undesirable social behaviour within the story may be very useful to the narrative itself. If Betty's liveliness is a handicap in a servant, it nevertheless enables her to give distant happenings an immediacy through reported speech, a talent Clarissa had displayed while rendering Arabella's mistaken trust in Lovelace. Dissatisfied with her own subordinate role, Betty gleefully compensates with the power of impersonating Clarissa's worst enemies: 'The insolent Betty Barnes has just now fired me anew, by reporting to me the following expressions of the hideous creature, Solmes—"That he is sure of the coy girl; and that with little labour to himself" ' (I,279; I,206). For the moment, in compensation for her own servitude, Betty indulges vicariously in the suitor's misogynistic fantasy of power.

From what we have seen in this mistress-servant dialogue, then, rather than any personal quirkiness it is the heroine's enforced situation that largely explains her always preferring something to truth. Unless at the simple level of communication once enjoyed, say, with her grandfather, circumstances almost always prevent the frank discourse that Clarissa believes is her wont. For instance, the difficulty, if not impossibility, of ever telling her story to the world becomes painfully apparent at the time of her arrest for a bogus £150 debt, with numerous onlookers to add to the public disgrace. This episode represents the only time in the novel when Clarissa is actually out in the open air and speaking to disinterested people rather than to the usual conniving subordinates. If her case is ever to be taken from the dark interiors of house and home, this might be the opportunity to make good her threat in the famous 'penknife scene' ('The LAW only shall be my refuge!' (VI,63; III,289)) of seeking litigation to redress her grievances against Lovelace.

But when she is brought up close to even the most disinterested public, her exposure reveals only the futility of telling the 'whole story' to the most sympathetic audience. A sensitive plant with a broken stalk, the heroine is remote from the everyday world and fails to comprehend the legal nomenclature of the officers in charge:

Action! said she. What is that?—I have committed no bad action!—Lord bless me! Men, what mean you?

That you are our prisoner, Madam.

Prisoner, Sirs!—What—How—Why—What have I done? … Suit! said the charming innocent; I don't know what you mean.

Perhaps as might be expected in a predatory world, the reactions from the crowd are mixed and class-oriented, with only one or two educated men speaking up on her behalf: 'The people were most of them struck with compassion. A fine young creature!—A thousand pities! cried some. While some few threw out vile and shocking reflections! But a gentleman interposed, and demanded to see the fellows' authority.' Once assured of the officers' legitimacy, however, this fatherly spokesman simply advises the heroine to co-operate with the authorities: 'He pitied her, and retired.' Another gentleman pleads that she not be abused. The thought of Clarissa's being carried off 'through a vast croud of people' causes Belford, the narrator, to gasp: 'All this was to a Clarissa!!!' (VI,249-51; III,427-8). But no amount of pity can save the heroine from the punitive laws against her alleged indebtedness.

Notwithstanding the unquestioned political and economic power of the male over the female, throughout this story women are seen to be locally worse enemies than men; and while detained at the Rowlands's, Clarissa has to submit to insults from Sally Martin, who is 'fond of gratifying her jealous revenge, by calling her Miss' to emphasize cruelly that the heroine is unmarried as well as not a virgin. Clarissa's only defence is bewilderment at her interlocutor's street slang: 'You amaze me, Miss Martin!—What language do you talk in?—Bilk my lodgings!—What is that?' (VI,252; III,429). On another occasion, the prostitute returns to taunt Clarissa for being without her wardrobe: 'you are a little soily, to what we have seen you'. The sympathetic Belford interjects: 'Insolent devils!How much more cruel and insulting are bad women, even than bad men!' (VI,265; III,438-9). In contrast to Richardson's perspective, however, Belford's view conveniently overlooks the male-dominated economic system that prompts such competitive behaviour between women in the first place.

Notwithstanding a character's penchant for being honest, the task of reporting events, as Richardson knew, is always contingent on the particular moment and on the inherent vagaries of language. Clarissa's sincerity as storyteller, we have seen, is in doubt not only because she may have something to hide but, more significantly, because language inevitably leaves something out, an insight Jane Austen brought to fiction: 'Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.'6

Aphorisms, as non-temporal universal statements, are relatively free of such exigencies; and by their very distance from the domestic world, they usually exert an ironic effect whenever directed toward the apparently random circumstances of a story, as in the famous opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice. Proximity to the warm moment, on the contrary, obviates this oral freedom. Characters as storytellers have no choice but to present themselves to their reader while in the act of describing what happens, and this sense of audience qualifies whatever is said. Thus no matter how sincere her ideal of personal integrity, Clarissa can never tell the 'whole story' because, as Richardson's elaborate typographical apparatus reminds us, any narrative is circumscribed by the conventions of language. This contingency of reporting is most transparent in discourse involving power relations, particularly in the dialogue between master or mistress and servants, where even the exemplary character finds herself in the rake's position of toying with others. Although usually regarded as the antithesis of sincerity, role-playing, as Clarissa discovers, is the requisite condition of being in the world, inescapable not only in talking to others but also in setting pen to paper.


1 See Fielding's emotional response to Clarissa in a letter to Richardson; E. L. McAdam, Jr, 'A New Letter from Fielding', Yale Review, 35 (1948), 300-10.

2 Hester Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson (London, 1786), p. 221.

3 [Samuel Richardson], A Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Maxims, Cautions, and Reflexions, Contained in the Histories of PAMELA, CLARISSA, and Sir CHARLES GRANDISON. Digested under Proper HEADS, With References to the Volume, and Page, both in Octavo and Twelves, in the respective Histories (London, 1755). See pp. iii-v.

4 Alan Dugald McKillop, Samuel Richardson: Printer and Novelist (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1936), p. 217.

5 See Bruce Robbins, The Servant's Hand: English Fiction From Below (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 53-90.

6Emma, in The Novels of Jane Austen, ed. R. W. Chapman (London: Oxford University Press, 1933, rpt. 1960), IV, 431.

Lois E. Bueler (essay date 1994)

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7541

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 authority. The collapse of the human patriarchal structure, though explained, is not disguised. Yet though Clarissa goes to her death knowing that her familial piety has been abused, she believes her family structure to be the humanly flawed representation of a divine and therefore ultimately achievable ideal. The richness with which the novel combines psychological exploration, social critique, and religious affirmation is made possible by its plot work.

… [I]n this chapter I do not propose to unravel and rewind the novel. My purpose is to probe the relationships in form and technique between its plotting and its epistolary style, and to describe some of the means Richardson inherits or invents for integrating his separate plots. First let us consider the means he does not use. Literary precedent supplied an eighteenth-century writer with two ways of using more than one plot in a single work. One is the interpolated tale of epic or romance, the other the alternating multiple-plot structure of Renaissance drama. In an epic or romance structure, no matter how "novelistic"—in Don Quixote or Tom Jones, say—the tale takes the reader on a quest or journey focused by the protagonist and his acts. The writer can give us other plots or stories only by stopping the main plot and thrusting those others in. The usual means is the casual or providential encounter on the ship or at the inn during which the fellow-traveler gets to tell his story. It is true that the two plots thus nested together may have some additional connection. This can be a connection of person: Fielding describes the adventures of a woman who might be Tom's mother. It can be a connection of theme: Cervantes' story of El Curioso Impertinente, the husband who cannot believe his exemplary wife's marital faith and puts his friend to test her, is as much about the operation of received fantasy upon the unstable mind as is the story of the knight himself. But the structural connection of such tales with their host plots is minimal: they are cysts, encapsulated within and essentially sealed off from the main organism. Clarissa contains faint echoes of the interpolated tale, the most extended being the story of Belton and his Thomasine. But this exemplum is so tightly tied to the moral education of Belford and Lovelace as to be anything but mere interpolation.

The multiple-plotted drama of the Renaissance theater in which actions from primary, secondary, and even tertiary plots are alternately staged was the other possibility Richardson inherited. This technique, which subsequently lost its sense of conviction under the influence of neoclassicism, develops somewhat greater interplot integration than does the interpolated tale. Governed in part by the theatrical need for economy of character and casting, the links among the persons of the separate plots tend to be tighter, so that in Much Ado About Nothing Beatrice is Hero's household member, cousin, and friend, and Benedick is Claudio's comrade in arms. The relationship among multiple plots is sometimes very strong: Jacobean playwright Nathan Field's Amends for Ladies builds each of its three comic plots around a tested woman—a maid, a wife, and a widow—who engineers a recognition of her virtue and the follies of male possessiveness. Nevertheless the connections, when they extend beyond the opportunistic, are primarily analogical.1 For example, while in Much Ado Benedick challenges Claudio over Hero's slandering, the challenge goes nowhere; the Claudio/Hero plot is unwound by Dogberry and company. Clarissa has its incipient secondary plots after this manner, of which the courtship of Anna and Hickman is the most sustained, but not even their story becomes an independent one. Richardson did not intend it to.

The drawback with interpolated tales and alternated plots is that in the absence of structural connections the various plots do not interact. Richardson sought to use the peculiar strengths of both drama and narrative fiction to blend his plots structurally and thus interactively, thereby achieving a more richly lifelike effect and with it more psychological immediacy and greater moral depth. To this end he developed several plotcombining tools, all of them innovative outgrowths of his epistolary style. No one of these tools works schematically or rigidly. Richardson uses them to break down barriers between plots, between the narrative and the dramatic features of his book, between various states of mind. The resultant ebb and flow would, he hoped, have the feel of life, and of course it does. Yet to understand how he did it we have to tolerate categorizing and explaining those tools in isolation. In this chapter I wish first to separate out several of Richardson's plot-integrating techniques, then to discuss their uses in bringing the plots to work upon each other.

The most central of the plot-combining techniques in Clarissa, so seemingly inevitable as to be virtually invisible, involves making individual characters essential players in more than one plot. This "character-sharing" technique is matched with its harmonizing opposite, "event-sharing," which causes a given event to operate in more than one plot. In ordinary experience we smudge these two techniques of "character-sharing" and "event-sharing" together, as when we say that people's lives or paths cross. When it is important to make structural distinctions, however, as artists constructing fictions are obliged at least tacitly to do, we have to admit that "people" and their "lives" or "paths" are not precisely the same thing, and we shall see that Clarissa is an interesting demonstration of the effects of the technical difference. A third and even more subtle plot-integrating technique involves the combined use of epistolary dialogue and epistolary soliloquy. It is chiefly by means of this third technique, the manipulation of dialogue and soliloquy effects, that Richardson manages to share characters and events coherently among his several plots.

"Character-sharing"—building more than one plot around the same character—is without question the novel's simplest and most central plot-combining device. Throughout the [first] six chapters [of my book Clarissa's Plots, University of Delaware Press, 1994], I have implied our tacit understanding of this technique by arguing for the existence of three different plots, each of which has essentially the same cast of characters. There are, however, differences of character emphasis among the three plots. In a sense Lovelace has a plot of his own, the Don Juan Plot, which nevertheless requires the presence of women superficially like Clarissa. Clarissa has her own plot, the Prudence Plot, which nevertheless requires the presence of a person who fulfils the function of Lovelace. Each of these plots is focused on its central character; never did two characters so richly imbue their own plots with the force of their personalities and purposes, a force which in both cases carries to the very end of the novel. But Lovelace and Clarissa also share a plot, the Tested Woman Plot, in which both of them are central. It is the meeting ground constituted by this plot that controls the primary shape of the novel.

To say that a character may centrally occupy more than one plot is to revise radically our usual thinking about what constitutes plot. Because our first description and examples of plot structure came from Aristotle on Greek drama, literary criticism historically began with a univocal model which assumes not only that a single work will have a single plot but that an individual character will have a single plot. The first assumption, which was at the root of the neoclassical controversy about dramatic "unity of action," has been repeatedly challenged in both theory and practice. But criticism has never addressed the second assumption so cleanly and selfconsciously because that assumption is always subsumed under the first. We simply identify a character with the plot she is in, take it for granted that, if not precisely the same thing, they cannot be separated. How could a character live two different plots at once?

Yet we also take it for granted that actual people do lead complexly multiplotted lives. I do not mean just undercover agents or unfaithful spouses. I mean, for instance, any competent artist who is also a responsible member of a social group: the creative life and the social life are connected in the person of the subject but they are far from tracing the same action. The plot of the writing of Clarissa must have been an enormously different thing from the plot of the business life of S. Richardson, printer, yet we know they went on at the same time in the same man. In like fashion the main characters in Clarissa lead multiplotted lives. Lovelace sees himself living the Don Juan Plot—it represents his intention for himself. Clarissa sees herself living the Prudence Plot, which is her intention for herself. But brought together, they are forced to recognize that they are also living the Tested Woman Plot. In that plot, Lovelace seeks to deflect Clarissa from her prudential pursuit, and Clarissa seeks to reform Lovelace out of his rake's progress. Neither finally succeeds because however else they may differ they are perfectly matched in a stubborn energy that keeps them on their original life course. But the complexity we perceive in the novel's main characters is in part the complexity which comes from their being essentially caught up in more than one action, a method foreign to both romance and drama because of the expression of interiority it requires.

Like this "character-sharing," the second technique, that of "event-sharing" or bringing a given event into more than one plot, again describes a phenomenon we take for granted in ordinary life. Just as we understand that a single person can live multiple plots—can "lead two lives"—we also know that a given event can be part of different plots because it plays itself out differently for different people. The given conversation or episode may be nothing special to one participant and indelibly, perhaps catastrophically, important to another. Even when all parties agree that an event is significant, how it is significant depends on the plot it is in. Literature makes such distinctions most easily when they can be managed sequentially. Thus we are accustomed to understand that the death of the husband in the arms of grieving young wife and loyal friend may provide both the end of an old love plot and the springing hope of a new one, about which "but that's another story" is often used to delight us with its bittersweet boundary marking. When in Cyrano de Bergerac the "death event" turns out to mark neither the end of the old plot nor the opening of a new plot, it is doubly wrenching because it works against that hopeful expectation. This is why in Rostand's play the husband's death is the climax even though he is not one of the protagonists: it is the event that most firmly establishes for us the essential singleness of the work's triangular "frustrated love" plot.

When a key event lies at the heart of several different plots at once, presentation and interpretation are more complex. One way to distinguish the significance of a shared event from one plot to another is to shift the point of view from one character to another, since different people are bound to see the same event differently. But multiple points of view do not of themselves make multiple plots: Clarissa and Anna and Lovelace and Belford all express their opinions about Hickman's courtship, but that does not make the courtship other than a single action. Further, what if the different plots are about the same people? In order to be truly shared, an event needs to be positioned and exploited so as to reveal first one plot structure or gestalt, then another and another. Such positioning and exploitation is something at which Richardson is particularly adept.

Take for instance the rape, an undeniably central event in each of Clarissa's three plots. The rape is viewed differently by the four letter writers who respond most directly to it because of the kind and degree of their involvement. But each also responds differently at different times because the rape has a different purpose in each of the plots. In the Tested Woman Plot it is the key event that both closes the Test and focuses the Trial. It ends the Test because by bringing Lovelace's ultimate weapon to bear it completes Clarissa's education about his nature. It focuses the Trial because it seizes the attention and requires the interpretation of the community. When Anna Howe first hears of the rape, she responds from her perspective in the Tested Woman Plot (L 310, to CH, 5 July, 993), judging harshly and even crudely in a version of the "we told you so" response characteristic of the Harlowes. Because the rape is the premier socially resonant act of this social plot, within this plot both Clarissa and Lovelace must continue to confront its social effects directly. Marriage, prosecution, pregnancy; flight to Pennsylvania or to the Continent; relations with the Montagues and Belford and Clarissa's protectors the Smiths; all these considerations are created by the rape. And if social effects, then psychological ones. Clarissa loses her marriageability, which means her economic and social status. Lovelace loses his independence, the emotional detachment which allows him to casually continue his rake's progress, and becomes subject to social pressure. Both losses have psychological effects that determine their behavior throughout the rest of this plot.

By contrast, in neither the Don Juan Plot nor the Prudence Plot does the rape change the plot's direction. Though it is the rake's ultimate seduction tool, it is impersonal, unsatisfying and ultimately forgettable. When in reading his letters of August and September we have the feeling that Lovelace cannot remember what he has done, we are reading right. As Don Juan he lacks the moral sense or the imagination to feel how the rape affects others' lives. Moreover, because the plot itself is designed to drain human contact of significance, it strings out human interactions until we understand exactly how much they do not matter. From Lovelace's perspective in the Don Juan Plot, the significance of the rape is paradoxically its insignificance; to us it is important only because we keep being astonished at how little Lovelace is affected by it. As Don Juan, Lovelace seizes the fact of Clarissa's growing indifference to him, but he cannot read the rape at all. Not coincidentally, it is the rape that definitively pushes Belford out of his peripheral, increasingly unsatisfying position in the Don Juan Plot and into a central role in the Tested Woman Plot. If he is going to develop a moral, or even a social, response to the rape, he cannot do it as Lovelace's creature.

Because it too is a plot of the life of a single character, the Prudence Plot shares some structural features with the Don Juan Plot. One is that the rape comes to be submerged into the great succession of Clarissa's life events; although unquestionably it is significant, its significance comes from what Clarissa learns gradually to make of it. The rape is one of the most brutal imaginable ways to catapult her into the self-consciousness of adulthood, which she must achieve and live swiftly if she is going to complete her course before our eyes. Not just the violence of Lovelace's attack, or its social destructiveness, but its actual sexual features contribute to this effect of the rape; Lovelace is surely right to intuit that for reasons physical as well as social, sexual contact and especially sexual penetration contributes more profoundly to self-awareness in women than in men. But another trauma might have forced Clarissa's precipitous growth into adulthood, though another trauma would not have meshed so nicely with the other plots. In this plot the trauma itself is not the point, except as trigger: the whole journey is the point. Further, the story of Clarissa's growth in wisdom is not primarily a matter of external happenings. The compelling moments consist of insights, illuminations, heroic efforts of the will. The more strenuously Clarissa lives this inward plot, the more its external event structure flattens out, as it does during the waiting times in March before her flight, in May before her rape, and in August before her death. During each of those stretches Clarissa is processing information about herself and others; during them her understanding of her life is becoming radically complicated and deepened, so that her waiting is a kind of waiting toward, a gathering of forces. To the degree that Clarissa's Prudence Plot is a secular version of the saint's life, it does not much matter what the next events in her life will be. Whatever they are, they will provide raw material for her newly enlarged understanding to work on. As Willa Cather notes in describing the unemphatic event structure in the medieval compilation of saints' lives called The Golden Legend, the torments undergone by the saints are "no more dwelt upon than are the trivial incidents of their lives; it is as though all human experience, measured against one supreme spiritual adventure, were of about the same importance."2 Unlike the Tested Woman Plot with its various stereotyped Test and Trial events, the Prudence Plot, though it has set psychological and moral stages, is relatively indifferent to particular events, which must arise to meet the character of the protagonist as it develops.

To be effective the plot-combining techniques of "character-sharing" and "event-sharing" responsible for the rich structures of Clarissa need a performance medium which will do justice to their richness. That medium is letters. The letters of this Richardson novel in particular show an astonishingly wide stylistic range, in part because so many disparate characters are allowed to join the conversation and their particularities are rendered with such liveliness. Behind the liveliness conveyed by the rendering of individual idiosyncrasies is Richardson's deliberate effort to craft a hybrid form—what he called "dramatic narrative"—that would combine the technical strengths of both narrative fiction and drama. In his chapter entitled "The Novel as Drama" Mark Kinkead-Weekes (Samuel Richardson, Dramatic Novelist) details how Richardson's writing "to the moment" increases the dramatic vividness of what is basically a narrative form. Given the dramatic origin of so much of Richardson's plot material and the dialogue form in which it is written, I would describe Richardson's matrix as nearly as dramatistic as it is novelistic. Nearly but not quite, since for reasons we will touch on shortly the primary conflicts are rarely rendered directly. Wherever we put the emphasis, however, we know that Richardson was trying to give himself the advantages both of drama's immediateness and of narration's capacity for psychological exploration.

The combination is complicated to achieve. Plays expose and hook together episodes of character interaction as their primary work, attending to psychological issues such as motivation or intention only secondarily. True psychological exploration—probing the relationship between a person's actions and the matrix of habits and intentions that make up personality and character—must be conducted on the stuff of the past, which results in a recursiveness that translates in plot terms into redundancy. But drama has no mechanism for using plot redundancy; as the genre of the ongoing present its dramatic action cannot be stopped to see how the psychological machinery works. By contrast, novels achieve a recursiveness which is not redundant by exploiting the tool of direct or implied narration. The narrative voice provides the means to reflect upon the action without actually replaying it. Psychologically this recursive possibility represents a great gain, but it sacrifices the immediateness of drama in which the point of view is ever and only that of the characters.

The key to Richardson's hybrid form is the fact that a letter has both the immediateness of drama and the recursive possibilities of narrative. Dramatically it is one side of dialogue, which has the characteristic of immediacy in both its senses. Thus the letters duplicate the unmediated point of view of a play: the reader receives the language of the writers directly, with no intervening consciousness. Certainly Richardson does not wish to intervene; he wishes—the exasperated tone of his third edition footnotes bears this out—for his readers to take on completely and directly the act of interpretation, so long as their interpretation shall correspond with his. The letters also duplicate dialogue's overpowering presentness in time. In drama, conversation is what establishes dramatic presentness, because a character's language is designed to affect the present state of her interlocutor. So too in the novel's letters, where each letter is an expression of the current state of the writer, designed to speak to its addressee with maximum power at the very moment of reading. Even in the interrupted dialogue of the epistolary form, the sense of presentness in time and the sense of the direct and unimpeded expression of consciousness work together to reinforce and constrain each other. Each character writes not only the present but her present. Even when recounting events of the past, of another's past, she is engaged in a performance of her present. And above all, that performance is for another:

In the very heat of anguish or confession, the letter can never forget that it is turned outwards to another, that its discourse is ineradicably social. Such sociality is not just contingent, a mere matter of its destination; it is the very material condition of its existence. The other to whom the letter is addressed is included within it, an absent recipient present within each phrase. As speech-for-another, the letter must reckon that recipient's likely response into its every gesture. (Eagleton, The Rape of Clarissa, 52)

But though the letters are dialogue, for in every case except that of Clarissa's Papers and Meditations they address and are designed to affect another character, and though their first obligation is thus to forward the plot, they are also soliloquies. Soliloquy is performed in the absence of other characters in order to promote self-revelation, even self-analysis. As drama's only recursive mode, the one point at which the playwright signals the abandonment of external "plot action" for the sake of "mind action," soliloquy is received by its audience very differently from dialogue. Because dialogue exists to do plot work, in drama the first concern is its effect on the characters being spoken to, which is why in the theater we often find ourselves watching, not the speaker, but the characters who hear him. The audience receives a piece of dramatic dialogue essentially as another character might receive it; the audience is reactive. By contrast, because soliloquy exists first to do psychological work, the first concern is the speaker's motivations and intentions. In receiving soliloquy, the audience attempts to work in concert with the speaker's mind; the audience is empathetic. Whereas with dialogue the audience plays at being another character, then, with soliloquy the audience plays at being the speaker himself.

In drama the two forms are strongly distinguished: a speech is either soliloquy or dialogue, though dramatists can blur the distinction with the device of eavesdropping. By contrast, a letter is always both dialogue and soliloquy, addressed directly to another but performed in solitude. By writing epistolary drama Richardson can experiment with effects along the entire dialogue/soliloquy continuum. Though the letters are always both forms at once, he can put the emphasis now on one side, now on the other.

The most theatrical dialogue effect is created when a character writes what Kinkead-Weekes calls a "playbook" sequence, as when Lovelace relates the Morden encounter (L 442, 29 Aug., 1278), Clarissa recounts a particularly nasty struggle with Arabella (L 42, [21 March], 192), or Anna Howe stages the dialogue between mother and daughter that reacts to Antony Harlowe's marriage proposal (L 197, 20-21 May, 626). In these cases we have something as close as a letter can get to a standard dramatic scene. The letterwriter does his best to fade from our focal attention; the characters who battle it out before our eyes might as well be playing it out on stage. Deep down we know it is Lovelace, say, who is writing this playlet, that in some sense it is a soliloquy with Lovelace taking all the parts, but as author he is hidden by the Lovelace character who meets the Morden character in Lord M's receiving hall. Both the soliloquy effects and the dialogue with the letter's addressee Belford are disguised behind the pretense to the unmediatedness of drama. A different dialogue effect is created by letters which consist of frank persuasion to the addressee. Clarissa's of 11 March to John Harlowe (L 32.1, 148) passionately attempts to create the impact of the speaking voice as it would be heard in face-to-face appeal. This letter is still technically a soliloquy, for Clarissa writes it while away from her uncle, yet it brings him so close in spirit as almost to give the feel of dramatic monologue, with the addressee physically present and emotionally responsive. Then there are also letters which locate the argumentative or persuasive scene within the letter writer, emphasizing states of mind and playing out internal conflicts and dilemmas. Some of the most agonized are those of Lovelace and Clarissa during their episodes of madness. These are the letters which seem most soliloquy-like, which most frankly seize the opportunity for psychological and moral exploration.

Yet these most intimate and soliloquy-like of the letters paradoxically develop into dialogue. Internal dialogue is a feature of soliloquy because it is in keeping with our antilogistic metaphors for describing psychological states, especially states of stress: we say that we feel embattled or in conflict, are debating with ourselves, are on the horns of a dilemma. The internal dialogue of soliloquy presents this psychomachia dramatically without resorting to the literal presence of the Bad Angel at the left shoulder and the Good Angel at the right. Yet this dialogue within a character has a different relation to dramatic action from the dialogue between characters. Because the internal dialogue works recursively, going back and looping into its ongoing processes, changing itself in the course of enacting itself, conflicting states of minds are allowed to operate on each other with the fervor of opposing dramatic characters but without the irrevocability characteristic of dramatic action. Their work is understood to be provisional and unresolved. What we seem to accept is that in soliloquy what the mind commits it can also withdraw, and no one will be the wiser—except the mind itself.

In Clarissa it is the most soliloquy-like letters in which the writers most openly set up an inner conversation among the various states that people their minds, giving themselves the opportunity for this psychological recursiveness. Now in drama the characteristic ending of soliloquy is a decision, a resolution of the internal debate which returns the play to the forward-moving action of dialogue. That is how the dramatist gets back into the play, so to speak. Having debated with himself about Leontes' command to kill Polixenes, Camillo resolves in the interest of a deeper loyalty to flee his king and thereby save the friend—and sure enough, enter Polixenes. But since Richardson is not really writing a play, he is not pressed to end his soliloquies with a decision that will shift his character back into the mainstream of the dramatic action. He has the luxury of soliloquies in which decisions are not reached, or are reached only provisionally, which means that he may use them for extended psychological exploration. The technique is perfectly conscious, both of its uses in portraying character and of the pressure to interpret the plot that it puts on readers. As he complains to Lady Bradshaigh,

Ye world is not enough used to this way of writing, to the moment. It knows not that in the minutiae lie often the unfoldings of the story, as well as of the heart, & judges of an action undecided, as if it were absolutely decided.3

Since the process itself is exactly what he wants most to examine, the most soliloquy-like letters are the ones which reveal the most about the operations of judging and deciding. For instance, Richardson explores the idea that sometimes it is wise to resist resolution, to tolerate or even welcome ambiguity and self-doubt. Clarissa achieves her eventual moral understanding in part because she can sustain and use self-doubt. Lovelace never achieves moral understanding in part because self-doubt is what he cannot bear; he never allows his self-probing soliloquies to run for long, characteristically pushing them away from him into the dialogue of a "play-book" scene or of appeals to Belford. By contrast, Clarissa increasingly resorts to the self-probing resources of soliloquy until they become so inward that she ceases to perform them "aloud" at all and the examination of the self goes on in prayer.

We are helped to understand the psychological uses of soliloquy, and its delicate narrative and dramatic balance, by consulting the man who invented or at least named it. In the Retractationes, St. Augustine describes a little book he wrote in A.D. 386, the momentous year between his conversion and his baptism. In pursuit of truth about the matters that most concerned him, he says, "I asked myself questions and I replied to myself, as if we were two, reason and I, whereas I was of course just one. As a result I called the book Soliloquies."4 For our purposes the most telling point comes midway through the second section when Augustine finds himself argued into a corner by Reason and realizes with shame that he has espoused a foolish position. Reason, who we must remember is as much Augustine as is Augustine, responds "It's ridiculous to be ashamed. Think of the very reason we have chosen this type of conversation. I want them to be called 'Soliloquies ' because we are talking with ourselves alone." Reason goes on to explain that argument between people, though it may be the best way to get at the truth, has the drawback that people hate to get beaten, so instead of learning they retreat into a "wilful obstinacy" that is perfectly understandable but unproductive nevertheless. The procedure of questioning and answering oneself is far more "peaceful" and "profitable." "So if you have committed yourself too quickly anywhere there is no reason for you to be afraid of retreating and setting yourself free: there's no way out here otherwise" (II, 14; 89). We; I; You: without apology Reason mobilizes the paradoxical language resources of conversation with the Self to urge the exploitation of the provisionality which makes soliloquy the perfect device for examining the Self, as Richardson had discovered long before: "Thus foolishly dialogued I with my heart; and yet, all the time, this heart is Pamela."

In Clarissa the resources of the dialogue/soliloquy continuum are built right into the plot structures themselves. We can characterize the Prudence Plot, wherever we find it, as by its nature a soliloquy plot: it is because Augustine found himself living a crucial stage in his own Prudence Plot that he wrote his Soliloquies. The most concentrated episodes in Clarissa's prudential journey are reflected in her Papers and Meditations, in which soliloquy pure, with Clarissa openly taking all the parts, appears for the only time: "Can you, my dear honoured papa, resolve for ever to reprobate your poor child?—But I am sure you would not, if you knew …" (890). Such pure soliloquy is rare because the novel has to be carried out primarily in letters, so the bulk of even its Prudence Plot is expressed in the correspondence between Clarissa and Anna. Since the relationship between the women is that of the phronemoi or friends-in-prudence, however, Clarissa writing to Anna is also Clarissa writing to her other self, Clarissa soliloquizing. Paradoxically, the fact that of all the novel's correspondents Clarissa and Miss Howe can most fully engage in genuine converse of mind and soul means that they also carry out the most evenhanded and sustained dialogue the novel has to offer.

The Don Juan Plot parodically simulates the soliloquizing intimacies of the Prudence Plot. Although his histrionic nature forces Don Juan into the public arena of dialogue, he seeks to monopolize all conversation. In Clarissa, where this plot too is carried out largely between a single pair of correspondents, Lovelace's letters to Belford are nearly always monopolistic and controlling. Characteristically he puts words into Belford's mouth so he can cajole or laugh them away. A typical formula begins, "Thou saist thou wouldst…," followed by the inevitable turn, the but or the bullying ("thou art an awkward fellow") that brings the argument and the words back into his control. The selfconscious thees and thous Lovelace terms "the Roman style" are the most evident parody of the intimate language of the phronemoi. One might expect these pronouns to set up the soliloquy effect of internal dialogue, in which the two minds would work as one, as partners at least in crime. Rather than intimacy, however, the "Roman style" establishes at best a clannishness, a kind of fraternity talk that (like the totally excluding shorthand which by its nature we can never see) does more to seal Lovelace and Belford off from the rest of the world than to bind them to each other. Lovelace's "thou art" and "thou saist," which uses intimacy as a weapon to accuse and subdue, is the opposite of Reason's inclusionary tour of the language of intimacy which binds him to Augustine as expressions of the same mind. In part this is why Lovelace lacks the capacity for inwardness. Because Richardson has so skillfully developed the genuinely intimate dialogue of mutual examination and criticism between the two women, we understand how having practiced with Anna helps Clarissa conduct her solitary self-examination. The dialogue of the friends, almost as trusting and searching as soliloquy, trains for the practices of self-accusation, self-defense and self-judgment that Clarissa's soliloquies involve. By contrast Lovelace cannot sustain and learn from the internal dialogue of soliloquy partly because he has had no such practice with his friend. So much does he hate to be beaten that he has never used Belford's acute and loving concern to help him develop the habit of introspection. At the moments when he most needs the tool of the self-educating internal dialogue, he overbears even himself, bludgeoning and throttling the voice of self-accusation into the submission he demands of all his interlocutors: "There she lies, weltering in her blood! Her death's wound have I given her!" (L 246, 10 June, 848).

Both the Prudence Plot and the Don Juan Plot, then, are positioned at the soliloquy end of the continuum. The Prudence Plot is a soliloquy plot in its essence because its action presses toward the increasing interiority and self-examination of the contemplation stage. The Don Juan Plot parodies a soliloquy plot because its action is directed toward co-opting all voices into the voice of the protagonist. By contrast, the Tested Woman Plot is supremely a dialogue plot. It uses external persuasion and debate first in the Test to threaten or tear apart social connections, then in the Trial to re-form those social relationships. Its major actions exploit the force of dialogue: the heightened voices of seduction, accusation, enforcement, reproach, envy, contempt, and reconciliation are responsible for the most strongly charged moments of the novel. When we run the action of Clarissa through our minds, the scenes we resurrect are the agons of temptation, accusation, defense, and judgment: Lovelace and Clarissa confronting each other at the garden gate or in the penknife scene, Clarissa recoiling from the squatting Solmes, the Harlowes in acrimonious family council, Lovelace springing out of his disguise at Hampstead, Morden and Lovelace sparring at Lord M's, Clarissa telling her story at the Smiths', the orgy of familial guilt and recrimination over her coffin, the somber procession which places the dead woman at her grandfather's feet. The last of these scenes, virtually wordless, is a speaking picture nevertheless, an especially poignant exchange in the familial debate that is the Tested Woman Plot.

So dominating are the dialogic conflicts of this plot that Richardson's art is devoted to almost never conveying them directly. We hear of conflict and think therefore that we hear it. But whereas in the Prudence Plot and the Don Juan Plot the "soliloquy" moments of present composition are psychologically the essential actions, in the Tested Woman Plot by contrast, where Richardson's characters primarily narrate past events to absent people, the strongest "dialogue" moments come to us through retrospection. Occasionally the primary agon is directly rendered—in the letters of July and August between Clarissa and Arabella, for instance—and when it is, the effect is so tense as to make us grateful we need not endure more. The most highly confrontational dialogues of the Tested Woman Plot are dialogues recounted and therefore at one remove, a removal that nevertheless returns us simultaneously to the intimacies of the soliloquizing voice.

Again we have underlined the complexity of the relationship between Richardson's plot manipulations and his stylistic practices. The interconnected and interparticipatory quality of these techniques, cause as well as expression of the psychological interconnectedness of the characters in the novel, is also one cause of the responsiveness, indeed the interpretive hyperactivity, of readers to the novel. The particular epistolary form that distributes the story more or less evenly among opposing voices is in part responsible, for it deprives us of a single narrative authority: "You cannot have an authorial voice-over if the characters do all the writing," as Terry Eagleton notes (The Rape of Clarissa, 25). Yet such an effect technically pertains in drama as well, and not just the epic theater to which Eagleton makes the parallel: you cannot have an authorial voice-over if the characters do all the speaking. So we must note further the degree to which the urge to interpretation is created by our participation in the very subtle give-and-take between dialogue and soliloquy effects that Richardson has learned to exploit in the epistolary form. Not only are the characters "doing all the writing," not only do their contradictory biases perforce shade and shape every account of the events, but the characters whose voices we primarily hear are also writing to expose and scrutinize themselves, so that we are unceasingly called upon to move between our empathetic and our reactive responses.

There is an additional—and I think powerfully explanatory—cause of this reader responsiveness. The very structure of the Tested Woman Plot forces interpretive activity of a distinctive and highly emotional sort. For one thing, we know that Richardson chose a version of the Tested Woman Plot in which the relationship between Test and Trial is morally and psychologically fraught. Since both Clarissa's actions and her reputation are in genuine and contradictory question, since she is both faulty and calumniated, the central action of the novel overtly demands interpretation. The other characters are continually scrambling to assess her behavior, and since readers also are engaged in interpreting this behavior, we find ourselves reading in concert with them. By this means the novel lures us into performing the distinctive authority functions of the Tested Woman Plot. To a remarkable degree, the history of criticism of the novel is a history of the adoption of one or another of those functions by readers themselves. Hence at least in part, I believe, the plurality of readings to which Clarissa has been subjected. Hence what Eagleton characterizes as the critical "rape of Clarissa." Hence what Terry Castle sees as the novel's "hermeneutic ambiguity," which I regard as less ambiguity than struggle and ascribe, not to an absence of "story" (Castle, Clarissa's Ciphers, 40), but on the contrary to the strongly marked workings of the central plot.

So we savor the possibilities of seduction; though shocked at our own connivance, we also glory in Lovelace's schemes. "1 have laught at your Lo—e, when at the same time I wished him hang'd," admits Lady Bradshaigh for us all.5 For we too suffer the provocations of virtue: if readers of Pamela can wish that heroine as flawed as themselves,6 all the more can readers of Clarissa long to subdue a character who both seeks and states an excellence which must translate into superiority. So also we accuse and defend—not just the tested woman herself, or her tempter, but her accusers and defenders both inside the novel and beyond it. And as in other forensic enterprises, the testimony of the witnesses becomes part of the text of the trial. Thus we feel the critical compulsion to take on those other readers—the ones who have abused virtue or admired vice and are therefore themselves culpable.

And of course we attempt to judge. The plot itself intends for us to do so. This is the deepest structural reason why, as Tom Keymer argues, "it is never an option simply to sit back and admire the text's ethical indeterminacy"; rather, the novel is so ordered, or disordered, that the reader must "take on the mantle of the novel's missing judge and strive to order it himself."7 The novel warns us, however, of what the history of its criticism has borne out: the function of judgment is both the most crucial and the most difficult function to perform. It is difficult to the degree that it obliges us to take account of the whole book of Clarissa's life and the complicated and subtle purposes for which its parts have been written. It is difficult because it involves judgment not just of Clarissa herself, but of all parties to the plot. And that is ultimately what makes the difficulty so intensely personal and disquieting. The judgment toward which Richardson's radical version of the Tested Woman Plot pushes us is not remotely magisterial, but empathetic, engaged and self-aware, for it demands that we probe the moral and psychological roots of our own participation in the action. Clearly the novel engages our profound longing toward our first myth, our need not just to tell ourselves that primal story, but to participate in that story, over and over. The deepest structural reality of the Tested Woman Plot is that the burden of judgment falls ultimately on those who have caused the plot to be carried out. To the degree that Richardson's novelistic technique makes us desire Clarissa's Test and Trial, it makes us complicit, and we are forced to admit that as readers we too have taken part, and taken parts, in that plot.


1 Richard Levin's The Multiple Plot in English Renaissance Drama makes a lucid and detailed case for the strong analogical relationships among multiple plots. Nearly all the Tested Woman Plays included in his analysis fall under his first two categories of "Direct Contrast" and "Three-Level Hierarchies."

2 James Woodress, Willa Cather: A Literary Life, 400. Here Cather is describing the narrative technique of her own saints' life, Death Comes for the Archbishop. She also found this compositional style in Puy de Chavannes's frescoes of the life of Ste. Genevieve (Woodress, Willa Cather, 399) and, I would presume, in Bunyan, whose Pilgrim's Progress she had loved since childhood. In Death Comes for the Archbishop Cather is especially adept with two central features of the Prudence Plot: the relationship between the phronemoi or virtue-friends, and the stage of contemplation which concludes the plot.

3 On 14 February 1754; Carroll, Selected Letters of Richardson, 289.

4 Gerard Watson cites this passage (Retr., 1, 4) in the introduction to his translation of the Soliloquies (iv).

5 Lady Bradshaigh to Richardson, 9 October 1750; FM Xl.f.25.

6 See the responses of some of Florian Stuber's young women students ("Teaching Pamela," 17).

7Richardson's "Clarissa" and the Eighteenth-Century Reader, 140; 243. Keymer's "missing judge" is the authorial voice, mine in addition, of course, the patriarchal character whose absence controls the plot. Keymer's compelling book grounds its overall argument in his discussion of the forensic characteristics of the novel which leave its interpretation finally, by Richardson's own design, in the hands of his "Sovereign Judges the Readers" (to Lady Bradshaigh, 8 Feb. 1754; Carroll, Selected Letters of Richardson, 280; cited by Keymer, Richardson's "Clarissa," 243).

Further Reading

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 684


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 Triumph of Craft. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1974, 131 p.

Studies Richardson's technique as a writer, making use of his statements of his theories in letters, prefaces, and postscripts.

Carroll, John, ed. Samuel Richardson: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969, 185 p.

Contains contributions by noted Richardson scholars including A. M. Kearney, Ian Watt, and A. D. McKillop.

Cox, Stephen D. "Defining the Self: Samuel Richardson's Clarissa." In his "The Stranger Within Thee": Concepts of the Self in Late-Eighteenth Century Literature, pp. 59-81. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.

Explores Richardson's concept of the self as evidenced in Clarissa.

Donovan, Robert A. "The Problem of Pamela, or, Virtue Unrewarded." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 III, No. 1 (Winter 1963): 377-95.

Argues that the main concern in Pamela is with social identity, not with moral dilemmas.

Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford, Eng.: Clarendon Press, 1974, 410 p.

Discusses Richardson's literary background and the sources for his works, particularly Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison.

Doody, Margaret Anne and Peter Sabor, eds. Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1989, 306 p.

A collection of essays, including the above entry's essay by John A. Dussinger.

Dussinger, John A. "What Pamela Knew: An Interpretation." Journal of English and Germanic Philology LXIX, No. 3 (July 1970): 377-93.

Considers Pamela's ambiguity, her unreliability as a narrator, and her changing levels of awareness throughout the novel.

Eagleton, Terry. The Rape of Clarissa: Writing, Sexuality and Class Struggle in Samuel Richardson. Oxford, Eng.: Basil Blackwell, 1982, 109 p.

Deems Clarissa "arguably the major feminist text of the language," and considers its subversive effects.

Goldberg, Rita. Sex and Enlightenment: Women in Richardson and Diderot. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1984, 239 p.

Concentrates on the depictions in Clarissa of women and female sexuality.

Golden, Morris. Richardson's Characters. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1963, 202 p.

Examines Richardson's views of characters and contends he is unique in his time for his "perception of the hidden bases of character."

Gunn, Daniel P. "Is Clarissa Bourgeois Art?" Eighteenth Century Fiction 10, No. 1 (October 1977): 1-14.

Analyzes morality and passion in Clarissa, and denies charges that it is bourgeois art.

Harris, Jocelyn. Samuel Richardson. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 179 p.

Discusses central themes of Richardson's major works.

Hill, Christopher. "Clarissa Harlowe and her Times." Essays in Criticism V, No. 4 (October 1955): 315-40.

Approaches the moral issues of Clarissa historically, in terms of economic developments and changing Puritan attitudes toward society and marriage.

Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1973, 506 p.

Closely examines Richardson's novels and their forms.

Rivero, Albert J. New Essays on Samuel Richardson. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996, 232 p.

A collection of essays.

Spearman, Diana. "Richardson." In her The Novel and Society, pp. 173-98. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1966.

Contends that Richardson could not deal with social problems in his writings and that he is at his best in the analysis of emotions.

Warner, William B. "The Elevation of the Novel in England: Hegemony and Literary History." ELH 59 (1992): 577-96.

Examines how Richardson sought to displace earlier, popular novels with his own new form of the novel.

Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. Samuel Richardson and the Eighteenth-Century Puritan Character. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1972, 259 p.

Studies Richardson's notion of character and the devices that he uses in rendering character.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial

Samuel Richardson World Literature Analysis

Explore Study Guides