Clarissa, Week 5 & Final Week (883-1499)

Happy New Year, everyone!

Here’s your reading journal assignment for this week:

Q: While you are reading the final installment (pp. 411-883), choose an important turning-point in the novel’s plot: it could be an action, an event, a disclosure of an important bit of news, or even an important realization by one of the characters. To some extent, this choice helps us decide which of the numerous stories told in this novel is the core narrative.

Think about the significance of this turning-point for the novel as a whole, collect passages and arguments in your journal, and be prepared to write about this turning-point for about 10 minutes at the beginning of class.

As you consider this episode and its significance, ask yourself this question: how does Richardson’s epistolary form influence the way he narrates this very extended “story”?

I’ll be posting materials related to the literariness and realism questions that arose last week.

See you soon,






Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography 

In my reading of Clarissa, I’ve done what many critics have done, tried to understand what is the story, the real story, of the novel. As Terry Castle notes, “different “constructions” placed on Richardson’s big, balky text from without are exactly that: images of order imposed from without by the reader.” As such, I chose to read criticism about interruption, about curses and oaths, about the sharp edges of the language of the novel rather than looking for symbolic unity, because these edges are part of the disturbing nature, both conventional and affective, of the text. 

Gemmill, Katie. “Typography and Conversational Threat in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.” Narrative. May 2019; 27 (2): 140-159. Ohio State University Press.

Formalist scholarship on the nascent novel form in the eighteenth and nineteenth century has tended to focus on the narrative innovations of free indirect discourse, of omniscience, of character’s psychological complexity, to the exclusion of dialogue, which was considered to be inherited from dramatic forms and therefore one of the least “novel” features of the novel. However strictly codified the formal conventions of dialogue in narrative have become, this was not the case in the eighteenth century, critic Katie Gemmil argues that because of his experience as a printer, Richardson was highly invested in elaborating a “graphic scaffolding” for his novels that mined his experience with the typography of other forms to express the dynamics (interruptions, exhortations, simultaneity, cadence, etc) of his characters’ dialogue and to impart an orality to the novel form. She describes his particular use of dashes for interruptions, the pattern of advance and riposte, italics for cadence, ellipses for hesitation, etc… amplifies the aural and emotional quality of the scenes makes them “loud”, they rarely repress their reactions in favor of deference or reflection but react spontaneously, so that their thoughts and feelings may be able to, as Richardson writes in his introduction, “be brought to the breast of the reader” (15). In borrowing conventions for dialogue from the more embodied narrative forms of drama and music, she argues that Richardson foreshadows bodily violation. The essay studies Richardson’s pioneering use of the dash to express interruption as an emotional and physical phenomenon that is deeply threatening. The essay also studies the way Richardson breaks up words and uses capitalization to give visual cues for their embodied expression, this is hard to describe so I’ll give an example from Richardson: “Lord M. “What say you to this, SIR-R—! Remember, Jack, to read all their sirs in this dialogue with a double rr, sirr!—denoting indignation rather than respect” (1030). And this prescriptive typography is not Richardson’s only trick, he relies excessively on dialogue tags ascribe tone which he borrowed from musical notation, but which he expanded to describe affective stance, gesture, and facial expression, recognizing that tone is not merely an aural but a bodily phenomenon. This attention to Samuel Richardson’s conventional innovation might allow a new focus on how gaps between cause and effect in the novel rely on the body as much as they do the constantly working minds of their epistolary narrators. 

Hynes, Peter. “Curses, Oaths, and Narrative in Richardson’s Clarissa” ELH Vol. 56, No. 2 (Summer, 1989), pp. 311-326 

Critic Peter Hynes draws attention to the way cursing and swearing, forms of utterance that are conventional in that they express control over other utterances by guaranteeing their truth, and that they lay claims on the future, by predicting events. Cursing also has a special relationship to power, Clarissa opines that: “it proclaims the profligate’s want of power, and his wickedness at the same time: for should such a man punish as he speaks, he would be a fiend!” (396) Lovelace considers cursing to be an expression of power, whereas Clarissa thinks it expresses the speakers lack thereof, these expletive curses are illustrative of character but are not deterministic of the structure of the novel like perlocutionary curses (which invoke the divine). Clarissa’s father damns her. Clarissa fears that this curse will come true, and she takes Lovelace’s torture of her to be a proof, culminating in her rape. However, Anna Howe’s rationalization, Lovelace’s scheming, and the very ambiguous authority of Mr. Harlowe which is constantly being usurped undermine the reader’s faith in his curse as a matter of destiny to be taken seriously. Richardson was prevailed upon to revise all mentions of the curse in the third edition of  Clarissa because his friend Hester Mulso believed it undermined Clarissa’s authority with the reader to have her indulge in superstition. In the third edition, her fear of the curse was attributed to her weakened condition. But the curse still haunts her, as does Lovelace’s sworn oath that he will “try her”. Yet for every prayer, curse and oath that bears out there are a dozen that never do in the novel, we cannot trust that Clarissa wouldn’t have been made to marry Solmes, nor can we trust that she would have… This doesn’t make oaths and curses unimportant to the narrative, it makes their capriciousness realistic. Peter Hynes finds Richardson’s strategy of setting reason and prolepsis against each other to generate narrative tension to be consistent with Mikahil Bakhtin’s formulation of novelistic discourse, in that it endlessly renews the reader’s engagement in the “hermeneutics of motive”. This essay engages interesting questions of how and why rational characters have recourse to unreason alongside reason. 

Kelly’s Annotated Bib

REEVES, JAMES BRYANT. “Posthumous Presence in Richardson’s ‘Clarissa.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 53, no. 3, 2013, pp. 601–621.,

Reeves’ article argues against the mainstream criticisms which state Clarissa’s voice, after death, is silenced forever, and she remains unheard as she was when she was alive. Instead, through her letters and the will, Clarissa not only maintains agency but also an agenda to reform the secular world while deceased. Moreover, Reeves has a different stance on Richardson’s eschatology and idea of providence. He contradicts the opinion many scholars share regarding Richardson’s material world, that of the spiritual, and how they never overlap. While recognizing that the spiritual realm is superior to the material, Reeves asserts the material world is still contained within the divine, and the purpose of the spiritual is to redeem and reform its counter, not to abandon it. Thus, Clarissa, described as angelic throughout the novel, embodies the mixing of both the corporeal and divine; once she dies, her documents disrupt the linear timeline of the earlier parts of the novel, forcing the reader to reevaluate the meaning of time, and gives way to the eternal.

NAZAR, HINA. “JUDGING CLARISSA’S HEART.” ELH, vol. 79, no. 1, 2012, pp. 85–109.,

Nazar’s article approaches Clarissa as a novel which questions traditional morality. Primarily focusing on Clarissa’s two sources of morality, her heart and Anna, her best friend, Nazar examines the ways in which the inner and outer voices aid in Clarissa’s understanding of what is right. The heart, or her conscious, is god-given and allows her enough autonomy to disobey her family under the claim of spiritual obedience. Yet, at the same time, her heart judges freely without any participation from Clarissa’s mind, and, as Nazar points out, Clarissa is often skeptical of her initial judgements. Thus, employing Anna as her mirror, Clarissa engages in reflective judgement, a relative morality based on accordance with others and which grants its own validity. This social engagement, Nazar comments, is perpetuated in the epistolary form, as letters are a social space, unlike a diary. Again, the duality of secular and divine issues exist within Clarissa, and, with her refusal to adhere ultimately to Anna’s suggestions to marry Lovelace, she ultimately rejects the new morality constructed on social participation. Ending on a quote by Kant, Nazar explains how the social morality everyone seems to be pushing onto Clarissa is self-fulfilling and nothing more.

While Nazar’s article is not exactly in the same vein as Reeves’, the choice Clarissa makes to follow her heart rather than the thoughts of others is an act of her transcending the secular. But, most importantly, it links the spiritual with the material world and offers the latter up for scrutiny and, possibly, reform.

Sarah’s Annotated Bibliography

I’m interested in how Richardson utilizes the epistolary form (it’s one of the more successful epistolary novels I’ve read) and the presence of an “editor” in Clarissa, so I focused on that here.

Babb, Howard S. “Richardson’s Narrative Mode in Clarissa.” Studies in English Literature, vol. 16, no. 3, 1976, pp. 452–60.

Babb examines the way two particular aspects of the narrative mode in Clarissa function: the repeated creation of opposed alternatives (e.g., will Clarissa stay with her family or run away with Lovelace) and the controlled release of information through epistolary techniques to create a text that is always “in motion.” Much of the article is dedicated to a close reading of one letter illustrating these methods. The author also explores the way Richardson dramatizes Lovelace’s fluctuating emotions in this letter.

Johnson, Glen M. “Richarson’s ‘Editor’ in Clarissa. The Journal of Narrative Technique, vol. 10, no. 2, 1980, pp. 99–114.

Johnson’s article aims to correct what he sees as an oversight in previous discussions of Clarissa’s narrative techniques: the role of the Richardson’s “editor.” He both examines the functions of­­­­ the editorial insertions themselves, categorizing them as editorial and interpretive, and looks at the effects of simply having editor. He argues that as well as shaping the reader’s interpretation, the editor lends the book verisimilitude and authority. Ultimately, Johnson makes the case that the editor is a crucial component of both the drama and the tension between intellect and emotion in the novel.

Kaplan, Fred. “‘Our Short Story’: The Narrative Devices of Clarissa.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, vol. 11, no. 3, 1971, pp. 549–62.

Kaplan explores how Richardson takes advantage of the epistolary form—and the presence of an “editor”—to handle and manipulate time in Clarissa. He begins with the media res opening the novel and goes on to look at how Richardson utilizes flashback, narrative foreshortening, chronological discontinuity, summary, the delayed release of information, reported scene/dialogue, and other techniques in the novel. The way in which the “clock” of the novel—one year—is deployed is also examined, most particularly in an analysis of two exchanges of letters. 

[Amandelin Valentine: Clarissa Annotated Bib]

[posted on AV’s behalf–DM]

Chaber, Lois A. “Christian Form and Anti-Feminism in Clarissa.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 3-4 (2003): 507 – 537.

In her strikingly reflective article, Chaber considers the complexity and ambiguity of Richardson’s representation of gender. She reviews the contemporary dogma of divine providence, bringing in Richardson’s own religious beliefs and correspondence to critique his gendered portrayal of Christian belief and worthiness. Particularly noting that, in this dogma, ‘suffering’ is understood as passively accepting the divine will of God and ‘acting’ is understood as working for one’s own aims rather than trusting to God, Chaber reveals Clarissa’s original sin as her defiance of her parents’ will and her temporary resolution to escape with Lovelace. Also employing an analysis of Richardson’s form as “an inversion of the classic tragic pyramid,” Chaber argues that Clarissa is ultimately redeemed when, faced with the imposed choice to either marry or prosecute Lovelace, she “does what she should have done earlier—nothing” (527, 532). Thus, while Richardson’s depiction of gender and credentials as a feminist or proto-feminist remain debated, Chaber argues that he puts forward a conflicted view of female agency that ultimately rewards Clarissa’s willingness to suffer and her devotion to the Christian path of ‘passivity’ with the highest of earthly esteem and heavenly reward.

Johnston, Elizabeth. “The Female Jailor and Female Rivalry in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.” Gender Forum, Köln Iss. 58 (2016): n.p.

Following a brief illumination of the history of Clarissa’s reception as a feminist, proto-feminist, or anti-feminist text, Johnston argues that it is not Clarissa herself, but rather the cast of villainous women around her, who best articulate the text’s negative view of women. While Clarissa is promoted as the feminine ideal, the women around her come up short—sometimes to disastrous effects, as Johnston demonstrates. She suggests that the novel indicts almost all of its women; from Clarissa’s own mother and sister, whose weakness and jealousy, respectively, alienate Clarissa from the family, to Mrs. Sinclaire and her sex workers, who resent and torture Clarissa, ultimately spurring Lovelace on to her rape. Though it is Lovelace who ultimately performs the act of rape and instigates Clarissa’s imprisonment, Johnston points out that he is allowed to be redeemed and humanized through the interiority and remorse of his letters; the Sinclaire house prostitutes have no such opportunity and, instead, confess their culpability and die unrepentant. Women—specifically fallen women—more specifically groups of women—are shown to be, as Johnston claims, “the root cause of all evil.” Women may be excellent, as Clarissa’s extreme virtue demonstrates, but they are more likely to be bad—and when they are bad, they are far, far worse than the men.

Annie’s Annotated Bibliography

Mckeon, Michael. “Watt’s Rise of the Novel within the Tradition of the Rise of the Novel.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 12, no. 2, 253–276. Project Muse. 12/12.2-3.mckeon.html.

McKeon situates Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel within other prominent theorists who have tried to capture, linguistically, what a “novel” is and how it began. He points out both similarities and differences between the theories of Georg Lukács, José Ortega y Gasset, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Watt. One similarity I glean from his comparisons is that all theorists speak about a kind of break from work that pre-supposes a collective understanding—for instance, a break from some kind of agreed-upon “types” as we’ve discussed in class—and a shift instead to something that “purports to be an authentic account of the actual experiences of individuals” (Watt qtd. by McKeon 270).  

Because I was particularly interested in Watt’s arguments about how Clarissa differs from other works of its time, I have been looking into other sources about the history of the novel form. This source is helping to familiarize me with early theories of the novel and how more recent studies labeled “narrative theory” or “narratology” differ from the style and focus of those early theories.

Seidel, Michael. “The Man Who Came to Dinner: Ian Watt and the Theory of Formal Realism.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 12 no. 2, 193–212. Project Muse. century _fiction/v0 12/12.2-3.seidel.html.

Seidel points out that many criticisms have been made against Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel, and that many of them are true: Watt doesn’t show a clear understanding of the deep variance of the novel form, fails “to acknowledge the existence of realist fiction much earlier and in other places than England,” and his use of the term “novel” is problematic, among other criticisms (120-21). But, ultimately, this article argues we should still value Rise of the Novel’s contribution to literary criticism, and that the major thing it gets right is that realism (and Seidel defines realism essentially the same as Watt does) dominated English narratives of the early 18th century, and that this domination didn’t exist previously. Seidel differentiates between impulses of realism and realism that dominates a narrative.

I looked at this source because I have been curious to know if there is much debate about what classifies as the first “novel.” This source helped me get glimpses of that debate. I gather that Seidel agrees with Watt that the 18th century brought us a dominance of literary realism in general through, among other things, a plethora of narratives like Clarissa that are dominated by realism, but didn’t necessarily bring us realism.  

UPDATE: we’ll do annotated bibs tomorrow, finish reading the next class

I’m hearing that I was overoptimistic about the time needed to finish reading this book.

I’m revising our schedule slightly, so that everyone should post their selective annotated bibs tonight as standalone posts before class. Do those as your own posts, not as comments to mine. I will move the second blogging assignment I mentioned before to next week, to set up our final class on Richardso.

We’ll finish up the final portion of Clarissa the following class, so that we have time to do both assignments and discuss them.

If you’re having trouble with the annotated bib, or  WP posting generally, let me know on the blog or via email. If it gets too hard, send to me via email and I’ll post.

Thanks, and take care,


Annotations (Clarissa, Week 4)

I have remained particularly fascinated by the narrative framework of Clarissa. The epistolary form allows for a complex interweaving of perspectives, which Richardson has complicated still further by the pointed addition of the editor as a figure who oversees the compilation of the novel’s correspondences. Our understandings are mediated on several levels. There are plenty of examples today of texts presented as collections of material: novels (usually “chick lit” or young adult) written entirely in the form of fictional email correspondence between characters come to mind, as well as films structured as “found footage.”


Johnson, Glen M. “Richardson’s ‘Editor’ in Clarissa.” Journal of Narrative Technique, vol. 10, 1980, pp. 99–114. JSTOR.

In this article, Johnson addresses what he deems a lack of critical attention to the editorial voice that provides the “extensive apparatus” of the Richardson’s Clarissa (99). Although the editorial voice does not purport to narrate, the presence does hold “important narrative force” in offering footnotes and cross-references; the editor is also responsible for the arrangement and selective excerpting of documents. Johnson argues that the editorial voice both adds to the novel’s sense of verisimilitude and guides reader understanding. The editor can fill in where including relevant details in letters would feel inorganic and undermine the sense of “real-life” correspondence (105). Importantly for Richardson, the apparatus also lends a sense of authority to the novel’s moral arguments.

Johnson’s article is an interesting study in the editorial presence’s mediation of our reception of the story of Clarissa. It is also useful for a background on the technique, which did not originate with Richardson; the practice of “writing elaborate notes to a literary text” had grown relatively widespread by the mid-1700s (104). The article also provides a detailed account of the number of footnotes and editorial asides. I appreciated the discussion of the ways that the editorial notes provide an intrusion within the novel’s epistolary structure. Those intrusions are, of course, attributable to Richardson’s anxiety over his characters and messages being misinterpreted.

Kvande, Marta. “Printed in a Book: Negotiating Print and Manuscript Cultures in Fantomina and Clarissa.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 46, no. 2, Winter 2013, pp. 239–257. Academic Search Complete.

In this article, Marta Kvande points to both Clarissa and Fantomina as making important statements about the intersection between manuscript and print culture. Kvande’s argument hinges importantly on a “one-to-one relationship between body, letter, and self” found in the construction of Clarissa’s character (247). In her letters, representative of the social function essential to manuscript culture, Clarissa can represent her body—both with words and, sometimes, with form—and present her authentic self. However, the purity of that self proves unsustainable. The collection of her correspondence in print, as the reader is purported to receive it, allows for the preservation of Clarissa’s pure self; however, it also “mystifies” her control (246).  

Fantomina, Kvande explains, maintains control of her own representation; because that heroine “separates self from body and letters, [she] is not bound to a single unified self” (251). Where Clarissa embodies manuscript culture, Fantomina embodies the mutability of print. She uses letters as a way to manipulate Beauplaisir’s “investment in surfaces” (249). Kvande draws connections between both heroines and their creators’ level of investment in questions of manuscript versus print culture, and expressiveness versus rhetoric; there is particular attention to the conceptions of authority inherent to each.

Kvande addresses the connection between the epistolary form and the “female expressive self” (240). While she acknowledges that “it is Lovelace who has thoroughly mastered the manipulation of letters to gain his ends,” Kvande doesn’t account for the potential parallels between Lovelace’s letters and Fantomina’s, or between Clarissa’s tendency to accept Lovelace at surface value and Beauplaisir’s manipulability. It might be productive to explore the implications of the potential reversal a bit further.

Clarissa, Week 4 (883-1499)

Next Thursday will be our first Reflection Day, when we can discuss the texts we’ve read and the research you’ve posted, to see where we stand in relation to our material so far.

One of my fundamental teaching principles is that students need to present the results of their work to one another, in order to learn the material more thoroughly, and that they need to participate in independent inquiry and then collective discussion and reflection to do the kinds of work demanded by the discipline, whether at the college major, graduate, or professional level.

Here’s my description and rationale for the first annotated bib assignment:

  1. Review and, if necessary, selectively reread Richardson, to see which portions you might wish to focus upon.
  2. Go through a similar review process with your previous blog posts, class notes, reading journals, and the secondary criticism we’ve excerpted for class discussion.  You are encouraged to read and respond to your classmates’ posts as well. Have there been any areas that interested you since we began?  Inquiries begun with one author that another author seemed to answer, or at least to respond to?  Questions that you’d like to pursue further, either in relation to the original author or on a broader scale?
  3. Choose a topic that allows you to reconstruct a broader critical or cultural context for understanding Richardson’s work.  The focus should remain on Richardson, though you may also consider SR in relation to one or both of the two earlier authors.  This topic could be literary generic (e.g., amatory fiction and its formal conventions of plot, characterization, etc.); it could be social-historical (practices of marriage, courtship, and child-rearing; sexual violence and/or prostitution; social class or rank; etc.); political (traces of party conflict and/or political history in characterization) or philosophic (questions of autonomy or identity) and so forth.
  4. Gather together a limited, selective bibliography featuring 2 items on your topic: 2 articles, gathered from MLA Bibliography, Project Muse (req. Muse acct/signin), or JSTOR, pre- and post-1985.  (In addition to the database guides, you may also try the library’s new Search, though you should know that it’s still being tweaked). Your topic should offer a critical context for reading Clarissa.
  5. Briefly annotate each item with about 3-5 sentences.
  6. For models, see, e.g., this explanation from the Purdue OWL. There are lots of other guides to annotated bibs online.
  7. Post this online Wednesday evening before class, and be prepared to talk about your research, what we’ve learned, and your latest questions about this initial grouping of novels and novelists. [For posting, see this link in WP help.]

Any questions?  Put them up on the blog.  I’m also happy to chime in with suggestions if you get stuck.  Good luck, DM

CLASS CANCELLED, 9-19: Make up assignments on blog; UPDATED

Hi folks,

The weather has turned ugly this morning and I’m seeing flash flood alerts. We will therefore cancel today’s meeting and resume next week to finish the book (883-1499).

To make up for the lost meeting and to keep us on track, I expect all those who haven’t yet posted for this week to put up those posts by tomorrow.

I will also assign two one blog post for next week, one writing-oriented and one research-oriented, which I expect you to post by Wednesday evening. 

These posts will be graded together as part of the annotated bib assignment for Segment I.

Please make sure you’re up to date with your posts, and check the blog for those upcoming assignments.

I’m also notifying people of this through emails and text messages.

Please stay safe,