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.
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