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.


One thought on “Annotations (Clarissa, Week 4)”

  1. Excellent, Alissa, thanks. What your two essays share is a concern with the mediating forms that shape the novel and its story: the “editor”/narrator and the letter. Both seem like relatively passive, “documentary” forms of representation that nonetheless contain a lot of potential to manipulate audiences and to be manipulated in turn. The surface/depth dichotomy found in Kvande’s discussion of Beauplaisir is particularly interesting because I’d identify Lovelace as the lover of surfaces, despite all his deep play and dissimulation, and Clarissa as the defender of a Christian interiority. But how should readers approach the depth/surface dichotomy in a book as long and complex as Clarissa?


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