I need to do a serious post, via Williams and the critical heritage of Watt and his successors, but I ran out of time. Instead, I’ll invite you to read Patricia Lockwood’s quick shiv between the ribs of Updike in LRB. This is how it begins:

I was hired as an assassin. You don’t bring in a 37-year-old woman to review John Updike in the year of our Lord 2019 unless you’re hoping to see blood on the ceiling. ‘Absolutely not,’ I said when first approached, because I knew I would try to read everything, and fail, and spend days trying to write an adequate description of his nostrils, and all I would be left with after months of standing tiptoe on the balance beam of objectivity and fair assessment would be a letter to the editor from some guy named Norbert accusing me of cutting off a great man’s dong in print. But then the editors cornered me drunk at a party, and here we are.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n19/patricia-lockwood/malfunctioning-sex-robot (reg. req.)

It seems fair to say that all literature dates itself with the passage of time, but realistic fiction seems unusually vulnerable to this effect; or maybe the passage of time is exactly what we need to assess it more accurately.

I was also struck by Lockwood’s observations about Updike’s “habit of painting women in his fiction, rather than inhabiting them,” (taken from a sharp exchange Updike had with Barbara Probst Solomon). This seems to relevant to how we might evaluate Richardson’s critical revival in the late 20c.



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,





[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.

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,


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,




Clarissa, Week 2 (148-410): Arguments & Abduction

As promised, I’m posting a link here to Sade’s Essay on the Novel, which should help you see the connections between the morally polarized readings of Clarissa that came from Richardson’s feminist and anti-feminist readers and imitators. I’m also including two pioneering female critics (Van Ghent and Doody) to give you a sense of Richardson’s form and generic positioning.

For your reading journals this week, I’d like you to keep tabs on your experiences of the unfolding plot, your sense of the characters and their physical environment while you write. This coming week we’ll be sharing some portion of your journals with one another, so be sure to decide which portions you’d like to share. I also ask for you to keep a running tab of passages you’d like to discuss. In these journals, you are free to incorporate or ignore insights or passages from Sade, Van Ghent, or Doody, and to explicitly address questions such as:

  • morality, sensibility, pleasure, pain, indifference
  • visuality, transparency, the gaze
  • power, conflict, tragedy

Let me know if you run into any problems. Otherwise, I’ll see you this Thursday.

Take care,


Clarissa, Week 1 (Preface, Letters 1-31, pp. 1-148): UPDATED

Hi folks,

Thanks for a great seminar on Thursday. As I mentioned in class, we’ll begin slowly with Clarissa and then speed up as we go along.

In class Thursday, we’ll read as a group the Preface, including the Principal Characters (35-8), then the first 31 letters, and conclude with the first letter of Lovelace to Belford (142-8).

For your first blog comment, I’d like you to mine your reading journals to talk about the transition from amatory fiction (Bowers) to a more circumstantial realist presentation (Watt) in SR. You might also want to think about the extent that SR might want us to recognize Clarissa’s characterization as potentially offering a ““reform’d coquet” (Spencer) style narrative (with other characters perceiving her this way) and then showing this reading of her to be wrong.

Hit the comment button on the left hand column (or the “leave a reply” box) and discuss what you noticed in the transition in a paragraph or so, along with some textual evidence taken from the texts you discuss. You are free to use the Bowers, Watt, or Spencer selections, or not, in your responses below.

Good luck,


UPDATE: Please have these posted by Wednesday evening, so we can all read and review them before classtime. Thanks, DM