From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble.
Richarson, Samuel (1689-1761), the son of a joiner, born near Derby, where his parents lived briefly before returning to London. Little is known of his boyhood, but because of his father's comparative poverty he appears to have received (in his own words) 'only common School-learning'. The tradition that he attended either Merchant Taylors' or *Christ's Hospital cannot be substantiated. As a boy he read widely, told stories to his friends, and by the age of 13 was employed writing letters for young lovers. In 1706 he was apprenticed to a printer (as his father could not afford to enter him to the Church), and in 1715 he was admitted a freeman of the *Stationers' Company. He set up in business on his own in 1721, in which year he married Martha Wilde, the daughter of his former master. All his working life he was extremely industrious, and his business prospered and expanded steadily. Like all printers of his time, he combined printing and publishing, producing books, journals, advertisement posters, and much miscellaneous work. In 1723 he took over the printing of an influential Tory journal, the True Briton, and by 1727 was sufficiently established in his profession to be appointed renter warden of the Stationers' Company. In the 1720s and early 1730s he suffered the early deaths of all his six children, and in 1731 that of his wife. He attributed the nervous disorders of his later life to the shock of these deaths. In 1733 he married Elizabeth Leake, the daughter of a fellow printer, and four of the daughters of their marriages survived. In the same year he published his The Apprentice's Vade Mecum, a book of advice on morals and conduct. In 1738 he purchased in Fulham a weekend 'country' house, which he always referred to as 'North End' , and which later became famous for his readings and literary parties. He published in 1739 his own version, pointedly moral, of Aesop's Fables, and more importantly, he began Pamela.
Inspiration for the novel initially came from a series of 'familiar letters' which fellow printers had encouraged him to write on the problems and concerns of everyday life. While these eventually grew into Pamela, they were also published separately as Letters . . . to and for Particular Friends (1741). Pamela was written in two months, between November 1739 and January 1740, and was published later that year, to very considerable acclaim. The morality and realism of the work were particularly praised, as Richardson had hoped. However, complaints of its impropriety persuaded him to revise his second edition considerably. The work had a great vogue abroad, and was soon adapted for the stage in France. Imitations and forged 'continuations' persuaded Richardson to go on with the story, and volumes iii and iv (Pamela II) were published in 1741. In that year, there appeared a stinging parody called An Apology for the Life of Mrs *Shamela Andrews, which Richardson believed to be by Fielding (as it almost certainly was) and which he never forgave. Fielding's *Joseph Andrews, which begins as a parody of Pamela, was published in 1742 but did not affect the popularity of Pamela II.
Richardson's business continued to prosper, although his health was beginning to cause him great concern, and he extended his publications in religion, history, biography, and literature. In 1733 he had begun printing for the House of Commons and in 1742 he secured the lucrative post of printer of its journals. His circle of friends had by now vastly increased, and included many admiring young ladies, known as his 'songbirds' or 'honorary daughters'.
During the writing of *Clarissa, which was probably begun in 1744, he endlessly asked his friends for comment and advice, and read passages aloud to them in his 'grotto' (or summer house) at Norht End. The first two volumes of Clarissa appeared in 1747 and were very favourably received. After heavy revision, and determined efforts to prune, a further five volumes appeared in 1748. Correspondents and the circle of friends continued to grow and now included the *Bluestocking ladies Mrs *Delany, Mrs *Carter, and later Mrs *Chapone. Clarissa was an undoubted success but there were complaints about both its length and its indecency, and it was not reprinted as often as Pamela. However, it also became very popular abroad and was translated into French, Dutch, and German.
Urged by friends, Richardson began thinking, in about 1750, of the portrayal of a 'Good Man'. He asked for the views of his extensive acquaintance and began experimenting with the 'letters' of Harriet, who was to become one of the heroines of his next novels. His illnesses and general malaise, which appear to have included a form of Parkinson's disease, increased steadily but he persevered strenuously both with his business and his writing. His authors in the 1750s included Charlotte *Lennox, Sarah *Fielding, Edward *Young and George *Lyttelton. He had now become friendly with Dr *Johnson, to whose *Rambler he contributed in 1750 and whom he helped with money in 1751. In 1752 Johnson (together with many of Richardson's other friends) read the draft of Sir Charles *Grandison, and Richardson printed the fourth volume of the Rambler. In 1753 he travelled to Bath and Cheltenham, which was as far as he had ever gone, and in 1753-4 he published the seven volumes of Sir Charles Grandison. The book sold well and rapidly became fashionable, but was assailed in various critical pamphlets for length, tedium, and doubtful morality.
In 1754-5 Richardson was master of the Stationers' Company. He published in 1755 A Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments . . . in the Histories of Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison, a book which he considered contained the pith of all his work. In the same year Dr Johnson published the Dictionary, which contained 97 citations from Clarissa. In 1756 Richardson was asked by *Blackstone for adevice on the reform of the *Oxford University Press. Towards the end of his life Richarson wrote a few 'letters' to, from, and about Mrs Beaumont, a minor character from Sir Charles Grandison, who had been someone of mysterious importance in his early life. He continued to revise his novels heavily, and remained active in his business until his death.
Richarson is generally agreed to be one of the chief founders of the modern novel. All his novels were *epistolary, a form he took from earlier works in English and French, which he appreciated for its immediacy ('writing to the moment' as he called it), and which he reaised to a level not attained by any of his predecessors. The 'letters', of which his novels consist, contain many long transcriptions of conversations, and the kinship with drama seems very strong. He was acutely aware of the problems of prolixity ('Length, is my principle Disgust') and worked hard to prune his original drafts, but his interest in minute analysis led inevitably to an expansive style.
A selection of his letters (6 vols, 1804) was edited by Mrs *Barbauld: see also Selected Letters of Samuel Richardson, ed. J. Carroll (1964). There is a life by T. C. D. Eaves and B. D. Kimpel (1971); see also M. Kinkead-Weekes, Samuel Richardson, Dramatic Novelist (1973); M. A. Doody, A Natural Passion (1974).
Clarissa: or The History of a Young Lady, an *epistolary novel by S. *Richardson, published 1748 (for 1747)-1749, in eight volumes. About one-third of the work (which is in all over a million words) consists of the letters of Clarissa and Lovelace, mainly written to Anna Howe and John Belford respectively, but there are over 20 correspondents in all, displaying many points of view and variations in style.
Lovelace, a handsome, dashing rake, is courting Arabella Harlowe, the elder sister of Clarissa. The Harlowes are an acquisitive, ambitious, 'narrow-souled' family, and when Lovelace transfers his affections to Clarissa they decide he is not good enough and that Clarissa must marry the welathy but ugly Solmes, whom she detests. When she refuses she is locked up and humiliated. Lovelace, cleverly representing himself as her deliverer, plays on her fears, convinces her that he is forwarding her reconciliation with her family, and persuades her to escape under his protection to London. There he establishes her in a superior brothel, which she at first supposes to be respectable lodgings. She unwaveringly resists his advances and he, enraged by her intransigence, is also attracted by it and finds his love and respect for her increase. Her emotions are likewise deeply confused; she is fascinated by his charm and wit, but distrusts him and refuses his eventual proposals of marriage. In his growing insistence, Lovelace overreaches himself, interfering with her letters, deceiving her over a supposed emissary from her family, violently assalulting her, and cunningly ensnaring her after he escapes. As she unhappily but stubbornly resists, he becomes more obsessive in his determination to conquer, and makes an attempt to rape her. He claims to believe that her resistance is no more than prudery and that, once subdued, she will turn to him: 'Is not this the hour of trial—And in her, of the trial of the virtue of her whole Sex, so long premeditated, so long threatened? —Whether her frost be frost indeed? Whether her virtue be principle?' (vol. V, Letter 31). To Clarissa chastity represents identity, and the climax of her tragedy comes when Lovelace, abetted by the women of the house, drugs and rapes her, an event he reports in one of the shortest letters of the work: 'And now, Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives.' (Vol. V, Letter 32).
Slowly Clarissa loses grip of her reason, and Lovelace realizess that he has lost the very dominance he had hoped to establish. Cut off from family, friends, and even correspondence, Clarissa eventually escapes, only to find herself trapped in a debtor's prison. She is rescued by Belford, who looks after her with affectionate care. Lovelace is overwhelmed by remorse. Clarissa recovers her sanity, but almost ceases to write, and her long decline and Christian preparation for death are reported largely in lettters by Belford. After her death her cousin, Colonel Morden, kills Lovelace in a duel. Because of its great length, the novel has been more admired than read, but it has always been held in high critical esteem; the characters of the protagonists are developed with great sutblety, and the irresolvable nature of their conflict takes on an emblematic and tragic quality unique for its author and its period.