Samuel Richardson : as a First Novelists

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      His Life : Samuel Richardson was born in Derbyshire, the son of a joiner, by whom he was apprenticed to a London printer. Richardson was an industrious youth, and in the course of time rose high in the pursuit of his occupation. He became a master-printer, produced the journals of the House of Commons, and became printer to the King. He was a man of retiring and almost effeminate habits, but was generous and well liked.

Samuel Richardson's first attempts at writing fiction began at the age of thirteen, when he was the confidant of three illiterate young women, for whom he wrote love-letters. This practice afterward stood him in good stead.
Samuel Richardson

      His Novels : Samuel Richardson's first attempts at writing fiction began at the age of thirteen, when he was the confidant of three illiterate young women, for whom he wrote love-letters. This practice afterward stood him in good stead. He was over fifty years old before he printed a novel of his own, called Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). The book, which takes the form of a series of letters, deals with the fortunes of Pamela, a poor and virtuous maid, who resists, then finally marries and afterwards reforms her wicked master. The work was instantly successful, exhausting four editions during the first six months of its issue. The characters, especially the chief female character, slowly but accurately fabricated during the gradual evolution of the simple plot, were new to the readers of the time, and mark a great step forward in the history of the English novel. Richardson's next novel, which was also constructed in the form of letters, was Clarissa Harlowe (1747-1748). This treats of the perfidy of men, as illustrated in the tragedy of the heroine, who is persecuted by the villainous Lovelace.

      Considered by many Richardson's masterpiece, Clarissa Harlowe shows his characterization at its best. Not only Clarissa herself, but many of the minor characters are well drawn, with Richardson's usual attention to minute psychological analysis. The story has a strong, passionate concern, emotional appeal, and is remarkable for the way in which it achieves a sense of the inevitability of its tragic close. His third and last novel, also in letter-form, was Sir Charles Grandison (1753-1754), dealing chiefly with persons still higher in the social world. Richardson contemplated calling the book A Good Man, for he intended the hero to be the perfection of the manly virtues. But Sir Charles is too good, and succeeds only in being tedious an unreal. The character of the social milieu in which the action is cast also weighs heavily upon Richardson, with the result that this book, which he intended to be his masterpiece, is the hollowest of the three.

      Features of his Novels : Richardson's works are largely the reflection of the man himself, and, in spite of their faults and limitations, are of immense importance in the development of the novel.

(a). Their most striking feature is Richardson's moral purpose. A professed teacher, he is the embodiment of the religious earnestness of the rising Puritan middle class. The virtue he advocates is typically utilitarian rather than fanatical, and its reward is material prosperity. Thus Pamela marries her wicked master and prospers in the world as a direct reward for her virtue.

(b). The books are extremely long, partly because the adoption of the epistolary method necessitated numerous repetitions or slightly differing versions of the same incident. The plots have little complexity and are slow in development, and the novels tend to be shapeless, though his last work, Sir Charles Grandison, shows signs of more complexity and skill in this direction.

(c). Equally responsible for the length of Richardson's novels is his use of minute detail, both of character and incident. He is an adept in the intimate analysis of motive and emotion which gradually evolves a character that is entire and convincing, and he fills in his sketch with a multitude of tiny strokes. For such detailed analysis a lengthy book is essential, so that length is a vital part of Richardson's technique,

(d). Richardson's greatest ability lies in characterization. His psychological insight into human motives and feelings, and particularly his understanding of the feminine heart, has seldom been surpassed since his day. Clarissa is his finest portrait, but each successive novel shows a greater range and variety of character. Part of Richardson's importance in the history of the novel lies in his introduction of characters ol the lower-middle classes, whom he portrays with great accuracy.

(e). The appeal of Richardson's novels is a frankly sentimental one to the heart, and on occasions, as in the protracted account of the approaching death of Clarissa, he is guilty of dwelling too long on the mental sufferings of his characters.

(f). His style lacks distinction. Adequate for his purpose, it is at times over-deliberate, or even elaborately precious, as in much of Sir Charles Grandison, and he never rises to the subtlety of differing styles for different writers in his series of letters.

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