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Clarissa – Samuel Richardson



Posted May 5, 2016 by

Clarissa – Samuel Richardson – 1748


Posted by Joffre on 6/8/2014, 11:41:31, in reply to “Clarissa”

Harold Bloom has said he finds Clarissa second only to Don Quixote in aesthetic eminence. I don’t know if aesthetic eminence and greatness are the same thing or not.

I know you don’t like DQ, but while I’ve not yet read Clarissa, I can’t imagine that the books are anything alike.

I’ve found it hard to get round to Clarissa because I detested Richardson’s Pamela. I do know, however, that Fielding, who also detested Pamela, thought Clarissa was good.

While length is usually not a big deterrent for me, coupled with my dislike of Pamela, the more or less 1500 pages of Clarissa has been.

As I’ve said before, I do intend to read, or at least begin, Clarissa. I think I may let the reading last a while. Perhaps read two letters a day.

Steven has read Clarissa. I guess he has a review on Amazon.


Posted by Steven on 6/8/2014, 15:22:16, in reply to “Re: Clarissa”

I read both Pamela and Clarissa (in that order). I was glad to have read them because their influence is readily apparent in later novels. I found Pamela (the character) annoying, and before long I was having very politically incorrect sentiments in favor of her would-be seducer.

Clarissa was more enjoyable in spite of its length. I tried to read it more or less in “real time,” following the dates of the letters which span, if memory serves, about ten months’ time. I fell behind early, but finished in a rush once I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and took about nine months overall to read it. One of the things which makes Clarissa so important is the novelty, for that time, of having a young woman so highly educated and capable of asserting her independence. This is weakened towards the end of the novel when she falls into conventional religious moralizing and regrets what we would now consider he strengths. Richardson had a lot of trouble with critics on religious and moral grounds, and had to keep modifying the novel to make it more palatable to the establishment. It went through four revisions, and by the fifth edition he had added some 200 pages to it. The version I read, from Penguin Classics, was the first (and shortest) edition. At almost a million words it is still nearly twice the length of A Suitable Boy or War and Peace.


Posted by Lale on 6/8/2014, 16:10:02, in reply to “Re: Clarissa”

: The version I read,

: from Penguin Classics, was the first (and shortest)

: edition. At almost a million words it is still nearly

: twice the length of A Suitable Boy or War and Peace.

How is this possible? If Clarissa is 1500-pages long, how can it be twice as long as ASB or W&P, both of which are also 1500-pages long each?

I know that font and white space do make a difference. The War of the End of the World was close to 800 pages but I think it would have been 1500 pages in a different edition. The edition I read had very small font and no space whatsoever. One chapter finishes, and in the following line next chapter starts. (Btw, Guillermo, thank you for making us read that book. I was really fascinated by Canudos that I made one of my class presentations on it).



Posted by Sterling on 6/8/2014, 22:11:09, in reply to “Re: Clarissa”

Font, margins, etc. do make a lot of difference. Here is a list from the Wikipedia by word count:


As you can see, Clarissa is indeed close to a million, while A Suitable Boy and War and Peace are both just short of 600,000. Page counts of all three are much closer than word counts.

I’ve been thinking of going “full Steven” and reading both Pamela and Clarissa, although Joffre’s detestation of the former seems to be a common reaction, both now and in its own time (e.g., Fielding). So, maybe I should skip Pamela and just stick to Clarissa.

(I’m currently reading The Golden Bowl as part of my “filling in the gaps” project. This is more of a personal “gap” than a failure to have read one of the standard classics. But I have read both The Ambassadors (holder of a slot in my own all-time Top Ten List) and The Wing of the Dove and would like to complete my reading of James’ three famously challenging late novels.)


Posted by Steven on 7/8/2014, 8:51:03, in reply to “Re: Clarissa”

I was going to link to the same list, since that’s where I got the data. I’m sure it’s incomplete. There are at least three more Chinese novels that probably exceed a million words in translation as they are well over 2000 pages each in print.

You would think that with all the information available these days someone would have come up with an online database of books that includes a word or character count. You can estimate it by the download size of an e-book, but this includes the cover and perhaps other illustrations which can be larger than the text itself.

I’ll have to tell my wife there are people out there going “full Steven” and see what she thinks that means. (She’ll probably assume it means trying to buy every book ever published.)

Since Pamela is a free e-book, you could at least try a bit of it. Where Clarissa is about the emancipation of women, Pamela is more about class and the idea that the working classes are not just the tools and playthings of the rich, but have a mind and soul of their own, are entitled to compassion and dignity, and can even aspire to rise above the station they were born to.


Posted by guillermo maynez on 7/8/2014, 10:33:54, in reply to “Re: Clarissa”

Jesus! I haven’t read either “Pamela” or “Clarissa” (both names would be considered table-dancers names in Mexico). But now I’m very intrigued about the size comparison between “A Suitable Boy” and “War and Peace”. In the copies I have of both books, the Indian is much longer than the Russian. Could it be my Spanish translation is in some way mutilated? What is considered the best English translation of “War and Peace”, the Pevear-Volokhonsky?


Posted by guillermo maynez on 7/8/2014, 10:36:41, in reply to “Re: Clarissa”

Sorry about my bad English, I should have said “neither “Pamela” nor “Clarissa”.

Some day I, too, will go full Steven.

One of my gap-filling projects is finishing the Henry James major novels cycle. James is one of my favorite authors and “The Ambassadors” also ranks very high on my list. “Portrait of a Lady”, “The Wings of the Dove”, and “The Golden Bowl” are on my soon-to-read list.


Posted by Steven on 11/8/2014, 15:58:30, in reply to “Re: Clarissa”

Over the weekend I read Shamela, Henry Fielding’s parody of Pamela. It’s worth reading Pamela just so you can get to Shamela–it is wicked, bawdy, hilarious and blissfully short (about 50 pages in print, but I read an ebook).


Posted by Sterling on 12/8/2014, 8:50:54, in reply to “Pamela, Shamela”

I honestly have considered reading Pamela just to appreciate Shamela. (My high regard for Tom Jones has put Fielding near the top of my list.) I understand that Joseph Andrews was also written as a response to Pamela, although not as a direct parody.


Posted by joffre on 12/8/2014, 20:42:12, in reply to “Pamela, Shamela”

I once intended to read Shamela but never got around to it.

Is this, http://www.amazon.com/Apology-Life-Mrs-Shamela-Andrews-ebook/dp/B0039GL3OE/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1407893838&sr=8-6&keywords=shamela the book? Conny Keyber is a psuedonym of Fielding?

Did you find some other free edition?


Posted by Steven on 13/8/2014, 8:43:10, in reply to “Re: Pamela, Shamela”

Yes, that’s the book. He did use the pen name Conny Keyber.

Instead of free e-books, I read most of my classics from the Delphi collections such as this one: http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Fictional-Works-Fielding-Illustrated-ebook/dp/B00CD9507O They’re only $2-3 each and have better editing and formatting than the free versions, as well as illustrations in many cases.

I’m planning to read Joseph Andrews in the next few weeks.


Posted by Joffre on 7/8/2014, 14:20:24, in reply to “Re: Clarissa”

Here’s something V.S. Pritchett wrote about Richardson and Clarissa. I have to transcribe it since I can’t find where to cut and paste, so you better enjoy it.

Richardson is mad about sex.

… I said just now that Clarissa is a novel written under a microscope; really it is a novel written about the world as one sees it through a keyhole. Prurient and obsessed by sex, the prim Richardson creeps on tip toe nearer and nearer, inch by inch, to that vantage point; he beckons us on, pausing to make every kind of pious protestation, and then nearer and nearer he creeps again, delaying, arguing with us in whispers, working us up until we catch the obsession too. What are we going to see when we get there? The abduction, the seduction, the lawful deflowering of a virgin in marriage are not enough for him. Nothing short of the rape of Clarissa Harlowe by a man determined on destroying her can satisfy Richardson’s phenomenal day-dream with it’s infinite delays.

The principle of procrastinated rape is said to be the ruling one in all the great best sellers. It was in Richardson’s genius that he was able to elevate the inner conflict of the passions and the will to an abstract level, so that the struggle of Clarissa and Lovelace becomes a universal battle piece; and in doing this, Richardson was able to paint it with the highly finished realism of the Dutch painters. At the beginning, one might simply be reading another novel of intrigue which just goes on and on; and but for the incredible suspense of the narrative I think many readers must have given up Clarissa by the end of the first volume. It is not until the third and fourth volumes are reached, when Richardson transposes his intrigue into the sustained and weeping music, the romantic tragedy of Clarissa’s rape and long preparation for death, that we get his measure.

Well, that’s all I have the inclination to transcribe.

Full Steven ahead.





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