Dedicated to classics and hits.

Monday, April 30, 2012


Samuel Richardson


Clarissa Harlowe; or the history of a young lady
comprehending the most important concerns of private life.
and particularly shewing, The Distresses that may attend the misconduct both of parents and children, in relation to marriage
by Samuel Richardson
Produced by Julie C. Sparks
Read on an Amazon Kindle
published 1748

         This review contains spoilers but I'm just going to assume that everyone who reads this review has either already read Clarissa or never will, because Clarissa is the longest novel in the English language. When I say longest novel in the English language I mean nine volumes of 300 pages each in "KINDLE SIZE" pages. It took me approximately 2 hours to read each volume, so I spent 20 hours, more or less, reading Clarissa. I am positive that I never would have read Clarissa before the adoption of the Ereader- either Amazon Kindle or Apple Ebook. First of all, it doesn't come in an edition that contains less then four volumes. That makes Clarissa an unpopular classic for would-be publishers. Second of all Clarissa is an epistolary novel, which is the literary equivalent of a Dinosaur: Perhaps interesting for nerds to study and talk about, but non-existant in the present. Third, the subject matter and resolution of Clarissa: The courtship, seduction/rape and eventual death of the titular Clarissa are treated in such a fashion as to exclude Clarissa as an apporpriate book for school age children. Let's be honest: Children are the number one Audience target for literary classics because High School and above age children are FORCED to read classics. No ONE is reading Clarissa "for class." What teacher/class combination is going to take the time to read a 2000 page 18th century English novel?

            I certainly question Clarissa's inclusion on the 2006 edition of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list. I especially question Clarissa's inclusion in the 2006 edition because that was before the widespread adoption of the Ebook/KINDLE electronic book format, so the editors are essentially saying, "Yes- track down the four volume set and read it." It's impractical to expect people to read Clarissa, simply because of it's extraordinary length. The enduring success of Clarissa tells me that it must have been, essentially the only hit to come out in 1748 and it basically obtained 100% of the potential market for a novel- because people bought this and just devoured it and passed it around. Like they literally had nothing else to read. It just shows you the amount of time the Audience in 1748 devoted to reading books.

      If you are talking about comparable ways people spent their time on leisure activities today, someone would spend an equivalent amount of time playing World of Warcraft or Call of Duty, or perhaps "power-watching" Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix. It is important to recognize that the Epistolary novel technique is, by Richardson's own words in his Postscript; where he essentially engages his critics- a Realist technique. One of the main ways that the Novel as an Art Form differed from Literary predecessors was the accumulation of specific, verifiable detail in a way that over-lapped with similar developments in the field of Journalism. Thus it's fair to describe the Epistolary novel, as exemplified by Clarissa as a primitive but important step towards the realist technique that would dominate 19th century literature.

             The only predecessor that Richardson has in terms of the Rise of the Novel is Defoe, and it was interesting to see how the characters inside Clarissa were aware of Defoe- but only Defoe- as an example of behavior fit for Novelization. A sort of self-awareness, if you would? The 18th century equivlaent of a television show actor "breaking" and directly addressing the camera. It's also interesting to see how the story is influenced by/shares common influences with, Defoe's Moll Flanders (published in 1722) and Roxana (in 1724) being the most obvious inspirations for Clarissa. Yet another interesting sub-category is the relationship of Clarissa to Samuel Richardson's earlier epistolary novel, Pamela. I'm not positive, but I believed in Pamela Richardson had alot of overlapping letters- describing the same events with no major differences. In Clarissa, these parts are elided or summarized by the unnamed narrator. Pamela, published in 1740, had a happy ending, Clarissa, on the other hand, is a tragedy through and through- instead of a marriage, the deaths of the two lovers, one by "heart break" the other in an duel with Clarissa's kinsman (in Italy, of course.)

There is so much and so little going on in Clarissa at the same time: so little in terms of character development or plot advancement, and so much in terms of secondary themes and depiction of social interaction that reading Clarissa is an exasperating experience, and it points to the fact that I, like, all other readers today, have more options then did Clarissa's Audience- this being a time when there around a 100 books a YEAR published in England.

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