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Written entirely in letters, this novel conveys the nuances and tensions only present in personal epistolary form. The virtuous but self-deceiving Clarissa and the charming villain Lovelace haunt the imagination as fully as Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde.
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Samuel Richardson was born in Derbyshire in 1689, the son of a London joiner. He received little formal education and in 1707 was apprenticed to a printer in the capital. Thirteen years later he set up for himself as a stationer and printer and became one of the leading figures in the London trade. As a printer his output included political writing, such as the Tory periodical The True Briton, the newspapers, Daily Journal (1736-7) and Daily Gazeteer (1738), together with twenty-six volumes of the Journals of the House of Commons and general law printing. He was twice married and had twelve children.
His literary career began when two booksellers proposed that he should compile a volume of model letters for unskilled letter writers. While preparing this Richardson became fascinated by the project, and a small sequence of letters from a daughter in service, asking her father’s advice when threatened by her master’s advances, formed the germ of Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740-41). Pamela was a huge success and became something of a cult novel. By May 1741 it reached a fourth edition and was dramatized in Italy by Goldoni, as well as in England. His masterpiece, Clarissa or, the History of a Young Lady, one of the greatest European novels, was published in 1747-8. Richardson’s last novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, appeared in 1753-4. His writings brought him great personal acclaim and a coterie of devoted admirers who liked to discuss with him the moral aspects of the action in the novels. Samuel Richardson died in 1761 and is buried in St Bride’s Church, London.Review:
Epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, published in 1747-48. Richardson first presents the heroine, Clarissa Harlowe, when she is discovering the barely masked motives of her family, who want to force her into a loveless marriage to improve their fortunes. When Lovelace, a romantic who holds the code of the Harlowes in contempt, offers her protection, she runs off with him. She is physically attracted by if not actually in love with Lovelace, but she is to discover that he wants her only on his own terms and she refuses to marry him. In Lovelace's letters to his friend Belford, Richardson shows that what is driving him to conquest and finally to rape is really revenge for her family's insults and his sense of Clarissa's moral superiority. For Clarissa, however, accepting marriage as a convenience is no better than accepting the opportunistic moral code of her family. As the novel comes to its long-drawn-out close, she is removed from the world of both the Harlowes and the Lovelaces, and she dies true to herself to the end. -- The Merriam-Webster Encylopedia of Literature
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