Brady Report

Samuel Richardson


Both Robert Darnton and J. Paul Hunter address ways in which c18 readers differs fundamentally from c20 readers. The voices of these two critics represent the two major strains in this report: sensibility and Puritan didacticism. Darnton's study of French cultural development allows him to make authoritative statements about the reception of Rousseau in the final chapter of his book, _The Great Cat Massacre_. On the other hand, Hunter's _Before Novels_ sketches out basic British c18 genre expectations for didactic literature. The surprise, for me, has been that these two readerly modes are intimately related. Combining them, furthermore, seems to provide a view of _Clarissa_ which does not see Richardson as torn between 'boring' morality and 'interesting' psychology, but instead sees him as creating a new kind of novel and demanding a new kind of reader to read it properly.

The fact that Darnton has based his study on actual historical records gives weight to his claims. Furthermore, his work does bear directly on the topics of our course, since his principal subject, Jean Ranson, was certainly a sensibilious reader. However, Darnton's own emphasis on the specificity of the nature of readership makes it a bit problematic to apply his results to a study of English readers of _Clarissa_. Ranson reads according to a Rousseauvian model, and though _La Nouvelle HM-iloM-ose_ is certainly a novel of sensibility, it comes after _Clarissa_. If Darnton is right, Rousseau's novel went a long way toward *creating* the type of reader that Ranson represents.

Furthermore, the reader response to Rousseau seems to have a slightly different bias from the English reaction to Richardson. Readers of Rousseau's novel hungered after a personal knowledge of "l'ami Jean-Jaques", and the mountains of letters he received pressed him for advice, etc. Perhaps this is because Rousseau himself addressed his readers in the novel, identifying author and editor explicitly. I have not read much of the "fan mail" sent to Richardson in the wake of _Clarissa_, but it is my impression that the typical request was for more information about the characters, not the author.

Although the responses to the two novels had different foci, the flavor and intensity of their interest seems very similar. Furthermore, Richardson's intentions in writing _Clarissa_ seem to have depended upon the existence of a reader like Rousseau's. It does not seem to me that Richardson was displeased that his readers wrote inquisitive letters to him about the characters and action of _Clarissa_, just that they desired the wrong things. In fact, he himself treated his characters as though they had a full existence outside of the novel. An example is his publication in a later volume of "all" of the meditations that Clarissa wrote during her tribulations (see bibliography). This kind of lateral expansion of the novel seems in line with the basic attributes of French c18 reading which Darnton outlines. So, with a caveat about the dangers of equating Rousseau's and Richardson's readers, I'll sketch Darnton's argument in some detail.

Here is an image of Rousseau's ideal of reading. It is a scene from his own childhood-in fact, it describes the method by which he was first exposed to books:

My father and I began to read...after supper, at first only with the idea of using some amusing books for me to practice reading. But soon we took such a strong interest in them that we read without a break, taking turns throughout the whole night. We could never stop before reaching the end of a volume. And sometimes my father, hearing the swallows at the crack of dawn, would say shamefacedly, "Let's go to bed; I am more of a child than you. (from Confessions, quoted in Darnton, 227)

The reading experience described here is communal, oral, and compulsive. The books provide points of contact between father and son, and each forms a particular bond between the two. Orality seems crucial, in part because "the sound of the voice facilitates the penetration of ideas," (250) as Darnton says. (He is paraphrasing the advice from a German manual of reading by Johann Bergk.) But orality also encourages discussion of the text between the parties involved. Darnton explains that Rousseau's method "consisted in 'digesting' books so thoroughly that they became absorbed in life", (228) and such a method might be intensified by making reading more public. Darnton's subject, Jean Ranson, "did not read in order to enjoy literature but to cope with life and especially family life." (241)

The 'digesting' of books, however, did *not* imply a cold analytical approach; a sifting for lessons. Thus, Rousseau's description of reading as compulsive also seems important. In many of the letters to Rousseau that Darnton quotes, the writers speak of extravagant marathon reading sessions, limited in time only by their physical inability to continue, due to overpowering emotion.

In addition, reading is "intensive". Darnton disputes Rolf Engelsing's idea that a "reading revolution" occurred in the middle of c18, before which reading was "intensive" and after which reading became "extensive". ("First Steps...", 12) The response to the literature of sensibility seems clearly to contradict Engelsing. However, the existence of an "extensive" impulse in reading at the time is confirmed by the fact that Rousseau himself addresses the tendency. In his model of reading, "one does not hurry through books in order to parade one's reading; one varies them less and meditates on them more." (Darnton, 231) In this passage, it seems to me that Rousseau is anxiously working to sustain "intensive" reading against a rising trend toward "extensive" reading practices.

Finally, reading is repetitive. The readers who follow Rousseau's model are driven to repeat the experience of his novels. For example, a reviewer of _La Nouvelle Heloise_ wrote, "One must die of pleasure after reading this book, ... or rather one must live in order to read it again and again." (243)

So much for the general approach to reading in the Rousseauvian model. Within the world of the novel, however, c18 readers also differed from their c20 counterparts. Darnton says they "...suspended their critical instinct, identified with the characters, and let waves of emotion wash over themselves...." (248) The difference here is one of degree-we moderns identify, too, but not typically to the extent described by the readers of Rousseau. For example, the marquise de Polignac wrote that "Julie dying was no longer an unknown person. I believed I was her sister, her friend, her Claire. My seizure became so strong that if I had not put the book away I would have been as ill as all those who attended that virtuous woman in her last moments." (243)

Darnton links the Rousseauvian mode of reading with a religious mode, describing Rousseau as trying to "revive a way of reading that seems to have prevailed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: reading in order to absorb the unmediated Word of God." (232) The revolutionary idea here is the change in the object of this kind of attention: "Rousseauistic reading ...was the summons to read the must suspect form of literature, the novel, as if it were the Bible." (232) In "First Steps...", Darnton notes that "...the rise of the novel had balanced a decline in religious literature...." (9) and it seems only natural that the novel would appropriate readerly _modes_ as it took over readers' attention.

This is my tie between the subject of sensibilious readership and the tradition of the Puritan conduct book. For though Darnton is mainly speaking of readings of the Bible in the above passages, practices of reading conduct books seem to conform to some of the characteristics he outlines. Certainly, at least, the conduct books are the _product_ of a community that reads the Bible in an intensive, Rousseauvian manner. Identification, meditation, digestion, and application to daily life are exactly the reading modes assumed by these authors.

In Chapters Nine through Eleven of _Before Novels_, Hunter describes characteristics of didactic literature which are stumbling blocks to modern readers and shows how nevertheless, the tradition of religious didacticism is a determining force for the early novel. In particular, he emphasizes the importance of Guide literature (of which the Conduct Book is a sub-genre). I do not have space here for an adequate summary, but his argument, combined with Cynthia Wolff's, suggests that an reading of _Clarissa_ from within the Puritan didactic context will yield fruit.

In _Samuel Richardson and the Eighteenth Century Puritan Character_, Wolff describes several basic "ego-ideals" which help to compose Puritan self-concepts, and she discusses literary forms which are produced by the expression of these ideals. The most important of these for _Clarissa_ are the "Self-Examiner" and the "Puritan Saint". In the Puritan community, the "Self-Examiner" ideal generates the religious personal diary, while the "Puritan Saint" produces the tradition of the Funeral Elegy. Both of these modes of writing, Wolff argues, influence the form of _Clarissa_; and understanding their cultural origins is crucial to a historicist interpretation of the novel.

The characteristics of the Puritan spiritual diary, arising out of the "Self-Examiner" ideal are 1) an interest in internal, mental processes, connected with the attempt to discover "secret" sources of sin in oneself; 2) a preoccupation with the minutiae of life, arising out of the Puritan anxiety that small things could be the sign of election or reprobation; and 3) a preoccupation with sexuality, as the most dangerous and tempting of sins.

Wolff sees "the use of repetition, wordiness and redundancy; the technique of writing to the moment; the objective embodiment of the embodying of the narrator so that [she] might examine [herself]; and even the use of the diary-alter ego as a way of maintaining sanity" (36) as characteristics of the Puritan diary which have direct correlatives in Clarissa's letters.reading ...was the summons to read the must suspect form of literature, the novel, as if it were the Bible." (232) In "First Steps...", Darnton notes that "...the rise of the novel had balanced a decline in religious literature...." (9) and it seems only natural that the novel would appropriate readerly _modes_ as it took over readers' attention.

This is my tie between the subject of sensibilious readership and the tradition of the Puritan conduct book. For though Darnton is mainly speaking of readings of the Bible in the above passages, practices of reading conduct books seem to conform to some of the characteristics he outlines. Certainly, at least, the conduct books are the _product_ of a community that reads the Bible in an intensive, Rousseauvian manner. Identification, meditation, digestion, and application to daily life are exactly the reading modes assumed by these authors.

She argues that the Clarissa's letters arise from "the heroine's need, not necessarily to be heard or read, but to write." (37) She quotes Clarissa:

...I know not how to forbear writing. I have now no other employment or diversion. And I must write on, altho' I were not to send it to any-body. You have often heard me own the advantages I have found from writing down everything of moment that befalls me; and of all I think, and of all I do, that may be of future use to me....

Wolff also recalls that Clarissa kept a religious diary before her ordeal with Lovelace began (54). She says that the fact that she stopped this practice during the time of the novel makes it only natural that her letters should take on some of the attributes of diary entries. (242, n. 55)

The placement of Clarissa's letters in this tradition might lead us to reevaluate our judgment of her as "prudish." However, the letters _are_ at least as much letters as diary entries. While maintaining their intense tone of self-examination, Richardson moves Clarissa's letters out of the tradition of the private diary into a consciously public mode which may be only a self-conscious facsimile of that form. Elsewhere in her book, Wolff speaks of the tradition of spiritual autobiography, in which the writer's account of his trials serve as an (often posthumous) example to others of the community. She says that Franklin's _Autobiography_, and Bunyan's _Grace Abounding_ are two illustrative examples of this Puritan mode. And although Wolff keeps away from applying this mode to _Clarissa_, the transformation of diary to "quotable" letter seems to me to imply a move toward this autobiographical tradition.

For Wolff, the "ego ideal" of the "Puritan Saint" is also crucial to a correct understanding of _Clarissa_. The ideal of the Saint gives rise to the literary form of the "Saint's Life." Typically this took the form of a eulogistic funeral sermon, but it was often printed and sold later. The account of the saint's life was always given by an admirer, after death (since one could never be fully assured of one's status of election or Puritan sainthood during one's life). The emphasis is not on the spiritual struggles that the saint underwent, but instead on the successful and productive relationships between the saint and others of God's earthly community. (46-9) "Once the Puritan is presumed to have achieved irrevocable membership in the society of Saints, he is characterized in social terms." (51)

Wolff elaborates this tradition to explain the context of the last part of _Clarissa_. "...Clarissa's private anguish has ended and her private ordeal has fitted her for the posthumous role of Saint. Complete rendering of her character requires both the private and the public image...." (52) She says that Miss Howe's long letter of Thurs., Oct. 12 "might be viewed as Clarissa's funeral oration. It is an almost classic delineation of a member of the Elect." (52)

(Ian Watt supports Wolff in placing Clarissa in the Puritan tradition of the Funeral Elegy. He cites the work of J. W. Draper for evidence and mentions works by Blair, Hervey, and Edward Young which also belong to this tradition. (Watt, 217))

In _Sex and Enlightenment_, Rita Goldberg also pursues the connection between Clarissa and the Puritan conduct books. In fact, she claims that all of Richardson's novels arise out of this mode, as "they were written with the purpose of illustrating virtuous behavior in the various stations of social life." (Goldberg, 28) Of course, there is ample evidence to support the idea that this was Richardson's intention in writing _Clarissa_. He asked Lady Bradshaigh to keep _Clarissa_ on the shelf next to Bayly's _Practice of Piety_ and Taylor's _Holy Living and Holy Dying_, (31) and the Preface to _Clarissa_ also clearly indicates a didactic purpose.

However, it seems to me that the belief that Richardson intends his didactic purpose to be directly and conventionally pursued forces critics into a view of the author as incompetent, weak, or secretly perverse. Richardson's decision to develop Clarissa's psychology, explore her motives, and dwell on the details of her sexual danger is often described by a phrase like " got the better of moral instruction..." (Goldberg, 28) or by some other phrase where "art" is replaced by a less complimentary term. Moreover, Wolff's explanation of the letters as arising out of a diary tradition does not answer the problem of didactic intent. Is reading someone else's diary a morally improving activity? Even Hunter speaks of Richardson's "elongated, tantalizing prose-which, even to his moral champions, seems teasing and suggestive, and to some readers, downright prurient...." (Hunter, 36)

In a contrary spirit, Hunter later says that "[i]t is misleading to describe, as some Richardson critics do, a writer's interest in the 'lives' of characters as betraying a secret commitment to 'art' instead of to 'teaching,' 'morality,' or 'religion'...." (267) Instead, "artful" narrative techniques are part of a more sophisticated didacticism. "It is not that there is an evolution toward independence on the part of the narrative that had begin as ethical illustration, but rather an increasing anxiety that moral efficacy had to be engineered in ways that used every possible vehicle. Such updated didacticism reflects the desires of both readers and writers to find something beyond precept and discourse, something that acknowledged and challenged the full complexity and resonance of modern life." (268)

It seems to me that Richardson did succeed in finding "something beyond precept and discourse" in _Clarissa_. He created a new, moral form of novel, which educated its readers by teaching them a new way to read novels. This report does not seem to be the place to expound my personal speculations, but here are some baldly-stated premises:

1. The function of plot in _Clarissa_ is morally diagnostic. It is designed to generate and reprove "evil" readerly desires. These desires are either restless ones, desires for action; or inquisitive ones, desires to penetrate her psyche or to "bring her down" to a human level. Both kinds of desires are expressed by Lovelace and both directly serve his interests. Therefore, they are marked as sinful. The length of the first section of the novel, especially, magnifies these desires and makes the reader consciously aware of them. The process of reading _Clarissa_, then, is a process of learning how to read *against* these urges, which are encouraged by the "typical" novel. Both Rousseau and Richardson thought that novels exerted corrupting influences on society, and both, I would argue, used their novels to create a new reader. By the time the rape occurs in _Clarissa_, the "virtuous" reader should have learned to read in a way I would call "nostalgic", "intensive", or even "Rousseauvian".

2. The novel encourages the reader to take the vacant position of sensibility in the cast of characters. As Wolff notes, Clarissa's letters are not written with the primary purpose of obtaining a response from the recipient. The Harlowes are clearly immovable, and Clarissa will not accept Anna's help or advice. The letters _are_ designed to affect the reader of the _novel_, however, and the lack of response from characters in the novel induces a "good", sensibilious readerly desire to fill the gap. This desire depends upon the reader's entering into the novelistic world, and accepting the characters as centers of consciousness equivalent to himself. Belford and Morden may provide models for the "man of feeling," near the end of the novel, but it is the sensibilious reader that must fill that role during Clarissa's time of greatest hardship.

That's enough... See you in class on Tuesday.



(Note: in order to include a discussion of Darnton's argument in my report, I have had to cut out a lot about the Puritan conduct books. However, I decided not to cut entries from this list. The following bibliography will therefore probably seem disproportionately weighted. Also, in thinking about the tradition, I used the five specific conduct books marked below with asterisks as representative examples. I include them here in case someone wants to pursue the study. Finally, the books by Smith and Stone are here because they are provocative on the issues of sensibility and Puritan conduct, not because they directly entered into my report as it stands.)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Samuel Richardson. (New York: Chelsea House, 1987).

Bunyan, John. The Life and Death of Mr. Badman. *** (conduct book. the problems facing a woman who marries an evil man.)

Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding. *** (spiritual autobiography. While he is in prison, Bunyan hears the voice of the devil prompting him to evil actions. (I have not read this one.))

Darnton, Robert. "First Steps Toward a History of Reading." Australian Journal of French Studies 23:1 (January - April, 1986): 5 - 30.

Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre. (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1984).

Defoe, Daniel. The Family Instructor. *** (conduct book. very popular into c19. It has a provocative dialogue form, which seems to urge readers to discuss the matters at hand.)

Defoe, Daniel. Conjugal Lewdness. *** (hard to classify. it emphasizes the importance of decorous conduct within marriage, and the importance of the choice of spouse. it is remarkably invasive, and Defoe could certainly be accused of prurience here, if Richardson can be.)

Dussinger, John. "Conscience and the Pattern of Christian Perfection in Clarissa." PMLA 81:1 (1966): 236-45.

Goldberg, Rita. Sex and Enlightenment. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984).

Harvey, A. D. "Clarissa and the Puritan Tradition." Essays in Criticism 28 (1978): 38 - 50.

Hunter, J. Paul. Before Novels. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990).

Richardson, Samuel, Meditations Collected from the Sacred Books (Richardsoniana; 15). (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1976). *** (this is the book that contains "all" of Clarissa's meditations.)

Richardson, Samuel, Familiar Letters on Important Occasions. (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1928). *** (reveals a lot about the workings of Richardson's mind. I wonder whether people really copied these letters verbatim and used them.)

Marks, Sylvia. "Clarissa as Conduct Book." South Atlantic Review 51:4 (1986): 3 - 16.

Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1976).

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, Abridged Edition. (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1979).

Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957).