Gothic Labyrinth

Samuel Richardson wrote two immensely popular and influential novels. The first, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded was swiftly lampooned by Henry Fielding (An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews) and over 15 others. In Pamela, a young maidservant resists the attempted seduction of a gentleman, and eventually wins him for a husband. The Marquis De Sade undoubtedly had it in mind when he wrote Justine; or, the Misfortunes of Virtue and Juliette; or Vice Amply Rewarded, both of which turn the theme of Pamela upside down.

Well aware that most rakes do not reform well, Richardson wrote his masterpiece, Clarissa Harlow to show the other side of the coin. It is a dark novel in which the heroine is imprisoned, psychologically tortured, drugged and raped by someone she had trusted. Her diabolical would-be seducer, Lovelace, is said to be based on Richardson's former employer, Lord Wharton, a notorious rake and founder of the original Hellfire Club.

Both novels are set out as a series of letters, a form widely imitated, most notably by Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Rousseau's Nouvelle Heloise is also said to have been suggested by Clarissa. The themes of persecution, confinement and madness explored here are exploited further to great effect in early gothic novels, particularly those of Ann Radcliffe. Another of Richardson's novels, Sir Charles Grandison, influenced the characterization of Falkland in Godwin's Caleb Williams (Emily Melville is based on Richardson's Emily Jervois). It also determined the reformation of Maria Edgeworth's Ormond whose title character models himself on it after earlier imitating Fielding's Tom Jones.

A few films based on the legacy of Clarissa and its rake Lovelace. See also Wharton.

Mary Wortley Montagu disparaged Richardson in public although her letters show that she read his works with pleasure: I was such and old fool as to weep over Clarissa Harlowe like any milkmaid of sixteen over the ballad of the Lady's Fall. This Richardson is a strange fellow. I heartily despise him, and eagerly read him, nay sob over his works in a most scandalous manner. She was extremely class conscious and did not believe that middle-class Richardson should be writing about the aristocracy. I believe this author was never admitted into higher company [than of the lowest class] and should confine his pen to the amours of housemaids, and the conversation at the steward's table, where I imagine he has sometimes intruded, though oftener in the servants' hall....He has no idea of the manners of high life. Pamela she dismissed as the joy of chambermaids of all the nation.

This may have been a factor in Richardson's lampooning Montagu in the character of Miss Barnevelt in Sir Charles Grandison. Like Montagu, Miss Barnevelt is said to declare to everyone that she is satisfied with being a woman because she cannot be married to a woman. Lady Mary wrote that she was not angry with [Richardson] for repeating a saying of mine, accompanied with a description of my person, which resembles me as much as one of the giants in Guildhall, and plainly shows he never saw me in his life. Other sources suggest that Miss Barnevelt does, in fact, bear a decided resemblance to Montagu.

Richardson's daughter Mrs. Brigden edited the first version of Clara Reeve's The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story then entitled The Champion of Virtue, and the novel is dedicated to her.

Among Richardson's friends may be counted the unforgettable Dr. Johnson, the actor Colley Cibber (known today for his autobiography), the poet Edward Young who wrote Night Thoughts (also a former employee of Wharton), Sarah Fielding (author of David Simple and sister of Henry Fielding), and the novelist Mrs. Barbauld who wrote one of his earliest biographies.

 

 

Gothic Labyrinth