- Richetti's Narratives
The English eighteenth century is full of larger-than-life characters, the writers, wits, and eccentrics who continue to attract the attention of dix huitiemistes the world over. Perhaps no one exemplifies the spirit of the age more than Samuel Johnson. But it is not his prodigious scholarly achievement alone-as editor, essayist, lexicographer, and literary critic-that has secured Johnson his fame; his power of personality, enshrined most memorably by his friend Boswell, has contributed as well. And just as Samuel Johnson so memorably helped shape the English eighteenth century, John Richetti has done the same for eighteenth-century studies. Like Johnson before him, Richetti has made his mark in many ways. Both his scholarship and personality are paid tribute in a special volume of the AMS press annual The Eighteenth-Century Novel. With contributions from many of the finest scholars in the field, this welcome tome provides ample testimony to the respect, gratitude, and esteem in which John is held. In this review I hope to summarize and assess not only this volume but his career.
I must admit to having been a graduate student of John's at Rutgers University in the 1980s. I admired John as a scholar, revered him as a teacher, and [End Page 82] eventually regarded him as a friend. I realize these comments might strike some as too personal for a professional review. But, oddly enough, I have never said any of this to John in person. Since we all owe genuine thanks to our mentors, I hope it is not considered too inappropriate to express appreciation in print.
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However, I could never express the essence of John and the impact he has had on so many students of the eighteenth century as well as Toni Bowers has done in her “Verses on the Retirement of Johannes Richettius,” which opens the Festschrift with a bang. Like John, the poem is simultaneously allusive and witty, elegant and energetic. Bowers places John amidst the poets he loves so much, particularly Pope:
Young John Richettius, lad of peerless Meed, Full well could write, and deftly could he read,- From earliest Days, while other kids played Games, He lisped in Lit-Crit, for the Lit-Crit came.(12)
Though in fine eighteenth-century fashion the “Verses” circulated in manuscript for several years, kudos to Rivero and Justice for their inspired decision to publish it.
What follows is more than six hundred pages of scholarly prose, broken down into four separate sections: “History, Theory, and Eighteenth- Century Literature”; “The New Eighteenth-Century Novel”; “Teaching the [End Page 83] Eighteenth-Century Novel”; and “Book Reviews,” including one by John on “it” narratives. The distribution is uneven, with the first section by far the longest, filling almost half the volume, while the section on teaching includes only a single eleven-page essay. This is a shame. I for one would have welcomed more essays on teaching, not only because John paid so much attention to classroom instruction, but because, given the difficulties many undergraduates find with eighteenth-century literature in general, and perhaps the novel in particular, we could all benefit from the pedagogical successes and failures of our colleagues. The one essay in this section, Kate Levin's “‘Imagining a World of Satisfaction': The Challenges and Pleasures of Teaching Eliza Haywood's Fantomina,” does a fine job of conveying something of her classroom experience with Milton and Haywood. Despite what seems an odd pairing at first, Levin explains how teaching Fantomina prior to Paradise Lost can help make Milton more accessible and engaging to her students. Though my experience teaching Haywood and Milton is the exact opposite of Levin's-my students tend to find Haywood dull and Milton fascinating-her essay prompts me to consider anew the way altering chronology in survey courses can open up fresh perspectives and help us rethink pedagogical assumptions.
While the section entitled “Teaching the Eighteenth-Century Novel” left me wanting more, my...