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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.4 (2002) 637-642
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Authorship, Book History, and the English Canon
Wake Forest University
Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor, eds. The Pamela Controversy: Criticisms and Adaptations of Samuel Richardson's Pamela 1740-1750, 6 vols.; vol. 1, Richardson's Apparatus and Fielding's Shamela; Verse Responses Pp. lxxi + 260; vol. 2, Prose Criticism; Visual Representations Pp. l + 355; vol. 3, Eliza Haywood, Anti-Pamela; Memoirs of the Life of Lady H- Pp. xxx + 349; vol. 4, John Kelly, Pamela's Conduct in High Life, volume I Pp. xliii + 312; vol. 5, John Kelly, Pamela's Conduct in High Life, volume II Pp. 336; vol. 6, Dramatic and Operatic Adaptations Pp. xxix + 361 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2001). $795.00 cloth.
Jonathan Kramnick. Making the English Canon: Print-Capitalism and the Cultural Past, 1700-1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Pp. viii + 287. $64.95 cloth.
Trevor Ross. The Making of the English Canon from the Middle Ages to the Late Eighteenth Century (Montreal: McGill-Queen's, 1998). Pp. x + 400. $29.95 paper.
Clifford Siskin. The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change in Britain, 1700-1830 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998). Pp. x + 285. $17.95 paper.
William Warner. Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684-1750 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). Pp. xvi + 325. $27.50 paper.
On November 6, 1740, Samuel Richardson published his Pamela. Though he certainly realized that his text was in many ways different from any previous prose writing, Richardson probably had no idea of the cultural earthquake Pamela was going to cause. In the following ten years, the book inspired a number of spurious continuations, reams of critical commentary, a handful of dramas, operas, illustrations and paintings, waxworks, fans, and even large billboards at Vauxhall Gardens. With the exception of the last three items, which unfortunately are lost to posterity, all of this material is collected for the first time in the excellent The Pamela Controversy, edited and knowledgeably introduced volume by volume by Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor.
The mere existence of this collection indicates a seismic shift that has been occurring in the field of eighteenth-century studies for the last decade or [End Page 637] two. Until that time, studies of eighteenth-century prose fiction had been dominated by the paradigms of Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel, particularly his emphasis on formal realism. Even admirable studies that broke new ground in the late 1980s and early 1990s—such as Michael McKeon's seminal The Origins of the Novel (1987), Nancy Armstrong's innovative Desire and Domestic Fiction (1987), and J. Paul Hunter's comprehensive Before Novels (1990)—implicitly or explicitly still grappled with Watt. Only now, at the turn of the twenty-first century, do critics finally seem able to offer completely new approaches to eighteenth-century studies.
The most significant change is the shift from literary to cultural studies, and it is only within this new academic paradigm that a collection such as The Pamela Controversy has a place. Much of the material corrected here is not 'good' literature by any standard—in fact, the two volumes of John Kelly's Pamela's Conduct in High Life are an incredible bore. But that does not mean that these volumes are not interesting cultural evidence; on the contrary, the episodic nature particularly of the second volume offers fascinating insight into the obsessions of one eighteenth-century author in many ways representative of his time (Sabor presents extensive new material on Kelly in his introduction) and into what subjects that writer and his publisher considered worthy of putting forward to their audience. Now, instead of looking at the literary 'quality' of writing, critics assess what Keymer and Sabor call the "serious ideological stakes" (I xvii) it raises. Since much of this discussion has been happening without the primary material being in the landscape, The Pamela Controversy is an invaluable contribution to eighteenth-century scholarship. By showing the range...