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Reading (and Not Reading) Richardson, 1756-1868 LEAH PRICE What Cleanth Brooks anathematized as "the heresy of paraphrase" still remains, fifty years later, impossible to escape in literary critics ' daily practice.1 Plot summary, on the one hand, and quoting out of context, on the other, continue to underpin our arguments—if only because, for example, it would be impossible for me to reproduce verbatim all eight volumes of Clarissa in the space of this article. Like book reviews or movie previews, the genre of the academic essay relies on the assumption that parts of a work can stand for the whole. Like anthologists, literary critics depend on the figure of synecdoche. The novel has traditionally posed a challenge to those economies of scale. Yet as a genre defined in part by sheer bulk, the novel is characterized just as much by readers' resistance to its size. And the bulkiest novels, like Richardson's, have always provoked the most energetic resistance. The first collection of excerpts from Clarissa appeared only three years after the novel itself; the first plot summary, four years later. The impossibility of fitting all eight volumes of Clarissa or seven of Grandison into the human mind at once turns readers into editors. In skimming, they abridge; in skipping, they anthologize. Richardson's audience —like his characters—spend as much time "writing Indexes, . . . abstracting, abridging, compiling" as he himself claimed to. Richardson did in fact index and summarize his novels, as well as compiling three anthologies of extracts from them. But he also lived to see Clarissa and 87 88 / PRICE Grandison provide fodder for abridgers. He set that process into motion himself by adding an index to the second edition of Clarissa in the expectation that readers would have forgotten the beginning by the time they reach the end, and "would not chuse to read seven Tedious Volumes over again." The index is offered as a surrogate memory, "a help to their Recollection ."2 Yet scale alone cannot explain the repackaging of Richardson's novels. While some versions shorten the originals, others supplement them, and even those editions that do shrink the text always change more than size. Until 1868, over a century after Richardson's death, every abridgment prefixes genealogical and biographical information to the courtship plots which Richardson himself had begun in medias res before returning belatedly to the heroines' childhoods and family history. All three novels originally open at the moment when an adolescent girl becomes aware of a man's pursuit; their time-frame coincides with what Clarissa calls "the space from sixteen to twenty-two . . . which requires [a parent's] care, more than any other time of a young woman's life." A parent's—but also a reader's. Mrs. Harlowe refuses to credit Clarissa for an exemplary youth, claiming that only "now that you are grown up to marriageable years is the test."3 In Pamela, too, we hear little about the heroine's childhood until Mr. B.'s reminiscences in the third volume. Even then, what he remembers is precisely his impression that Pamela's character remains to be seen: "well enough,... for what she is; but let's see what she'll be a few Years hence. Then will be the Trial."4 In realigning the order of story with the order of discourse, abridgments match the boundaries of the text to the limits of a life. More fundamentally, eighteenth-century abridgments alter epistolarity along with length. For a collection of first-person present-tense letters "written to the moment," they substitute a single, retrospective, impersonal narrator temporally and diegetically removed from the events described. No letters appear in The Paths of Virtue Delineated: or, the History in Miniature of the Celebrated Pamela, Clarissa Harlowe, and Sir Charles Grandison, Familiarised and Adapted to the Capacities of Youth (London: R. Baldwin, 1756), which goes through many editions both as a whole and in separate volumes, before being recycled in 1813 as Beauties of Richardson; in Clarissa, or, The history of a young lady... abridged from the works of Samuel Richardson (London: Newbery, n.d. [1769?]); in The History of Sir Charles Grandison, abridged from the works of Samuel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 87-103
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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