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A "Fatal Attraction"? The BBC and ClarissaLois A. Chaber erskine. "Surely, Sir, Richardson is very tedious." Johnson. "Why, Sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself."1 Boswell's Life ofJohnson The length of my letter you will excuse; for I need not tell you, sir, what narrative, complex, and conversation letters ... require.2 Elias Brand in Clarissa Johnson's famous quip about Richardson is apparently belied by the BBC's compression of the more than one million words of Clarissa into a fast-moving, action-packed three-hour television serial. Three main factors seem to have determined the scope and treatment of this serialization (adapted by David Nokes and Janet Barron, directed by Robert Bierman , and shown on bbc 2, 27 November, 4 December, and 1 1 December 1991). For one thing, there was the determination of the producer, Kevin Loader, to "skew the genre slightly" by making the bbc version "pacey,"3 1 James Boswell, Life ofJohnson, ed. R.W. Chapman (London, New York, and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 480. 2 Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, or, the History ofa Young Lady, Everyman Edition, 4 vols (London: Dent; New York: Dutton, 1965), 4:240-41. References are to tiiis edition. 3 David Shannon cites Loader in "The Innocent and die Rake," review of "Clarissa," Radio Times (23-29 November 1991), 22, 20. Odier allusions by Loader to the "paciness" of the production EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 4, Number 3, April 1992 258 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION a decision which contravenes the very essence of Richardsonian narration . Briskness was achieved through a ruthless selection of scenes, dialogue, and comment from amidst the welter of endless confrontations and meandering meditations of the original. For example, one fairly brief scene between Clarissa and her wavering mother had to suffice, eliminating thereby the subtle incremental repetition and gradual shifting of grounds so crucial to Richardson's concept of human relations. As a general result, the screenplay stressed actions rather than motives, causing two of my friends who had never read the novel to complain that there were no adequate explanations for the various unrelenting persecutions in the drama. One friend dubbed "Clarissa" a "good yarn," but one in which the characters' obsessions were "givens;" another characterized it as "entertaining but preposterous."4 Economic and material considerations, it would seem, also made a longer "Clarissa" unthinkable. Of the impressive two million pounds allotted to the production, most seems to have been lavished on nearly fifteen hundred costumes and on elaborate Georgian sets.5 To some extent , script decisions were dictated by the financial requirements of sets; Kevin Loader at one point wrote to Gery Scott, the production designer: "Could I plead that you and Bob [Bierman] try to find a way of telling the story for 5K rather than near 5OK?"6 The priority given to visual authenticity over textual—the evocation of Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Fragonard—may be a fact of life for a television "costume drama,"7 but it is particularly ironic in the context of Richardson's novel; Lovelace's ability to exploit, and Clarissa's susceptibility to, visual and external detail (the pious library at Mrs Sinclair's, the impressive jewels of "Lady Betty") help to bring about the downfall of the heroine. One is inclined to agree with Lovelace's cynical assertion that "the whole world is governed by appearances" (3:64). occur in Kevin Jackson, "The Correspondence Course," review of "Clarissa," Independent (23 November 1991), "Weekend," 37; and on the radio programme "Bookshelf," presented by Nigel Forde, Radio 4 (8 November 1991). 4 I would like to thank Virginia Barnston and Michelle Soliatis for allowing me to use them to gauge die likely responses of non-academic viewers, neither prejudiced nor informed by a prior reading of the novel, who presumably make up the majority of Clarissa's television audience. 5 See Shannon, pp. 20-22. 6 Memo to Gerry Scott, 19 April 1991; cited in Jackson, p. 37. Jackson cleverly presented a miniepistolary tale of the evolution of the bbc "Clarissa," using excerpts from memos and letters of the main members of the...


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