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Eighteenth-Century Studies 37.2 (2004) 314-319
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The Perils of Prolixity:
New Work on Reading and Writing Clarissa
Janine Barchas. The Annotations in Lady Bradshaigh's Copy of Clarissa, English Literary Monograph Series, No. 74 (Victoria, British Columbia: English Literary Studies, 1998). Pp.144. $14.50 paper.
Carol Houlihan Flynn and Edward Copeland, eds. Clarissa and Her Readers: New Essays for the Clarissa Project (New York: AMS Press, 1999). Pp. 319. $84.50 cloth.
Susan Price Karpuk. Samuel Richardson's Clarissa: An Index (New York: AMS Press, 2000). Pp. xiv + 476. $124.50 cloth.
Thomas Keymer and O. M. Brack, eds. Samuel Richardson's Published Commentary on Clarissa 1747-65, 3 vols. Volume 1 Prefaces, Postscripts, and Related Writings Pp. xcv + 336; Volume 2 Letters and Passages Restored from the Original Manuscript of Clarissa Pp. xli + 324; Volume 3 A Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Maxims, Cautions, and Reflections, Contained in the Histories of Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison Pp. l + 437 (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1998).
Samuel Johnson's often-cited admonition—"if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment"—could be advanced as the principle common to the works under review here. Richardson was sensitive about the length of his mighty text, and before publishing Clarissa agonized over "pruning." His letters reveal his concern that he would taken to task for his prolixity, and his published prefaces attempt to justify the novel's enormous length by highlighting its polyvocal structure and its "natural," "to the moment" accounts of events and emotions. One of the more amusing—or vexing—ironies of the novel's publication history is that Richardson's original perfunctory pruning produced such lush growth. He attributed readerly frowardness to his reluctant excisions, and in later editions provided more and more "story" in the effort to display the "sentiment" to his satisfaction. The question for scholars is whether this proliferation of text provided Richardson with the control he desired over the interpretation of his novel, or whether his grasp slipped further with each addition.
That a novel should require an index to direct scholars through its mazes seems a dubious distinction, but the longest novel in the English language must of necessity be a prime candidate for such an honor. Overextended graduate students may not be the only readers pleased to learn that Susan Price Karpuk has undertaken the enormous labor of sifting through Clarissa to compile an inventory of its contents. Samuel Richardson's Clarissa: An Index offers indices of characters, subjects, and place names, as well as a brief synopsis of each letter, identified by its date and its number in Angus Ross's Penguin edition of 1985. Karpuk's index hews to Richardson's first edition as made accessible by Ross, but with the letter summaries she provides corresponding volume and letter numbers for the 1747-8 seven-volume first edition and the eight-volume third edition of 1751. The work is meticulous, well-organized, and (if one can thus characterize an index) [End Page 314] enthusiastic; it also demonstrates a readiness to catalogue Clarissa under "angel" and Lovelace under "devil" of which Richardson himself would doubtless have approved. A whiff of preciosity—Mrs. Harlowe is identified as "Clarissa's mamma," Mr. Harlowe as her papa—does not diminish the work's usefulness. The index of characters claims to cover every character mentioned in the book. Twenty major characters, including Clarissa's relations and her various landladies, are indexed directly; more minor characters are "embedded," so that we can discover where a particular footman appears in the novel by consulting the heading for his employer. An alphabetical listing of characters preceding the index points us in the proper direction if we are uncertain who qualifies as whose dependent. The subject index is equally exhaustive. Karpuk incorporates many of the subject categories outlined...