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R O M A N C E A N D R IC H A R D S O N ’ S P A M E L A BARBARA B E L Y E A University of Calgary W h eth er Richardson or Defoe is the first English novelist is a dead, because moot, issue to most critics interested in eighteenth-century prose fiction. But the assumption underlying this debate needs reconsideration. Both the pro-Richardson and pro-Defoe factions agree implicitly that there is such a phenomenon as the first English novel. The real question is whether this new form of fiction represents a variation on the structure and conventions of romance, or an abrupt, radical departure from the form and themes of a centuries-old genre. That the novel is a radically new form is the thesis of two landmark studies of eighteenth-century English fiction, by Walter Allen (1954) and Ian Watt (1957).1 This view is generally assumed, although with certain qualifications, by recent critics of Richardson’s works, among them Mark Kinkead-Weekes (1973) and Margaret Anne Doody (1974).2 Allen and Watt argue for the emergence of a “novel” genre by the mid-eighteenth century, a new fiction which “purports to be an authentic account of the actual experiences of individuals,” in contrast to improbable fictions on the one hand and generalized moral observations on the other.3 For Allen, Pamela is “the first great flowering of the English novel,” while Watt speaks of Richardson as “occupying the central place in the development of the technique of narrative realism,” and remarks on “ the suddenness and com­ pleteness” with which the novel genre was brought into being.4 The usual critical premise, that by the mid-eighteenth century a body of fiction with distinctive, “novel” characteristics had developed in opposition to traditional romance, is derived in large measure from Johnson’s definition of the new fiction in the Rambler. The works of fiction, with which the present generation seems more particularly delighted, are such as exhibit life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world, and influenced by passions and qualities which are really to be found in conversing with mankind.5 For this view, Johnson is indebted in turn to Congreve’s preface to JncogE n g l is h S t u d ie s in C a n a d a , x , 4, December 1984 nita, published in 1692. Congreve rejects the “lofty Language, miraculous Contingencies and impossible Performances” of romance in favour of “ Intrigues in Practice . . . Accidents and odd Events, but not such as are wholly unusual or unpresidented [sic].” 6 In the early eighteenth century, Congreve’s distinction between romance and new fiction was echoed by writers of amatory novellas, such as Mrs. Manley and Mrs. Haywood,7 and later, at least apparently, by Richardson himself. The author of Pamela distinguishes his “new Species of Writing” from “the French Marvellous and all unnatural Machinery,” maintaining that “Nature is my whole View, and such a Conduct in such a Life, as may generally happen, and be of Use.”8 More often than not, however, Richardson shares the view of the Spec­ tator writers: Addison satirically catalogued the romance reading of a lady of leisure, and Budgell indiscriminantly condemned “ Romances, Chocolate, Novels and the like Inflamers.” 9 While it is doubtful whether the Spectator writers had bothered to read much of the fiction they denounced, Richard­ son’s own narratives betray his greater knowledge.10 Yet Richardson con­ demns both novels and romances as roundly as Addison, Steele, and Budgell did two decades earlier. Of the Pamela continuation, he writes: I am endeavouring to write a Story, which shall catch young and airy Minds, and when Passions run high in them, to shew how they may be directed to laudable Meanings and Purposes, in order to decry such Novels and Romances, as have a Tendency to inflame and corrupt.11 The same purpose is expressed in the preface to the Pamela continuation.12 Of Clarissa he writes, “ I intend more than a Novel or Romance by this Piece . . . I wish . . . that the Ladies would look upon it...


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