- Samuel Richardson in Context ed. by Peter Sabor, and Betty A. Schellenberg
The ongoing publication of the twenty-four volumes of the Cambridge Edition of Samuel Richardson's works assures his continuing place in the canon of major British novelists. Although Richardson's "stock," as Albert J. Rivero phrases it, is on the "rise" in the academy, he has never quite shaken his reputation with "common readers" as the distinctly unglamorous half of the Richardson/Fielding dyad (78). Thus, Peter Sabor and Betty A. Schellenberg, the editors of Samuel Richardson in Context, do not ask whether Richardson continues to be relevant, but rather in what ways and to whom. The collection includes thirty-seven essays by internationally recognized eighteenth-century scholars. Although the essays cover an encyclopedic variety of topics, they all share an interest in the ways Richardson used the tools at his service historically, culturally, and professionally—in other words, his context—to construct his identity as a professional man of letters and a literary artist. [End Page 457]
"Life and Works," the first of the collection's six sections, focuses on Richardson's self-fashioning through portraiture, his professional life, and his correspondence. Thomas Keymer analyzes portraits of Richardson, arguing that by depicting him as a leisured gentleman rather than a busy businessman they constituted part of his larger ambition of "identity-projection" (3). Peter Sabor's informative essay provides a timeline of Richardson's publications. He argues that Richardson's strategic use of paratextual and supplemental materials in revisions of his novels allowed him to continue to try to regulate readers' experiences even after their initial publication. Louise Curran reassesses Richardson's correspondence, emphasizing the ways it has invited rather than foreclosed debates about his fiction.
The second section, "Critical Fortunes," scrutinizes readers' access to and encounters with Richardson's work. Hilary Havens compares and evaluates all the major collected editions of Richardson's novels and correspondence, predicting the Cambridge edition when completed will likely "supplant" them all (43). Mary Helen McMurran reminds us that Richardson's audience was international, explaining how Richardson's novels were consumed and perceived by readers outside of England. Sören Hammerschmidt investigates how readers' impressions of Richardson changed over time. For eighteenth-century readers, Richardson's rectitude added luster to his fiction; later readers, less enamored of his now-dated conventionality, appreciated his novels despite their disdain for the man himself. In related essays, Brian Corman recounts Richardson's falling critical fortunes during the nineteenth century, while Albert J. Rivero chronicles his return to prominence, at least among academics, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The third section, "The Print Trade," concentrates on the ways Richardson's professional identity as a printer affected him as a writer. Ian Gadd provides context for understanding how his identities as an author and businessman intersected by elucidating the history of the Stationers' Company. Norbert Schürer describes Richardson's attempts to enforce his proprietary interest in his work in Ireland and further abroad. Betty A. Schellenberg argues Richardson's status as a businessman was an essential component of his artistic identity. Borrowing from Alexander Pope's reconceptualization of authorship as a profession, but rejecting his assertion of exceptionality, Richardson embodies an emerging model of the author as a "successful middle-class professional" (102). Catherine Ingrassia explicates how Richardson's consistent use of his "knowledge and experience of the literary marketplace" promoted the success of his novels (111).
The fourth section, "The Book and Its Readers," complements the third by moving inward from Richardson's public reputation to readers' private experiences. Christopher Flint provides numerous examples of Richardson's innovative approaches to the physical presentation of his novels that added to their verisimilitude and cultivated intimacy with readers. Richardson's inveterate revision has long been recognized as a means to rein in wayward readers of the sort who wanted Clarissa to marry Lovelace. Pat Rogers demonstrates that the same refusal to "leave his texts alone" was also characteristic of his editorial work (128...