Samuel Richardson

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Richardson, Samuel,

1689–1761, English novelist, b. Derbyshire. When he was 50 and a prosperous printer, Richardson was asked to compose a guide to letter writing. The idea of introducing a central theme occurred to him, and he interrupted his task to write and publish his novel of morals in letter form, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (2 vol., 1740), a work that is widely considered the first modern English novel. The novel tells the story of a virtuous young maidservant who so successfully eludes the lecherous assaults of her employer's son that the young man finally marries her. The guide, known now as Familiar Letters, came out in 1741, just before the two-volume sequel to Pamela. Richardson wrote two more long, epistolary novels, Clarissa Harlowe (7 vol., 1747–48), the tragic story of a girl who runs off with her seducer, regarded today as his best work, and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (7 vol., 1753–54). All Richardson's novels were enormously popular in their day. Although he was a verbose and sentimental storyteller, his role as a literary pioneer, his emphasis on detail, his psychological insights into women, and his dramatic technique have earned him a prominent place among English novelists.


See his correspondence, ed. by A. L. Barbauld (6 vol., 1804; repr. 1966); biographies by T. C. Duncan Eaves and B. D. Kimpel (1971) and J. Harris (1987); studies by J. W. Krutch (1930, repr. 1959), J. J. Carroll (1969), M. Kinkead-Weekes (1973), C. G. Wolff (1973), W. B. Warner (1979), C. H. Flynn (1982), M. Doody and P. Sabor, ed. (1989), and L. Curran (2016).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Richardson, Samuel


Born 1689, in Derbyshire; died July 4, 1761, in Parsons Green. English writer.

The son of a joiner, Samuel Richardson served as an apprentice to a London printer and later owned a printshop. He began his literary career with the novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740; Russian translation, 1787), the core of which is the masterfully developed social and ethical conflict between a servant and a landowner, between the “scrupulous” morals of the bourgeois and the class-related, casual morals of the aristocrat. The democratic enthusiasm of the novel lends support to the spiritual and moral potential of the common people. However, Richardson’s humanistic Enlightenment ideal was limited by his Puritan prejudices. Pamela inspired several parodies and spurious sequels.

Richardson’s work reached its peak in the problem novel Clarissa (vols. 1–7, 1747–48; Russian translation, 1791-92). By portraying Clarissa and her seducer Lovelace as social equals, Richardson focuses the reader’s attention on the psychological and moral aspects of the heroine’s conflict with a philistine, calculating milieu, and he shows the power of money to corrupt. Clarissa was one of the first tragic characters in modern prose. Lovelace, in whom “aristocratic” defects coexist with spells of human spirituality, is a triumph of Enlightenment realism. Richardson tried unsuccessfully to create an irreproachable positive hero in The History of Sir Charles Grandison (vols. 1-7, 1754; Russian translation, 1793–94). Several of the themes in his last novel are similar to those of preromantic literature.

Richardson’s works were highly regarded by Voltaire and Diderot. In the 20th century there has been a revival of interest in Richardson, and there have been attempts to give a modernist interpretation to his works, from the standpoint of psychoanalysis and the stream-of-consciousness style, for example.


Novels, vols. 1–19. Oxford, 1930.
Selected Letters. Oxford, 1964.


Gettner, G. Istoriia vseobshchei literatury, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1896.
Elistratova, A. Angliiskii roman epokhi Prosveshcheniia. Moscow, 1966.
Cordasco, F. Samuel Richardson. Brooklyn, N.Y., 1948.
Brissenden, R. Samuel Richardson. Lincoln, Neb., 1958.
Watt, I. The Rise of the Novel. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1962.
Eaves, T. C. Dunkan, and Ben D. Kimpel. S. Richardson: A Biography. Oxford, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(4) Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady, ed.
PAMELA Or, Virtue Rewarded Samuel Richardson (1740):
The book mainly revolves around the person and the writings of Samuel Richardson, on whom excellent pages are written in Chapters 5 (centred on Clarissa) and 6 (centred on Sir Charles Grandison): but, before coming to what appears to be her main author, as a beginning Emma J.
To illustrate this point, Hunt focuses on three works written by men and about women: Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa and Pamela.
Chaplin's textual explorations begin in chapter two with Samuel Richardson, an author whose representations of women vacillated between radicalism and conservatism.
26 This author wrote Shamela to parody Samuel Richardson's best-selling ever-virtuous heroine Pamela - but for what bawdy work is he best known himself?
Approaches to Teaching The Novels of Samuel Richardson
When early eighteenth-century moralists decried the disorder wrought by servants going to masquerades as finely dressed as their masters, when Samuel Richardson's Pamela asserted that although she was poor, her soul was as valuable as the soul of a princess, they testified to and actively promoted a growing tendency to know and value others through and for interior, personal qualities, rather than external, socially assigned markers of status.
There are a few misprints (116, 150, 275), and Samuel Richardson is once misidentified as Herbert Richardson (57).
'Sir Charles Grandison' is a 52 page play adapted by Austen from the book 'The History of Sir Charles Grandison' by Samuel Richardson, her favourite author.
Among the more famous books and authors banned by the Index were the novels Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and Pamela by Samuel Richardson, often cited as the first English novel.
(11) On the pragmatic scale of 3,000-page novels, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe (1747-1748) is an excellent example of the former, Proust's A la recherche of the latter--and in fewer pages, Zola (and, as Eliot would have it, Lawrence).