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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).
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.
WORKSNovels, vols. 1–19. Oxford, 1930.
Selected Letters. Oxford, 1964.
REFERENCESGettner, 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.
V. A. KHARITONOV