(1689 – 1761)
[pic]Samuel Richardson (1689 – 1761) was a self-educated tradesman who had little formal literary training, yet he made an impact on English literature which is nothing the less remarkable. He expanded the dramatic possibilities of the novel through an inventive use of the letter form (thus contributing to the emergence of the so-called “epistolary novel”) and was the promoter of sentimentalism. Together with Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding, he is credited with having laid the basis of the modern novel; his literary works, which in the 19th century were particularly criticised for their sentimentalism and moralism, are today acknowledged as being extremely influential in the development of the English novel.
Samuel Richardson was born in 1689 in Derbyshire in a low middle class family. His school nickname, “Serious and Gravity”, would have fitted him throughout his life. Young Samuel was intended for the church, but, since the family means did not allow that, at the age of 17 he was sent to London to be the apprentice of a printer. Though both he and some of his critics seemed to be preoccupied with the perceived inadequacy of his education, Richardson soon turned into a very successful businessman. The pattern of his evolution through life is illustrative of the bourgeois environment of the 18th century: he started from being a printer’s apprentice, and ended up climbing on the social ladder by marrying the printer’s daughter. Eventually, he inherited his father-in-law’s printing press, one that was to be known as one of the three best in London, a fact that brought to himself and his family the prosperity that was necessary to lead another sort of life. By 1754 he had become one of the most successful and respected men in his trade of business, printer of the journals of the House of Commons, Master of the Stationer’s Company, and Law Printer to the King.
Samuel Richardson was married twice, but both marriages were marked by tragedy. All six of the children from his first marriage died in infancy or childhood. By his second wife he had four daughters who survived him, but two other children died in infancy. These and other bereavements contributed to the nervous ailments of his later life. He died on 4 July 1761, and was buried near his first wife Martha.
Samuel Richardson is the author of two of the longest novels in the history of English literature - Pamela (1740-1741) and Clarissa (1747–48), but he turned to novel-writing by accident, when he was around 50 years old (it was at this age that he published his first novel, Pamela).
His writing career had previously debuted in a modest way during the 1730’s, when, toward the end of the decade, two booksellers asked him to compose a model letter-writer that might serve as models for “country readers”, to which he chose to offer a moral turn. The volume that resulted from this, Familiar Letters on Important Occasions (1741), was meant not only to provide a model for the uneducated in their correspondence, but also to show how to “think and act justly and prudently in the Common Concerns of Human Life”. The subject matter of the volume encouraged Richardson to put himself constantly into the minds and the linguistic habits of different people, which in turn revealed the advantages offered by the activity of letter writing in indicating character.
The transition from Familiar Letters to Richardson’s first novel was quite a simple one. In one of his letters, Richardson himself confessed that “I almost slid into the writing of Pamela”, since the method of composing this novel had been supplied by the letter writer and the plot itself by the correspondence between a father and his daughter, whose master had tried to seduce her. He began writing the novel in November 1739, completed it three months later and published it anonymously as Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded in 1740. When the instantaneous...