Styles and Themes of Samuel Richardson
Samuel Richardson wrote his novels using the epistolary novel style, in which all the books are made up of letters. These letters are meant to be written during the time that the stories take place by the main character. They either described a scene or dialogue within the scene (Brophy 245). The stories used the themes of female dominance over the emotions of a man, and male dominance over the physicality of a woman. Also, many women in his stories are put under a great amount of distress, which takes up most of the plot of the novel (“Richardson Criticism”). Little is known of Richardson's early years beyond the few things that Richardson was willing to share. Although he was not forthcoming with specific events and incidents, he did talk about the origins of his writing ability; Richardson would tell stories to his friends and spent his youth constantly writing letters. One such letter, written when Richardson was almost 11, was directed to a woman in her 50s who was in the habit of constantly criticizing others (Brissenden 2). "Assuming the style and address of a person in years", Richardson cautioned her about her actions. However, his handwriting was used to determine that it was his work, and the woman complained to his mother (Harris 68). The result was, as he explains, that "my mother chides me for the freedom taken by such a boy with a woman of her years" but also "commended my principles, though she censured the liberty taken (Brophy 245).” Pamela was immediately and extremely popular with the reading public. Richardson initially also enjoyed critical acclaim and was considered one of the most important English novelists. His contemporaries focused almost exclusively on his moral teachings, and most praised the author for his judgment and honesty. Richardson's stated purpose in his works was moral instruction and thus when his sincerity was eventually questioned, and his work attacked by Fielding in parodies including Shamela, Richardson defended himself with explanations and revisions, particularly in the third edition of Pamela. Fielding ridiculed Pamela's obsession with chastity and her tendency to measure the rewards of virtue in material terms (Harris 87). Fielding's interpretation of Pamela established the opposition between "Pamelist" and "anti-Pamelist" which has persisted to the present day (Brissenden 32). Richardson's popularity rapidly diminished in the nineteenth-century until he was generally neglected. However, critics would on occasion mention him as historically important for advancing the epistolary form. William Hazlitt perceptively wrote that his works combine the romance of fiction with the "literal minuteness of a common diary." Twentieth-century critics have emphasized Richardson's concept of self (Brissenden 12). His character's extreme self-awareness can be read at different levels; according to both Richardson and critics, the characters are not as bound to the truth as they continually claim. Elements of Richardson's work have often been praised in spite of their author; critics suggested that the depths of his work were present unconsciously or even by accident (Brissenden 32). Scholar A. D. McKillop argued convincingly to the contrary, that Richardson was a skilled, deliberate craftsman conscious of his work, its layers, and its meanings. Further rehabilitation to Richardson's reputation was gained from W. M. Sale's painstaking bibliographic study and Ian Watt's discussion of background and technique. Richardson is studied today as a psychological novelist and as a social historian for his descriptions and insight in regard to the relationships of the sexes in a patriarchal society, and to sexual themes in general (Brissenden 32).. While working for Wilde, he met a rich gentleman who took an interest in Richardson's writing abilities and the two began to correspond with each other. When the gentleman died a few years later, Richardson lost...
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