Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Reading the sentence, “How a middle-aged business man came so thoroughly to understand a little servant girl is the usual mystery of creation,” in Eaves and Kimpel’s Samuel Richardson: a Biography, 1971, p. 105, re Pamela, 1740, I made the following notes:

Richardson believed that he was shy; now say that shyness is a form of captivity.

See for evidence, his letter to Samuel Lobb, Jan 31st, 1754, sampled like this: “When I was young, I was very sheepish; (so I am indeed now that I am old: I have not had Confidence enough to try to overcome a Defect so natural to me, tho’ I have been a great Loser by it),” going on through the strategies he invented so that he could raise his voice in public: “this was my Rule to get Courage … : I let them all speak round before I open’d my Lips, after the first Introductions: Then I weigh’d, whether I had been to speak on the same Occasions, that each Person spoke upon, I should have been able to deliver myself as well as they had done ...” etc.

His women are under the wills of others, even in their homes, this is the form of his world.

Sir Charles Grandison, who is the best possible man in Richardson’s mind, is not shy.

Richardson doesn’t heroise inactive men (compare Burney).

Grandison lectures his inactive uncle. The uncle becomes subordinate.

An inactive, speechless woman in Richardson has a vocabulary of goodness around her: she is humble, modest, obedient, kind, and respectful; lots of praiseworthy things can be read into her silence; especially young women.

Kind, self-sufficient men are active in R.

Kind, self-sufficient women do not have to be active.

His “Rule” was to wait until the rest had spoken before he decided to join or stay silent: all depended on them. “I let them all speak round before I open’d my Lips … Then I weigh’d … And if I found I should have rather chosen to be silent, than to say some things they said, I preserv'd my Silence and was pleased. And if I could have spoken as well as others, I was the less scrupulous: While those who were above my Match, I admir'd, endeavour'd to cultivate their Acquaintance, by making myself agreeable to them by my Modesty, if I could not by my Merit; and to imitate them, as nearly as my Abilities and Situation would permit ...”


  1. Do you think Richardson consciously identified with inactive, captive and speechless women, or that he simply saw women as captives of the world? Or are all the characters more like abstractions, ideal men and women, emblematic supporting characters and villains, etc?

    I meant to ask this in a more prolix yet elegant manner, but unfortunately I'm very busy just now so I'm rushing--even through this stupid digression.

  2. I think he saw women as captives of the world, or at least as an author he saw them that way because that's how they are in his fiction. I don't think it follows that the conscious, public Richardson would ever have described them in the same way, even to himself.

    If I tried to call his characters abstracts or emblems then I think I'd come across an immediate problem -- they're densely detailed, and they behave in ways that propel them out of abstraction. (Harriet's sudden panic when she's about to get married doesn't serve any emblematic purpose that I can see.)

    1. (Also, it can't be emphasised enough that "the world" in his books is always the world of human society. There is no other world.)

  3. That's a very detailed and thoughtful answer, thanks!

    I have been thinking a lot lately about characters who are not mere representations of abstract ideas, but who are themselves, who push against the abstraction upon which they were maybe first conceived. I was thinking this weekend about Ishmael, and Jane Eyre, whom many readers try to simplify into types, the types not being adequately supported by the texts.

    1. Richardson's characters are very much like that. (Even Grandison, I'd say, although these biographers Eaves and Kimpel wouldn't agree with me: they think he's pure, stiff abstract concept.) It's interesting to see him explaining to people in private that he was trying to edit the works down but it was difficult because so many of the small touches were necessary. And then he would say that he wanted his books to be moral. But you look at those necessary touches and if a moral lesson was truly all he'd wanted then he would have knocked out a tonne of them.