Clarissa explains it all.Posted: May 16, 2011
One of the books on my summer reading list is Samuel Richardson’s 1747 behemoth of a novel, Clarissa.
The abridged version clocks in at a mere 800 pages. The full version – I’m using the fairly-recent Penguin Classics text, edited by Angus Ross – is a more respectable 1,500. (There were three versions of the text printed in Richardson’s lifetime, all of them ‘authorized’: he revised, corrected, and added to the text, so that the third edition – which appeared a mere four years after the first – is a full 200 pages longer than the first. Ridiculous.)
It’s an epistolary novel: there are 530-odd letters, written “principally in a double yet separate correspondence,” as Richardson puts it in his astoundingly brief Preface. The primary correspondents are Clarissa Harlowe & Anne Howe and Robert Lovelace & John Belford, although the list of characters is longer than my arm. There actually is a list, though, which will save me from having to make one.
Why am I reading this? Because I’m working on a PhD in English literature, specializing in 18th-century British novels: there is no way I can not read it. So my office-mates and I – they are also both 18th-century folks – are reading it together over the summer. Like a book club, except I am either too cool or not cool enough to be in a book club. We are discussing the book over drinks, isn’t that a thing book clubs do?
Anyway. 1,500 pages divided by 60 days in June and July equals twenty-five pages a day. I’m starting early, because I know I won’t always get that read, and because I won’t start at all if I don’t start now. I’m also committing myself to twice-or-so-weekly posts on the novel, so you can all feel like you’ve read it without actually having to read it.
Or you can not read about my experience reading it, and continue to exist in a bubble where you don’t care about books. Sounds like a sad bubble to me, but somebody has to live in the sad bubbles.