Reading ‘Clarissa’

I made a promise to myself back in August 2010 to finally read Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, this promise made after reading Laurel Ann’s Austenprose interview with Lynn Shepherd.  Shepherd is the author of the  Austen-inspired mystery Murder at Mansfield Park, but also a Samuel Richardson scholar and author of  Clarissa’s Painter: Portraiture, Illustration, and Representation in the Novels of Samuel Richardson (Oxford University Press, 2009].

I have had Clarissa sitting on my bedside table for years – a friend gave it to me as a joke, daring me to read the thing – I was tempted to tear it into nine parts [an easy thing to do!] and have each of my book group buddies read their piece of the book and report on it – an easy way to lessen the pain of reading this rather large tome – my copy [the Penguin edition of 1985 with introduction and notes by Angus Ross] measures 9 x 6 x 2.75″ with a total of 1534 pages, a heady feast of endless words in very small print!  But alas! I could not go the book destruction route, it’s not in my genetic makeup, and so have just stared at this thing for years, dusting it occasionally, contemplating its use as a doorstop or such [it weighs 2 lbs, 11oz!], but somewhat guilty all the while…  an English major who cleverly avoided this book or any Richardson for that matter because everything is just so long and not to mention depressing! And despite Richardson being Jane Austen’s favorite author, and that she read and re-read his works and was greatly influenced by him, I just haven’t done it… until now…

So when I read Lynn Shepherd’s post and saw the brilliant suggestion to read Clarissa in ‘real time’, starting on January 10th, and finishing on December 18th, I thought this was a perfect solution, nearly a whole year to finish the thing,  not much time to be spent on a daily basis – how bad can it possibly be?  So, Dear Readers, I have begun – January 10th, with already a welcome reprieve as the next letter is not until January 13th… 

When I told my gifting friend that I was finally going to read the thing – she wondered how I would be able to put it down and not read ahead – I told her I did not think that would be a problem in this case – and indeed it seems not to be so far!

I welcome anyone else who would like to join me in this – there have been group reads of Clarissa on other listservs – I am not going to post about the book,  just periodic updates of my reading progress.  My only concern is I am already looking forlornly at Richardson’s other book on my shelf, Pamela, a much shorter and happier exercise in reading what Jane Austen read… – so wish me luck and join me if you can!

Samuel Richardson (NNDB)

Further reading on Samuel Richardson:

Copyright @ 2011 Deb Barnum, Jane Austen in Vermont

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13 thoughts on “Reading ‘Clarissa’

    • Hello Lauren – I agree, this clever idea of Lynn Shepherd’s is a brilliant one [though not sure I will think that come June!] – sure you don’t want to join me?!
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Deb

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    • Interesting how many people say “good luck”! – doesn’t bode well – my problem is that I actually know the whole story, so spoilers cannot hurt – hope I can get through the morass of words – will keep you posted… and as always Julie, thanks for visiting!
      Deb

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  1. Somewhere in this house is a VCR recording of all 5 parts that I made when it was shown on TV a lifetime ago.

    Let me know if you want me to look for it when you are done.

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    • Hello Marti, – thanks for the offer! I have a friend who said she could not get through even the movie! Wonder if it made it to DVD – I could plug in my VCR player, kept for just such needs – we could subject all of JASNA-Vermont to a group showing! [a sure lesson in how to lose one’s audience]…
      Best,
      deb

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  2. Hi Deb,
    I am utterly thrilled that you’ve taken up my suggestion – how wonderful! The book really does have an extraordinary cumulative power, and I’m sure you will get even more into it once you get to the letters written by Lovelace himself – he is truly one of the master-creations of European literature. Keep us all posted of how you’re getting on!

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    • Hello Lynn, thanks for stopping by! – I think your suggestion is brilliant – though as I said above, not sure if I will think so come June! – You have saved me from endless guilt as in “I am never going to read this book” – will keep you posted – I am as much interested in understanding why Richardson creates such a division in the reading public – love him or hate him – very strong reactions – I was inspired by your interview to finally give the guy a chance! – and of course, I do wonder how he might have influenced you to so brilliantly kill off Fanny!
      Best,
      deb

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  4. I was just trawling around for an image of my old cover of Clarissa and I found this. I’ll be very interested to hear what you think and how it goes! Enjoy.

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    • Hello Anne – is this the same as your cover? – it is going wonderfully! – I actually have come to look foward to this short respite every evening to read one letter and then move on to another book – cannot read it in bed as the book is too big! – there is a month gap in February [when Clarissa is visiting her correspondent, so alas! just as Jane and Cassandra, no need to write when they were together!], but I decided to keep up the habit by doing a letter a night so as not to lose track. Have you read it, want to read it again, or is once in a lifetime quite enough?

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Best,
      Deb

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    • Hello again Anne – I just now looked at your blog and see you are re-reading ‘Clarissa’ right now – and having the same negative thoughts as wehn you first read it! – I do know how this book proceeds and ends and it is only for the journey through the language that has set me on this path to finally read the thing! – will let you know how I fare come December! – Deb

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