Annotated Bib: Developing Scholarly Views of Richardson’s Feminism

Rogers, Katharine M. “Sensitive Feminism vs. Conventional Sympathy: Richardson and Fielding on Women.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 9, no. 3, 1976, p. 256., https://doi.org/10.2307/1345466.

In this article, Rogers argues that Samuel Richardson’s portrayal of female characters casts him as someone highly sympathetic to the plight of women, especially when it came to acknowledging their autonomous identities. To illustrate this point, she contrasts him with Henry Fielding, whose female characters she locates within the “anti-feminist prejudices of the time” (256). Although like Fielding, Richardson tended to write submissive women and held chastity as the most important womanly virtue, Rogers sees Richardson’s feminism as radical—unlike Fielding, his formulation of womanly obedience has hard, lawful limits and his “ideal” relationship is one that’s not marked by oppression. In Clarissa, Rogers argues, such an ideal relationship is found within the friendship of Clarissa and Anna Howe, rather than what one might term the “romance” of the novel, that is, Clarissa and Lovelace. Rogers concludes by stating that at the heart of Richardson’s portrayal of women is an inherent interest in workings of womens’ minds—Richardson’s female characters are complicated, thinking creatures who almost obsessively contemplate and discuss the world around them and their place within it. In this sense, they are more than equal to their male counterparts. 

Cook, Jessica. “Revising Mary Astell: Anna Howe’s Reflections on Marriage in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 32, no. 3, 2020, pp. 407–426., https://doi.org/10.3138/ecf.32.3.407.

Cook begins her article by summarizing the general scholarly opinion of Anna Howe—that she is a highly self-aware character whose formidability is equal to, and arguably surpasses, that of the men in Clarissa. Key to this are her apparently scathing opinions on marriage. To some extent, Cook takes issue this read on Anna Howe, arguing that Anna has always been a somewhat troublesome character to study since, at first glance, her beliefs seem much more radical than those of her creator. To investigate this conflict in further depth, Cook suggests we read Anna as a fictional stand-in for the 18th century feminist Mary Astell, with whom Richardson was well-acquainted. Cook argues that through the creation of Anna, Richardson grapples with Astell’s arguments for female autonomy. Despite her high-minded claims, Anna’s character is complicated by her implied sexual knowledge and what seems to be her genuine desire for love or some type of sexual connection. At the end of the novel Anna seems to betray both her anti-marriage ideals and her longings for a partner to whom she is physically attracted and marries Hickman. This, Cook argues, is where Richardson departs from Astell’s voice and moves to his own conclusions on marriage—that, despite everything, marriage is still a worthy institution and one that (most) women should aspire to. 

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