Topic: Classical allusions in Richardson’s Clarissa.
Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Clarendon Press, 1974. In her study of Richardson’s novels, Margaret Doody investigates Richardson’s conception of “love” as “a natural passion” fraught with social, political, and psychological implications. For Richardson, love is “a major irony” which cannot be escaped “except at the risk of making ourselves less human” (10-11). She explores the theme by tracing the sources of Richardson’s works in order to see what he has done with the material (13). Her analysis of Richardson’s sources, however, is contextualized by the fact that Richardson himself never had a formal education, which, Doody notes, reveals itself in the fact that “He never lost the defensive tone about his lack of knowledge of Latin and Greek, or even of French; in compensation, all his heroes are proficient in the classics, and his heroines in modern languages” (5-6). In her analysis of Clarissa, Richardson’s tone of defensiveness appears in the way he tempers a classical education with Christian piety. The libertines such as Belton and Lovelace, are well-versed in classical literature, but it is Clarissa’s piety–informed by Christian devotional literature of the 17th and 18th centuries–which elevates and completes her virtue. In this context, much of the classical literary references are used negatively, though there are moments when Christian piety and pagan philosophy converge, specifically in the character of Belford who, having begun the process of repenting of his libertine behavior, functions as a mediator for the retelling of the death scenes of Belton, Clarissa, and Mrs. Sinclaire.
Harris, Jocelyn. “Richardson: Original or Learned Genius?” Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays, edited by Margaret Anne Doody and Peter Sabor, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 188–202.
In this chapter of the Tercentenary Essays, Harris makes the case that Richardson was much more learned and familiar with a broad range of literature that spanned from the classical era to the eighteenth century. She notes that much of the contemporary criticism surrounding Richardson’s use of various literary, philosophical, and theological sources has echoed some of Richardson’s contemporaries that he wasn’t formally educated and therefore did not have as intimate a knowledge with many of the texts he cites. To the contrary, she notes many of the works Richardson printed–including a four volume edition of Virgil’s poetry, a translation of Josephus, and various contemporary dramas and poetry. Harris argues that “Richardson’s novels depend upon ancient and modern books, not only locally but structurally” (190). In rapid succession, Harris notes the frequency with which quotations from Ovid appear in Clarissa at crucial moments of characterization and plot points. Richardson’s allusions, she argues, “are rarely casual, but call up entire works to explain and express his meaning” (202). Although Harris’ argument seems to confirm the growing consensus of scholarship regarding Richardson’s learning since Doody’s monograph, her attention to the structural significance of classical literary allusions in Clarissa help lay the groundwork for additional investigation.
Price, Fiona. “‘Inconsistent Rhapsodies’: Samuel Richardson and the Politics of Romance.” A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary, edited by Corrine Saunders, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2004, pp. 269–86.
Price considers Richardson’s fiction within the context of the Romance genre and its political implications. She notes that during the 18th century, “attacks on the epistemology of romance” had become commonplace (269). Yet, Price observes that despite romance’s low status and specifically female readership, it exercised “great influence on the novel” by way of a complicated genealogy. Richardson, she argues, attempts to exploit the genre of romance while continuing to draw on “its idealism to interrogate authority” (270). In Clarissa, Richardson accomplishes this redress of romantic idealism in the way he contrasts it with classical learning. When a classical education is “untempered by genuine Christianity” (278), it produces equally vicious characters. Although Price’s argument does not investigate the degree to which Richardson was familiar with the classical texts he cites and quotes throughout Clarissa, it fits within both Doody’s and Harris’ observations regarding Richardson’s views and familiarity with classical literature.
Rivers, Isabel. Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry. 2nd edition, Routledge, 1994, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203359952.
Rivers has written a guidebook for understanding how Renaissance poets and authors understood and utilized classical and Christian literature in their own literary works. The book is geared specifically to students who are new to the field of Renaissance literature studies and who have little or no familiarity with Latin, Greek, or the Bible. In her introduction, she highlights the fact that the “educated English poet of the period 1580 to 1670” was two things: A) a Christian, and B) a classical scholar (1). For most Renaissance poets—as well as writers extending into the eighteenth century–the classical pagan epics were read in the light of Christian teaching. When blended together, they provided a “range of sometimes complimentary, sometimes contradictory assumptions about and explanations of the physical universe, man’s relationship to God, his moral stature, and the purpose of his earthly activities” (2). Rivers’ chapter on Platonism and Neo-platonism will be especially useful in considering the platonic affinities between Clarissa’s and Socrates’s deathbed scenes, and the way in which Christian devotional literature complimented and diverged from Socrates’ discussion about how one should prepare for death and what the philosopher can expect in the afterlife.