Annotated Bib: Adaptations of 18th c. texts, including Richardson’s Clarissa

Foundational Text: Marsden, Jean I.. The Re-Imagined Text : Shakespeare, Adaptation, and Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory, University Press of Kentucky, 1995. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Marsden explores the notion of “radical adaptation” in the context of Shakespeare’s plays written between the mid 17th to 18th centuries, looking specifically at the characteristic features of (1) linguistic and moral simplification, (2) rewritten women, and (3) politicization of the story. (1) Marsden argues Restoration adaptors of Shakespeare’s texts did not consider the original language of his plays to be an essential part of his genius, and often times replaced his text with a “more refined and modern English,” ranging from updating his expressions and word choices to, at times, rewriting plays entirely. Playwrights and critics of the time did not believe the language of his work to be an intrinsic element of his genius. (2) the increase in female actresses after the 1660s and resulting societal changes instigated a number of theatrical and changes, including more breeching roles, a resurgence of pathetic drama as a means toward a less obvious form of titillation, the concept that women inhabited a starkly different world than their male counterparts, and a focus on the pathos of passive female virtue (often resulting in a flattening of their characterizations). This final point appears in its most extreme form in “the adapters’ fondness for scenes of attempted rape (39),” which “functions to establish moral distinctions…provid[ing] clear evidence of villainy, making the distinction between good and evil characters more obvious (40).” (3) With the Restoration providing a new political climate, Shakespeare’s adaptors discovered new opportunities in the treatment of his plays and plots, using the texts as a breeding grounds to develop and inform audiences of their views of their contemporary political climates. Marsden continues to explore these characteristics of the adaptations and reveals that despite the enthusiastic growth of these adapted texts, they quickly disappeared less than a century later, as the focus and importance on Shakespeare’s language grew more valued.

Hopkins, Lisa. “The Transference of ‘Clarissa’: Psychoanalysis and the Realm of the Feminine.” Critical Survey, vol. 6, no. 2, 1994, pp. 218–25, Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.

Hopkins delves deeply into the transference of Clarissa from Richardson’s 1500 page novel to the 1991 BBC television adaptation, arguing that although there is much to be admired in adapting such a long text into three hours of television, without sacrificing any of the main plot points of the story, ultimately adapting the novel has flattened most of the characters’ psychologies, most drastically those of the women; the BBC adaptation portrays the main female characters (primarily Clarissa and Anna) as acting in manners over which they have no true psychological understandings over, and therefore, “trapped as perpetual victims of their own misunderstood and repressed desires (219).” Hopkins’ points of comparison between the texts include (1) the narrative perspective, about which she argues that the role of camera is akin to that of Belford—a safe and unaffected vantage point for the audience; (2) Clarissa’s rape, which is surrounded by much more suspense and horror in the novel for its opaqueness and the reader losing access to Clarissa’s POV at the critical moment, whereas in the television adaptation, the focus is wholeheartedly on Clarissa for the majority of the story, therefore rendering the rape scene not as powerful; (3) Clarissa’s dream—which, in the adaptation, seizes only the most obviously visual and sexualized elements from the description in the novel, and thus, seeing Clarissa’s subconscious desire as an excess of fear rather than of Lovelace’s actual malice; and (4) the displacement of the concern with motherhood transferred completely to Clarissa on the screen, therefore making her the most “fully psychologized character in the series, surrounded by monsters.”

Tumbleson, Raymond D. “Potboiler Emancipation and the Prison of Pure Art: ‘Clarissa, The Wind’, and Surviving Rape.” Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 3, 1997, pp. 193–97, Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.

Tumbleson analyzes 1928 film The Wind, in the greater context of the victimization and rape survival narrative that is first established in Richardson’s Clarissa, arguing that the film— which begins as a “reinscription” and ends as a “rewriting” of the Clarissa narrative— subverts the notion of a rape victim’s survival as “morally unjust” and instead, turns the film into a “cultural evolution ironically expressed in the grossest commercial terms, instead of a manual for survival (196).” Tumbleson posits that Richardson’s evolution from the writing of Pamela to Clarissa makes clear that he believes bodily pollution to be “irremediable, final, and fatal (194),” and reconcilable only thorough death. In contrast, The Wind shows the opposite progression. This film, much like Richardson, isolates Letty (the heroine) and much like Clarissa, she is “persecuted by those who should protect her (195)”; thus, at the climax, she is violated both physically by the wind and by Lovelace’s equivalent, Roddy, in an unconscious state, just like her 18th c. counterpart. However, the film drastically changes the narrative at this point—unlike Clarissa, who endures a slow and inevitable death after her rape, Letty survives as a “contented and sexually adult woman who has made her peace with society…revers[ing] the traditional gender roles of ruiner and ruined (195),” as Roddy is the one who eventually dies at Letty’s hands, while she continues to endure.

Stuber, Florian, and Margaret Anne Doody. “The Clarissa Project and Clarissa’s Reception.” Text, vol. 12, 1999, pp. 123–41, Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.

In this article, Stuber and Doody describe to the reader The Clarissa Project, which encompasses a reissue of the third edition of Clarissa and reproduces a published conversation that Richardson had with his contemporary readers in three volumes: Volume I includes the prefaces, notes, and postscripts of different editions, Volume II is comprised of Letter and Passages Restored (1751), and Volume III presents Richardson’s last work, A Collection of the Moral ad Instructive Sentiments (1755) which contains more of the author’s commentary on Clarissa. In gathering materials for this project, the editors have searched and included a variety of materials, in the form of “literary essays, abridgements, rewritings, expostulations, defenses, parodies, verse tributes, comic verse allusions, drawings, paintings, operas and opera scenes, ballads, plays, dramatizations, allusions in other novels, and so on (126).” The variety in type and amount of material shows how difficult it is to categorize Clarissa as being a text for the “low” or “high” cultures exclusively; indeed, it seems that Clarissa operates at most every level of society and provides influence in a multitude of ways. The editors’ goals with this project includes exploring how Clarissa’s impact from century to century can reveal the “enormous cross-section of Western society and its modes of expression (128).”

Evelina/Clarissa as The Reformed Coquette

How might Clarissa and Evelina— and their respective situations— be characterized (similarly or differently) under Spencer’s definition of the reformed coquette, particularly in relation to the “lover-mentor” model she claims in Davy’s The Reformed Coquette?

Volume II, Letter VIII:

“With a reluctance which occasions me inexpressible uneasiness, I have been almost compelled to consent that my Evelina should quit the protection of the hospitable and respectable Lady Howard, and accompany Madame Duval to a city which I had hoped she would never again have entered. But alas, my dear child, we are the slaves of custom, the dupes of prejudice, and dare not stem thee torrent of an opposing world, even though our judgements condemn our compliance! However, since the die is cast, we must endeavor to make the best of it.

You will have occasion, in the course of the month you are to pass with Madame Duval, for all the circumspection and prudence you can call to your aid: she will not,  know, propose any thing to you which she thinks wrong herself; but you must learn not only to judge but to act for yourself: if any schemes are started, any engagements made, which your understanding represents to you as improper, exert yourself resolutely in avoiding them, and do not, by a too passive facility, risk the censure of the world, or your own future regret (p. 156).”

Narratives in Clarissa’s last third

Babb’s argument for oscillations on the line level and back-and-forth narrative on the macro level operates a little differently in the last third of Clarissa. It seems to me that within this last third, the oscillations at the line level seem to decrease a bit, due to the progression of the plot. Clarissa’s rape is a pivotal turning point in the book, with an aftermath that can be identified with the distinct change in Clarissa’s decisiveness. Prior to it, Clarissa does suffer from extreme bouts of uncertainty about the decisions that she is making; in trying to maintain her honor and purity and in being put in a Catch-22 situation of having to choose between Solmes and Lovelace, Clarissa is constantly working out, through her correspondence, how to find a solution to please both her family and herself. Post-rape, we see a change in her countenance—of course, there are first the madness letters, in which we first see the inklings of her decisiveness towards death (“When honour’s lost, ‘tis a relief to die:/Death’s but a sure retreat from infamy…” (p.893)). And this only continues—no longer is Clarissa wavering as to what to do; instead, the further along we move in this last section, the surer of herself she becomes, and confides in Anna Howe her ultimate plan (“Let me repeat that I am quite sick of life (p. 1020)) as well as by the very end Mrs. Norton (“My wedding garments are bought— and though not fine or gaudy to the sight, though not adorned with jewels and set off with gold and silver…a security against all those anxieties, pains, and perturbations which sometimes succeed to the most promising outsettings” (p. 1339).) and John Belford (“let me hope that I may be an humble instrument in the hands of Providence to reform a man of your parts and abilities; and then I shall think that loss will be more abundantly repaired to the world…(p. 1368)”). On the macro level, we can see shifts in characterization and the density of letters that are provided to the reader, which really help ground them in the type of changes each character encounters. Perhaps most noticeable is the changes in density of letters from/to Clarissa and Lovelace, post-rape. Along with Clarissa’s self-assurance, the sheer number of letters addressed between her to Anna, etc. seems to be less than the number we encountered before the rape— indicating, perhaps, that Clarissa coming to terms with her death makes her regular correspondences to figure out her decisions less necessary. In contrast, letters between Lovelace and Belford increase in frequency/density, which seems to correspond with Lovelace’s growing guilt and uncertainty about what he’s done and how to move forward as Clarissa starts gaining her power from accepting the one thing he doesn’t want her to do. Hynes, on the other hand, describes the proleptic utterances throughout the novel as a key, but often times ambiguous technique, a particular example being the curse that Clarissa is subjected to, put on her by her father. Yet, I would argue that the ambiguity of the proleptic discourse is actually a strong argument for representing the book as a whole, and the differing levels of uncertainty about how likely a proleptic argument will actually come true ties to the back-and-forth oscillations on levels of both line and characterization, and enhances that more than ever before; the point of this technique is not necessarily on a plot level, but on the level of characters and how they gain or lose characterization rather than what specifically they move towards.

Works Cited

Babb, Howard S. “Richardson’s Narrative Mode in Clarissa.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 16, no. 3, [Rice University, Johns Hopkins University Press], 1976, pp. 451–60,

Hynes, Peter. “Curses, Oaths, and Narrative in Richardson’s Clarissa.” ELH, vol. 56, no. 2, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, pp. 311–26,

Annotated Bibliography: Narrative Modes of Clarissa

Babb, Howard S. “Richardson’s Narrative Mode in Clarissa.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 16, no. 3, [Rice University, Johns Hopkins University Press], 1976, pp. 451–60,

Babb posits two specific and complementary narrative modes that makes Clarissa a powerful and successful novel: (1) structured and paired sets of alternatives throughout the prose that endow the present moment with “overwhelming charge” that is informed by the past and which moves toward the future and (2) a controlled and back-and-forth propulsion the reader experiences moving forward in the novel, keeping said reader in “agonizing tension.” As an example, Babb conducts a close reading of a letter from Lovelace to Belford after Clarissa runs away from her family with the former. He points out how Lovelace wavers between the feeling of pure Joy and its subsequent “abasement” as his “disgusted Pride” takes over, mirroring Lovelace’s internal struggle between caring and loving Clarissa with his natural instinct and identity as a rake. Too, there is the juxtaposition of what Clarissa’s true reasons for leaving her household were—whether it was out of love and desire for Lovelace himself or rooted more firmly in her resistance to and liberty from the Harlowes. These alternatives, according to Babb, also inform the motion of the narrative: from paragraph to paragraph and in using oppositional words like “but” or “yet” to start each one, Lovelace oscillates between these feelings to different degrees over the course of the letter. This ultimately leads to the climactic declaration of his love for her by addressing her in the second-person in the eighth paragraph, but it also reactivates his understanding of her less-than-full commitment to him, again pushing the proverbial pendulum in the other direction.

Hynes, Peter. “Curses, Oaths, and Narrative in Richardson’s Clarissa.” ELH, vol. 56, no. 2, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, pp. 311–26,

Hynes specifically explores how proleptic utterances throughout Clarissa contain a kind of “linguistic causality” and operate in different ways within the novel, depending on the type of utterance. He argues that certain utterances, such as Clarissa’s vows and Lovelace’s fictions are examples of proleptic discourses which hold true, while other empty promises and backfiring vows are not followed through on. Too, there are instances in which proleptic discourse and the actual narrative actions in the story are at odds with each other to a certain degree (but not 100%), which can lead to divisive understandings of the motivations and actions behind Clarissa’s plot, including the effect of Clarissa’s father’s curse, Lovelace’s reasons for wanting to be with Clarissa, and the effect of the promises and actions leading up to the “fatal Wednesday” when Clarissa is to marry Solmes (and which never actually takes place). In conclusion, Hynes argues that the concept of proleptic discourse is a paradox—shown to serve as “mere language,” but working in ways that time and time again show that language is “all [the reader] has to work with.”