Annotated Bib: The Griselda Theme and Feminine Virtue

Bassil, Veronica. “The Faces of Griselda: Chaucer, Prior, and Richardson.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 26, no. 2, 1984, pp. 157–82,
Bassil traces a thematic development of the “Griselda Theme” from Chaucer to Matthew Prior and finally to Richardson. Bassil sees Prior’s poem “Henry and Emma” (1709) as a “missing link” in the development of the “Griselda theme” between Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale (1393-1400) and Richardson’s Clarissa (1747-1759). Traditionally, the Griselda narrative recounts the “rigorous testing which a virtuous maiden undergoes at the hands of a harsh and deceitful husband or suitor” (157). Each subsequent phase of the Griselda theme more deeply explores the psychological and sexual aspects of the story. Richardson’s Clarissa represents the fullest treatment of this phase, not only as a more detailed psychological account of the virtuous maiden and the wicked suitor, but as a more poignant and extreme depiction of feminine virtue. Bassil specifically notes that Richardson’s insistence not to end the story with a marriage indicates his refusal to trivialize Clarissa’s suffering. In order for her virtue to be pure, she must retain her chastity as well. Contrary to Chaucer’s and Prior’s versions, Clarissa does not conclude with by restoring her to her suitor but with her posthumous restoration to her family.

Thompson, Peggy. “Abuse and Atonement: The Passion of Clarissa Harlowe.” Passion and Virtue: Essays on the Novel of Samuel Richardson, edited by David Blewett, University of Toronto, 2001, pp. 152–69.
Thompson begins by summarizing the critical history surrounding the narrative of relentless suffering in Richardson’s portrayal of Clarissa–specifically its scientific, Sadean, iconographic, and biblical contexts. Her essay, however, focuses on Clarissa as a “Christ-figure,” the inspiration for which can be traced to some of the more popular sermons preached during the eighteenth-century. Clarissa’s Christ-like passion can be interpreted within three different theological categories of atonement: Christus Victor, Substitutionary Atonement, and the Pietist Movement. All three categories have roots in early church and medieval theology. As “Christus Victor,” Thompson notes several places in the text where many of the characters–including Lovelace–recognize that her suffering and death are ultimately triumphant; as “substitution,” Clarissa offers herself as an appeasement to her father’s demands, who Thompson argues is comparable to Anselm’s depiction of God; and as a “Pietist,” Thompson observes the ways in which characters such as Lovelace recognize their own salvation by means of Clarissa’s Christ-like example. Thompson concludes that the analogy between Clarissa and Christ ultimately raises more questions than it answers. Nevertheless, it is the kind of theme Richardson himself had at the forefront of his mind given the popularity of some of the eighteenth-century sermons and his own religious commitments.

Annotated Bibliography, Clarissa, 411-883

I like to assign annotated bibliographies in my classes because they help students gain some sense of mastery over their reading, push them towards different interpretations than they might ordinarily pursue, or help them recognize common threads in the historical-critical responses.

Here’s my description and rationale for the first annotated bib assignment:

  1. Review and, if necessary, selectively reread Richardson 411-883 (yes, what was assigned for last week), to see which portions you might wish to focus upon.
  2. Go through a similar review process with your previous blog posts, class notes, reading journals, and the secondary criticism we’ve excerpted for class discussion.  You are encouraged to read and reflect upon your classmates’ posts as well. Have there been any areas that interested you since we began?  Inquiries begun with one author that another author seemed to follow up?  Questions that you’d like to pursue further, either in relation to the original author or on a broader scale?
  3. Choose a topic that allows you to reconstruct a broader critical or cultural context for understanding Richardson’s work.  The focus should remain on Richardson, though you may also consider SR in relation to one or both of the two earlier authors.  This topic could be literary generic (e.g., amatory fiction and its formal conventions of plot, characterization, etc.); it could be social-historical (practices of marriage, courtship, and child-rearing; sexual violence and/or prostitution; social class or rank; etc.); political (traces of party conflict and/or political history in characterization) or philosophic (questions of autonomy or identity) and so forth.
  4. You are also free to use the keyword clusters I’ve suggested for brainstorming topics or keywords:
    1. Love, Sexuality, Property
    2. Class, Rank, Legitimacy
    3. Morality, Sensibility, Indifference
    4. Happiness and/or Pleasure
  5. Gather together a limited, selective bibliography featuring 2 items on your topic: 2 articles, gathered from MLA Bibliography, Project Muse (req. Muse acct/signin), or JSTOR, pre- and post-1985.  Your topic should offer a critical context for reading Clarissa.
  6. Briefly annotate each item with about 3-5 sentences.
  7. For models, see, e.g., this explanation from the Purdue OWL. There are lots of other guides to annotated bibs online.
  8. Post this online by Monday morning before class, and be prepared to talk about your research, what we’ve learned, and your latest questions about this initial grouping of novels and novelists. [For posting, see this link in WP help.]

Any questions?  Put them up on the blog.  I’m also happy to chime in with suggestions if you get stuck.  Good luck, DM

The Embodied Letter Visualiser

Letters come to embody Clarissa–from one confinement to the next, Clarissa is bound to letter-writing, and the letter becomes a potent symbol of the communicative process itself. The physical expression and manifestation of Clarissa’s heart, mind, and body are private, often unreadable, enclosed as she is often enclosed, and grow in number even as her body and her space grows smaller. I approached this theme with an eye toward thinking about gender and the body as represented within the letter–and look forward to hearing your response!

DM demo: How to Post an Image

Hit “Write” button in top right corner
Go to Write Post Page, Create Title
Click the black + box and choose Add Image icon
When the Image Box appears, choose Upload Option for your image on your computer drive
Upload image from your chosen drive
This is my extremely crude starter image for Clarissa
This is how the uploaded image will appear in your Add Post space; hit the Publish button in right top corner
You’ll get an Are you Sure prompt, say yes twice
Hit View Post to see what it looks like; to add a paragraph or so explaining your choices and what they tell us about this text, just hit the black plus box and choose paragraph icon to get normal text

If this is confusing (WP can sometimes feel unnecessarily complex), then take a look at this guide to Posts from the WordPress Support page, accessible from the Question mark icon in the right bottom corner of the Write Post page:

Thanks, DM