Saturday, September 22, 2012

Theory of the Novel: Samuel Richardson's Pamela

Samuel Richardson not only was a great novelist, but he also took pride in criticizing the new genre to make it better. During his time the novel had reached such heights of unbridled imagination that defied credibility. And even though allowances could be made for the distinction between novel and romance, the distinction was often blurred by writers.

In the following excerpt from Richardson’s novel Pamela, he underscores the vices that plagued the writing of fiction:

... there were very few novels and romances that my lady would permit me to read; and those I did, gave me no great pleasure; for either they dealt so much in the marvellous and improbable, or were so unnaturally inflaming to the passions, and so full of love and intrigue, that most of them seemed calculated to fire the imagination, rather than to inform the judgment.

Titles and tournaments, breaking of spears in honor of a mistress, engaging with monsters, rambling in search of adventures, making unnatural difficulties, in order to show the knight-errant's prowess in overcoming them, is all that is required to constitute the hero in such pieces.

And what principally distinguishes the character of the heroine is, when she is taught to consider her father's house as an enchanted castle, and her lover as the hero who is to dissolve the charm, and to set her at liberty from one confinement, in order to put her into another, and, too probably, a worse: to instruct her how to climb walls, leap precipices, and do twenty other extravagant things, in order to show the mad strength of a passion she ought to be ashamed of; to make parents and guardians pass for tyrants, the voice of reason to be drowned in that of indiscreet love, which exalts the other sex, and debases her own.

And what is the instruction that can be gathered from such pieces, for the conduct of common life?
Samuel Richardson. Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740), Part II, Letter cii.

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