'The Wonderful Variety of Sounds:' Interlace in Clarissa

During a phase of the novel where the number of voices is particularly rich and there is an intricate interlace of letters, Rebecca Mioak Chung suddenly said:

But no one has talked about how this novel is put together, although all the magic comes from there.

To this I replied by quoting Richardson's commentary on the pleasure he experienced when imagining himself different people and writing letters for them as follows:

I know there has not been much rigor in our discussions, but its epistolary narrative and dramatic presentations have come up on numbers of occasions by different people. Here I would like to suggest an interesting light on Richardson's putting the book together (=weaving letters) in his notes (not all written by him, some are by other people, some are his elaborations upon hints and letters sent him by other people) as published in the Augustan Reprint Society Publication No. 103:

The Choice the Author has made, in this and a former Performance [Pamela], of delivering the Sentiments of his Characters in their own Words, by way of Letters, has also Two principal Advantages, which we beg leave to specify.
In the First place, By this means every one is enabled to judge at first Sight, whether the respective Persons represented express themselves in a Style suitable to their Characters, or not, and may thus become a rational Critic on the Merit of the Piece.
Secondly, Those Characters sink deeper into the Mind of the Reader, and stamp there a perfect idea of the very Turn of Thought, by which the Originals were actuated, and diversified from each other. This must greatly add to the Pleasure of reading, when a Gentleman or Lady can readily say, upon hearing a single Paragraph, "This is the accomplished Clarissa; This is the sprited and friendly Miss Howe...
We need not insist on the evident Superiority of this Method to the dry Narrative; where the Novelistmoves on, his own dull Pace, to the End of his Chapter and Book, interweaving impertinent Digressions, for fear the Reader's Patience should be exhausted by his tedious Dwelling on one Subject, in the same Style; Which may not unfitly be compared to the dead tolling of a single Bell, in Opposition to the wonderful Variety of Sounds, which constitute the Harmony of a Handel.

Points of interest here: Richardson is here not thinking morally; to be a critic of the piece is to distance yourself and look at his uses of language artistically and as an imaginatively. Richardson also would not approve of "epistolary narratives" which don't have many different voices interlaced; the sort of first-person narrative diary which passes for episolary narrative. We see him here in his vein as artist.

I also suggest there's more than a hint of a hit at Fielding even in private in the implied boredom with the novelist who writes in chapters and books, and interweaves "impertinent Digressions." How did Richardson know this if he never read Joseph Andrews or Tom Jones (I remember an ugly letter on _Amelia_ in which Richardson admits to reading this book in order to show his disdain for the autobiographical elements in the book and Fielding's first and second wives (the second of a lower class than himself or, as Richardson clearly implies, Samuel Richardson).

On the other hand, I always charmed by his metaphor of his epistolary narratives as a "wonderful Variety of Sounds, which constitue the Harmony of a Handel." I see him looking up listening, even smiling as he scribbles away. Why it should be in fra dig in Richardson's time for men to write since the so-called great novelists of the period are still mostly men, and there's Richardson himself admitting to his love of it.

Anyway surely this kind of talk is about "how the book is put together," no? To my mind it shows Richardson as an artist alive to beauty, as man in the throes of imaginative inditing.


Other posts under this date in the novel:
             Clarissa's family's malices and her curious contradictory responses to Lovelace
             The Crisis of Clarissa's Fate: The Irretrievable 'Escape'

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