In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Samuel Richardson

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Biographical Studies
  • Bibliographical Studies
  • Early Responses and Criticism
  • Essay Collections
  • Epistolarity
  • Gender
  • Influences and Intertexts
  • Law and Society
  • Narrative and Reading
  • Politics
  • Reception
  • Religion
  • Rise of the Novel
  • Sensibility and Ethics
  • Subjectivity
  • Visual Culture

British and Irish Literature Samuel Richardson
Thomas Keymer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0050


With his virtuoso handling of epistolary narration, and the psychological and circumstantial realism made possible by his technical innovations, Samuel Richardson (b. 1689–d. 1761) has long been seen as a pioneer of the modern novel. Pamela (1740) was an international sensation and generated an avalanche of adaptations, imitations, attacks, and other appropriations, of which the best-known are Henry Fielding’s multilayered parody, Shamela (1741), and Eliza Haywood’s exuberant counternarrative, Anti-Pamela; or, Feign’d Innocence Detected (1741). Rival authors and booksellers were quick to cash in with spurious sequels to the original work, forcing Richardson to rush out his authorized continuation of December 1741, Pamela . . . in Her Exalted Condition. Thereafter he worked for years on his monumental Clarissa, one of the undisputed masterpieces of the European novel, which circulated in various manuscript versions within a private constituency of readers and advisers before its eventual publication in three massive, compelling installments in 1747–1748. Richardson’s last novel, Sir Charles Grandison (1753–1754), admired by successor novelists from Jane Austen to George Eliot but neglected for much of the 20th century, has recently enjoyed a significant revival in critical interest. Following the rise of theory in the 1970s, Richardson’s work as a whole has been at the center of debates about representation, reading, interpretation, subjectivity, gender, politics, print culture, and other key topics in 18th-century literature and the novel genre.

General Overviews

There are several excellent textbook introductions and chapter-length overviews, and the two most important critical studies of the 1970s, Doody 1974 and Kinkead-Weekes 1973, are also good places to start by virtue of their range of coverage. Literary craftsmanship and intertextual allusion are the emphases, respectively, in shorter studies, Brophy 1987 and Harris 1987, and Richardson is skillfully contextualized with reference to literary allies and rivals in Turner 1994 and Sabor 2004. The Richardson of Doody 1996 is markedly more oppositional—even, in Pamela, “revolutionary”—than of Doody 1974.

  • Brophy, Elizabeth Bergen. Samuel Richardson. Twayne English Authors Series 454. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

    A lucid introductory overview, resuming and updating the defense of Richardson’s conscious artistry mounted in Brophy’s earlier study, Samuel Richardson: The Triumph of Craft (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974).

  • Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974.

    One of the classics of Richardson criticism, a landmark scholarly study that traces patterns of imagery in the novels back into emblem books, devotional writing, and related literary traditions, to illuminating interpretative effect.

  • Doody, Margaret Anne. “Samuel Richardson: Fiction and Knowledge.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel. Edited by John Richetti, 90–119. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521419085

    Approaches the novels in light of tensions in Richardson’s biography and the rival pulls of oppositional and conformist impulses.

  • Harris, Jocelyn. Samuel Richardson. British and Irish Authors Series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Lively introductory study that (as in several essays published elsewhere by Harris) contests received ideas of Richardson as natural or “unlearned genius” and stresses intertextual embeddedness in earlier literature, especially drama.

  • Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.

    Richardson as Henry James: sensitive close readings of the novels stressing representation of consciousness and the use of epistolary form to capture the complexities of present-tense experience. Memorably mauled by Warner 1979 (cited under Narrative and Reading) but still worth reading for its patient exposition of implication and nuance in the novels.

  • Sabor, Peter. “Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Sarah Fielding.” In The Cambridge Companion to English Literature from 1740 to 1830. Edited by Thomas Keymer and Jon Mee, 139–156. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521809746

    One of the best chapter-length overviews, resisting standard accounts of the Richardson–Fielding relationship in terms of simple binaries and highlighting the mediating presence of Sarah Fielding.

  • Turner, James Grantham. “Richardson and His Circle.” In The Columbia History of the British Novel. Edited by John Richetti, 73–101. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

    Rich and witty account of the “convulsions of enthusiasm, suspense, boredom, grief, revulsion, and adoration” (p. 73) triggered in early readers by Richardson’s writing, deftly identifying the sources of all these responses in features of the novels.

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