Tag Archives: clarissa

“Reasonableness and Domestic Fiction” by Amit Yahav-Brown

Another blast from the past today. When I was doing research for one of my graduate school literature classes, I decided that I would write summaries of the critical articles that I read so that I could refer to them later. In part this is because the articles are so long I needed to know what they were useful for, and in part because the information posted about them in the article databases isn’t that helpful. So enjoy (?) my discursive summary of “Reasonableness and Domestic Fiction” by Amit Yahav-Brown (2006), which can be found on JSTOR here. I hope it helps someone with their research.

Amit Yahav-Brown opens “Reasonableness and Domestic Fiction” by briefly illustrating how often iterations of “reasonable” occur in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. At first the terms “rational” and “reasonable” seem synonymous, as indeed they were becoming around the time of Clarissa, but they were still distinct in some important ways. Citing John Rawls, Yahav-Brown states: “while rationality is derived from the deliberation of a single agent, reasonableness is derived from deliberations among multiple agents. To establish rationality of an act or claim we can reason alone; but to establish the reasonableness of an act or claim we must reason with others” (806). Because of this Yahav-Brown concludes that Clarissa’s deathbed deliberations, carefully explained to Belford, are reasonable, causing Belford to acquiesce to her even though he disagrees with her actions.

Yahav-Brown then moves on to discuss John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity which is a still-different use of “rationality.” For Locke, “rationality” is “an inquiry that individuals undertake alone but that confirms both the natural and divine orders of the world” (807). This transitions into a comparison between Locke and Richardson, explaining, “for [Locke] ‘reasonableness’ marks a move from ignorance to conversion, while for Richardson it marks the move from disagreement to toleration” (808). However, both Locke and Richardson agree that there is “an aspect of reason – reasonableness – that replies not on rational inquiry but on encounters among individuals, in which one person mediates evidence for another and through this process enables the other to accept knowledge that isn’t directly available to him” (808).

Next, Yahav-Brown compares Richardson’s “reason” to Daniel Defoe’s, specifically his An Essay Upon Projects, and, briefly, the characters of Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe. In contrast, “Richardson introduces point of view as a crucial variable,” “while Defoe’s novels lend themselves to a monistic conception of reason, Richardson’s Clarissa lends itself to a pluralistic one” (809).

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Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, a Reading Journal

I have the extremely odd habit of saving drafts in the most random places, and so, I just stumbled upon this Clarissa reading journal that I wrote way back in 2007. I have to published it because it’s just so odd (it was, it seem, an assignment for school that I took really seriously), it’s in the same epistolary style, and because I’m so amused that I wrote it an forgot about it again. It seems to function as a sort of diary of my Clarissa reading experience, and if you have ever read the novel, I’m sure you understand why such a step is necessary. I hope you enjoy.

Robert Lovelace preparing to abduct Clarissa Harlowe, by Francis Hayman
Week 1

Letter 1: Miss Pamela Coovert to Self at Future Date
4 September 2007

I’ve read through the Introduction to Clarissa and I can’t help but be a little worried, the Introduction is, theoretically, written by someone very fond of the book, but even their glowing terms can’t seem to mask what appears to be a staggering behemoth of a novel. I have unofficially assigned it tome status, which I like to give books more than 100 pages larger than a nice, round thousand. Apparently, every time Samuel Richardson went to edit it down he – in an act that makes it obvious that he was his own publisher – added to the book. Happily it seems that we are dealing with the first edition, which, it seems, is the smallest version. Also, the Introduction amusingly notes all of the far better known writers to slam the book (and Richardson in general) as time goes by, specifically, S. T. Coleridge. Still, Dr. Runge assures us that we are lucky to be among the few classes of graduate students who will ever get through the authentic version of this book; perhaps my pride would be more awakened at this thought were we reading James Joyce, at least then, at the end of the novel, I’d feel cool.

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Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson

Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady Samuel Richardson’s 1748 Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady is just a diffacult thing to write about, it’s one of the longest novels in the English language, for one, but the plot is remarkably simple. How I managed to get through it I’m not even sure, I read 150 pages a week (they’re double pages, mind you) for 10 weeks and every week I was amazed that I had done it again. At some points I hated it, at some points I hated Richardson, but at some points I loved it, perhaps I fell prey to a sort of literary Stockholm Syndrome. The huge book came with me everywhere I went, including New York, and it suffered a heavy beating in the process. Needless to say, had I not taken an 18th century novel class with a particularly optimistic professor I doubt I would have ever read the thing, but having done it, I have no regrets, since that’s not my bag.

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