Richardson and Romance

  • Hubert McDermott


Very little has been written about the elements of romance in the novels of Samuel Richardson, and perhaps this is understandable since the majority of students of eighteenth-century fiction are more interested in what is new in his fiction than what is borrowed or adapted. There is also the prevalent tendency to regard the elements of romance in Richardson’s fiction as lapses of one kind or another, occasions on which his artistic genius failed him and he was forced to resort to the standby of romance. William Sale, for example, talks of Richardson being ‘reduced’ to blending romantic material with the ‘realism of Dutch genre painting’.1 And Morris Golden writes of ‘the distressing tendency’2 of Richardson to exploit the effects of romance. It is precisely this attitude which has so adversely affected the study of English fiction in general. When ‘realism’ comes to be synonymous with all that is desirable in fiction, ‘romance’ becomes synonymous with all that is undesirable. To discuss and analyse the revolutionary use of realism in Richardson’s fiction, to the complete exclusion of the romance elements, is to do the author an injustice. It is only when Richardson’s adaptation and transformation of romance themes and conventions are fully understood and appreciated, that a true appreciation of the extent of his achievement can be gained.


Early Eighteenth Century Paradise Lost Passionate Romance Conventional Romance Actual Rape 
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  1. 1.
    William M. Sale, Jr., ‘From Pamela to Clarissa’, The Age of Johnson, ed. F. W. Hilles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), p. 132.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Morris Golden, Richardson’s Characters (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963), p. 188.Google Scholar
  3. 42.
    Samuel Richardson, Clarissa or, The History of a Young Lady, Everyman’s Library edition, 4 vols (London: Dent, 1962), iii, 61. All future references are to this edition.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Hubert McDermott 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hubert McDermott
    • 1
  1. 1.University College GalwayIreland

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