Richardson’s masterpiece remains one of the great novels of the world’s literature. Clarissa is proposed as an example to all young women, she accomplishes the all but impossible feat of remaining an attractive pattern of virtue. There is a true nobleness, a natural dignity in Clarissa, a power of steadfast suffering, a true delicacy, an ardour of affection. Lovelace, undoubtedly, is the forerunner of a long series of romantic heroes. His is a divided soul, a study in the subtle degradation wrought by desire; he is, at the same time, more than a mere human personage—a power of darkness, the prince of lies. The family tragedy at the beginning seizes upon our emotions like the slow, oppressive, inevitable approach of a storm; the circle of fate grows narrower and narrower as it closes round the unprotected Clarissa; and the chain of circumstance and event is woven with an extraordinary strength of dramatic cohesion. No sooner has Clarissa fallen into Lovelace’s power, than the crushing of her will and pride in a hopeless struggle is impressed upon us with the relentless, terrible determination of religious enthusiasm…
Gentleman’s Magazine, December 1748 — You put to me the fashionable question, Have you read Clarissa? Yes, in troth, have I; though afraid at first! The length, Frank, the length was thrown in my way; and objected by numbers who, by the by, had seen only the advertisement of seven volumes. But however long, however interrupted (purposely) when I came to the three last, I was so eager to get to the conclusion, that they kept me up till 4 or 5, once till 7 o’clock in the morning, wide awake all the while.
The Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1749 — Clarissa is a history, where the events of her life follow each other in an uninterrupted succession. The reader is allowed no interval of rest; but urged on from one event to another, his curiosity is perpetually both excited and gratified.
Sir Walter Scott, 1823 — It is probable, after all, that the prolixity of Richardson, which, to our giddy-paced times, is the greatest fault of his writing, was not such an objection to his contemporaries. But a modern reader may be permitted to wish that Clarissa had been a good deal abridged at the beginning, and Sir Charles Grandison at the end; that the last two volumes of Pamela had been absolutely cancelled, and the second much compressed.
Samuel Richardson was born in Derbyshire, in the year 1689. Having sustained severe losses in trade, the elder Richardson was unable to give his son Samuel more than a very ordinary education. Richardson was twice married; first to Allington Wilde, his master's daughter, and after her death, in 1731, to Elizabeth Leake. He is best known for his three epistolary novels: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753).