Samuel Richardson - Epistolary Novel

Epistolary Novel

Richardson was a skilled letter writer and his talent traces back to his childhood. Throughout his whole life, he would constantly write to his various associates. Richardson had a "faith" in the act of letter writing, and believed that letters could be used to accurately portray character traits. He quickly adopted the epistolary novel form, which granted him "the tools, the space, and the freedom to develop distinctly different characters speaking directly to the reader". The characters of Pamela, Clarissa, and Grandison are revealed in a personal way, with the first two using the epistolary form for "dramatic" purposes, and the last for "celebratory" purposes.

In his first novel, Pamela, he explored the various complexities of the title character's life, and the letters allow the reader to witness her develop and progress over time. The novel was an experiment, but it allowed Richardson to create a complex heroine through a series of her letters. When Richardson wrote Clarissa, he had more experience in the form and expanded the letter writing to four different correspondents, which created a complex system of characters encouraging each other to grow and develop over time. However, the villain of the story, Lovelace, is also involved in the letter writing, and this leads to tragedy. Leo Braudy described the benefits of the epistolary form of Clarissa as, "Language can work: letters can be ways to communicate and justify". By the time Richardson writes Grandison, he transforms the letter writing from telling of personal insights and explaining feelings into a means for people to communicate their thoughts on the actions of others and for the public to celebrate virtue. The letters are no longer written for a few people, but are passed along in order for all to see.

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