Various constructions and themes in Samuel Richardson's novels and his early letters to Lady Bradshaigh, examined in the context of mid-century reformist writings about prostitution, such as the Magdalen narratives, reveal his ambivalent treatment of fallen women. These constructions include the distinction between seduced and hardened women in Pamela as well as the undoing of that distinction in Clarissa, the irreducible nature of women's partiality for libertines and its corollary, the desexualization that becomes the condition for Clarissa's paragon status, and the distinctively female vice of moral indignation against women in Sir Charles Grandison. In this essay, I show that Richardson's sympathetic and progressive impulses towards Magdalens could not keep pace with those impulses that were traditional and misogynistic.

Contributor's Note

Martha J. Koehler, associate professor of English at University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, is the author of Models of Reading: Paragons and Parasites in Richardson, Burney, and Laclos (2005).