Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




David Blewett


Ever since its first publication in 1747-48, Richardson's Clarissa has generated a variety of critical responses, in spite of the author's claim of transparency in his characterization and his attempts at directing the novel's reception. It is the objective of this thesis to expose and explore the contradictions and ambiguities which are inherent in Richardson's novel, to determine their origins, and to trace them in selected works of subsequent writers.

Informed by Foucauldian methodology, this thesis concentrates not only on the examination of the novel's discursive context and cultural-historical background but also on the investigation of particular, occasionally neglected, themes, such as gender, the body, power, technologies of the self, and friendship. Such an approach provides a new way of looking at Clarissa, as it presents the novel as located within a specific cultural context while at the same time influenced by various literary traditions as well as mythological notions and concepts; it further shows that Richardson's characterization fails to convey the author's professed didactic intentions.

The scope of the research extends to three areas of investigation. First, the thesis explores a variety of discourses, fictional and non-fictional, which preceded Clarissa or were written at about the same time and points out the way in which Richardson appropriated them and the degree to which they influenced his work. These different, at times, conflicting, discourses assisted in rendering the novel complex and occasionally led to contradictions in the text. Second, concentrating on the protagonists of Clarissa, the thesis explores, in a textual analysis of the novel, issues of characterization. The notion that Clarissa and Lovelace are strict binary opposites - Richardson had designed them as such - is exposed as problematic. Instead, it will be seen not only that the contradictions and ambiguities within the two protagonists work against their depiction as transparent, clear-cut characters but also that Clarissa and Lovelace are in many ways similar. They are similar because both are placed within the same discursive systems - such as the medical or the religious and because Richardson could not resist his personal involvement with his creation. Third, the thesis shows that the complexities of Richardson's novel become further apparent through the different ways in which successive writers responded to this work. Concentrating on selected novels by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Sophie von La Roche, and Mary Wollstonecraft, the thesis contends that subsequent novelists expose problematic areas in Clarissa, either by following in Richardson's footsteps or by responding to his work in an innovative fashion.

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