I first read Clarissa as a Cornell undergraduate in the late 1940s, under the skilled direction of my teacher, William M. Sale, Jr., a fierce partisan of Richardson and a remarkable critic of fiction. Since I cannot read a novel other than the way that Sale taught me, it is not surprising that forty years later I hold on fast to his canonical judgment that Clarissa is the finest novel in the English language. Rereading it through the years, I find it the only novel that can rival even Proust, despite Proust's evident advantages. The long and astonishing sequence that ends the novel, Clarissa's protracted death and its aftermath, is clearly at one of the limits of the novel as an art. I find myself fighting not to weep just before the moment of Clarissa's death, but as a critic I submit that these would be cognitive tears, and would say little about me but much about Richardson's extraordinary powers of representation.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
From Harold Bloom, introduction to Samuel Richardson: Modern Critical Views (New York: Chelsea House, 1987):