Vile Encroacher

This odd phrase, “vile encroacher,” is one of Clarissa’s favorite epithets for her antagonist, Lovelace. She uses the phrase not only to describe him to Anna Howe but also to address him directly, using it almost as a physical implement or barrier to push him away, keep him away. The encroacher: one who is gradually […]

Promises, Promises

“Promises Made, Promises Kept.” So ran President Trump’s campaign slogan before the pandemic underlined, as if it needed underlining, the utter emptiness of his promises. For Trump, famously, everything is transactional. He makes promises in order to get what he wants, with no intention of keeping them–indeed no real understanding of why he should. For […]

Watching the Detectives

The experience of pandemic and quarantine is, for me, an experience of increased surveillance and monitoring. I now spend far more time seeing and hearing the people I make my life with, I spend far more time being seen and being heard by them, and I even spend far more time seeing my own mirrored […]

Clarissa; Or, the History of a Fact-Checker

In one of Clarissa’s most harrowing episodes, the heroine escapes from Lovelace’s imprisonment and manages to hide in anonymity at one Mr. Smith’s in Covent Garden. During this time, she assumes a role that has become quite familiar in our own time: fact-checker. Lovelace has been making dozens of promises—that her letters have been reaching […]

The History of a Young Lady?

Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady balances contradictory claims on the fulcrum of its “or.” Is it the tale of the specific individual Clarissa, or is it the general history of the type, “young lady”? United in one title, sundered by the “or,” these two sides vibrate in balanced tension. Clarissa […]

Clarissa’s Curse

Among the many disappointed fathers in English literature, James Harlowe and King Lear may not seem to have much in common. But when Mr. Harlowe responds to Clarissa’s flight by pronouncing a formal curse upon her, he takes a page directly from the handbook of the fictional British monarch. After first calling upon Nature to […]

Clarissa in the Streets

A few summers ago, I was rambling through Hackney, near Regent’s Canal, and found myself surrounded by streets named after Richardson and his characters: Samuel Street, Richardson Close, Pamela Street, Clarissa Street, Lovelace Street. I took some pictures and sent them to a friend. One of us remarked on the creepiness of Lovelace Street. Rereading […]

Prison Sentences

  “Prison Sentences” is a pandemic prose poem consisting of lines, words, and sentences cut from Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa and Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. Susan Howe’s recent poetry collection is Concordance. An early critical study, My Emily Dickinson (1985), was re-issued in 2007 by New Directions with an introduction by Eliot Weinberger. Spontaneous Particulars: The […]

On Meeting Susan Howe

My journal entry from August 21, 2020 begins: “And on this penultimate Clarissa Zoom meeting (after most of us had been bemoaning its unremitting sexual violence: ‘This is the most violent novel I have ever read.’ ‘I have a dread of it.’ ‘I almost threw it across the room.’), Susan Howe says simply of the […]

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