August 18th, 2006 | Published in Google Books
We recently shared an email from a hard-working graduate student who told us about how she's using Google Book Search for research. The story brought me back to my own grad school days, when I first became acquainted with the work of 18th-century author Samuel Richardson. I was obsessed with finding out who wrote the first English novel -- an interest no doubt strengthened by the fact that the question was as far as humanly possible from the topic of my dissertation. :-)
In hot pursuit of the birth of the novel, I read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress* and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Neither of them felt like a true novel. In my opinion, a novel should have real characters engaged in complex human interactions. Then I discovered Richardson's Pamela, in this paperback edition. Here, at last, was what I was looking for: a story about people and their relationships.
Next came Richardson's Clarissa (vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). I read it as an e-text through Literature Online, to which my university had a subscription. I chose to read the last and longest unabridged edition, because I didn't want the text filtered by an editor. Like Austin Dobson, I felt instinctively that "Any retrenchment must be mutilation." In retrospect, the novel is repetitious until Clarissa's departure from home, but after that -- what a story of two real, flawed people! Lovelace, rather than being a caricature of a villain, vacillates believably between glee, remorse and obduracy. Clarissa has very little power over her destiny in her society and situation, yet regardless of that, she never gives in.
Finally, I read the e-text of Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison (vols. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). It was a pleasant read, but with one problem: Sir Charles is too perfect.
Interestingly, I finished reading Clarissa as ASCII text (for convenience) before I learned that Richardson's italics and footnotes -- missing in the ASCII version -- are a significant element of the text. So I'm happy to see that with Google Book Search, today's grad students -- and anyone else who feels like it -- can not only find and search the full text of Clarissa, they can also explore the lively critical discourse it has inspired.
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