Main page image

Cabinet 12: Prose

[Samuel Richardson], Clarissa. Or, The History of a Young Lady. London: Printed for S. Richardson, 1748. DeB Eb 1748 R

Richardson Richardson, title page Most literary scholars agree that the emergence of 'the novel' was an eighteenth century phenomenon, and in which, from the 1740s to the 1790s, sentiment and sensibility reigned. Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) invented 'a new species of writing' with his Pamela, an epistolary novel which appeared on 6th November 1740. It was an instant commercial success, going into five editions during its first year. Richardson's next novel was Clarissa (1747-78), which again was extremely popular. In fact, Sir Joshua Reynolds painted his niece reading it, and there were pilgrimages to the Upper Flask, the inn where Clarissa and Lovelace stopped. The 'Great Cham' (Dr Johnson) called Clarissa 'the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart.' This is the first volume of the first edition.

Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1749. DeB Eb 1749 F

Fielding, page 7 Fielding, title page The creative dialogue between Richardson and Henry Fielding (1707-54) was crucially important to the development of the novel (J. A. Downie). After parodying Richardson's Pamela with his own Shamela, Fielding, who as a magistrate was instrumental in forming the 'Bow-Street runners', produced his own masterpiece, Tom Jones (1749). This 'comic' novel was an immediate success even before publication, with the first edition of 2000 copies bought up before release. Fielding's work, in which he endeavours 'to laugh Mankind out of their favourite Follies and Vices', continues to please, and modern day films – the 1963 Finney version and the 1997 BBC adaptation – encourage readership.

Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. New ed. London: Printed for W. Strahan, and 5 others, 1782. DeB Eb 1782 S

Sterne The jester-like Yorick stalks through the works of the Rev. Laurence Sterne (1713-68), appearing in his Sermons of Mr Yorick (1760), his A Sentimental Journey (1768) and in his masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759-1767). In fact, Yorick dies early in the first volume, yet reappears in various guises in this digressive, rollicking bawdy novel. James Boswell, a true representative of the times, wrote: 'Who has not Tristram Shandy read? / Is any mortal so ill bred?' Even though very popular, especially among twentieth-century writers such as Joyce, Proust, Beckett, and Kundera, one wonders how eighteenth-century readers came to grips with the structural inconsistencies, the allusions, the jokes, and the inconclusiveness of the plot. This edition includes the Hogarth illustration showing Corporal Trim reading a sermon.

[Horace Walpole], The Castle of Otranto. 3rd ed. London: Printed for John Murray, 1769. DeB Eb 1769 W

Walpole Walpole, title page In the eighteenth century, the Grand Tour was the final component of a gentleman's education. Horace Walpole, son of Robert Walpole, first earl of Orford, Whig politician and long-serving prime minister, underwent his educational excursion in 1739, accompanied by the poet Thomas Gray. Back at his 'little Gothic castle', Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham, Walpole, the wit and waspish gossip, wrote The Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel. The Naples setting - albeit a medieval one - was not doubt gathered from his sojourn in Italy. It was published anonymously, with Walpole later attaching his name to it. This is the third edition, and is a recent acquisition to Special Collections.