Realism in Samuel Richardson and the Abbé Prévost
|Frail, Robert J.
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This book includes ten essays that establish a viable connection between Samuel Richardson and the abbé Prévost in the contexts of realism and literary relations between England and France which were cultivated by the mutual interest – on both sides of the Channel – in travel books like the Histoire générale des voyages, memoir novels, and other types of adaptations like Le pour et contre that surfaced as anecdotal fiction, especially the epistolary novel, began to push up against political discourses and philosophical tracts. Richardson’s three novels are studied along with Prévost’s translations of the History of Sir Charles Grandison and Frances Sheridan’s Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph. This analysis reinforces the often overlooked richness of texts that identify major themes and issues in novels about women after 1740 – principally the passive heroine derailed by patriarchal expectations, and fatal or near fatal missteps on the part of heroines in Pamela, Clarissa, and Sidney Bidulp, the dark underbelly and nightmarish plenitude in Cleveland, and the powerful sweep of language and emotion in histoire d’une Grecque moderne.
Richardson’s use of the Pauline letters is given a fresh look and his strategies regarding Colonel Morden in Clarissa offer a refreshing addition to scholarship that has not emphasized this important dimension. The timeline of Le Pour et contre is the first synthesized attempt to assign publishing dates and subject matter to all twenty volumes, and the extensive chronology of Prévost’s life represents a comprehensive listing of information compiled from French and English sources. The study of defrocked clergy as “custodians of the Enlightenment” fills a gap that should excite the interest of scholars with expertise in that domain. In these essays, there is little attempt to argue from ideology or post-modern rhetoric, and yet the interpretations of Richardson’s novels and Prévost’s works are carefully scrutinized. Pre-conceived notions and unchallenged critical evaluations of these texts are often questioned, and the essays are accompanied by capacious and inquisitive notes and detailed references. What links Richardson and Prévost together more than anything else is the way they practiced alchemy with language and became goldsmiths of the word. Other authors were as productive, but none seemed to refine the baser elements of language with such dexterity.
“Robert Frail’s book is an excellent description of one aspect of the work of the two authors, Richardson and Prévost, who are joined in this book. While Richardson’s novelistic production does not match that of Prévost in total pages, nor the countless volumes Prévost produced overall in journals, translations, novels, and other writings, they both must have kept their lamps burning well into hundreds or even thousands of nights. Richardson’s three novels, all of them very long even by eighteenth-century standards (indeed, they rival in length the Baroque French novels of seventeenth-century authors like Mademoiselle de Scudéry and La Calprenède), also kept many readers up in the wee hours of many a morning, burning their lamps as they pored through tome after tome. The same might be said of Prévost, although tellingly, what is read today by him is largely reduced to L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (itself but one of a seven-volume mémoire-novel, the Mémoires et Aventures d’un Homme de Qualité Qui s’est retiré du monde) and L’Histoire d’une Grècque moderne, both of which are relatively short novels.
But the story of the authors, as told in this book, unites their disparate lives in ways that go far beyond these superficial similarities … This volume works admirably by juxtaposing chapters or series of chapters dealing with Richardson and with Prévost. Professor Frail gives evidence of a broad command of the critical literature surrounding the authors, as well as a deep knowledge of the works he surveys on both sides of the Channel / La Manche. … Frail’s book is presented in such a way that readers will be able to consult just the chapter they are most interested in. But they will lose much this way, for its richness and its full interest can be found only when read from cover to cover. And it is written in an engaging style that will keep many lamps burning well into the night.” – (from the Foreword) Theodore E. D. Braun, Emeritus Professor of French and Comparative Literature, University of Delaware
“Frail’s collection of essays provides the reader with a rich, diverse examination of literary relations in France and England during the 18th century … While Frail does not systematically try to cover the voluminous publications of Richardson, Prévost, and (in one essay) Sheridan, he does choose different texts to open a door to a given issue in each essay. The result, upon finishing the collection, is a feeling that one has delved into the key issues concerning these authors. After reading the whole, I felt particularly educated with regard to Prévost’s role as a conduit for English works and ideas, along with his role within France as a central figure in the literary world … I found the essays readable, informative, and lively. Frail has illuminated some little-known paths through the Enlightenment for readers like me who would hesitate to go there on our own.” – Carol E. Harding, Associate Professor of English and Chair of Humanities Division,
Western Oregon University
“Most Richardson scholars are aware of Prévost’s highly popular translation of Clarissa into French, and its establishment of Richardson’s reputation in France. The abbé’s translation of Sir Charles Grandison, and probable contribution to the translation of Pamela, are less well-known. This book, which places these and other translations and original works by Prévost in a truly rich, cross-cultural context, ought to be required reading for Richardson scholars who wish to understand the intricacies of his literary value for Continental readers, in the years immediately following the publications of his three novels. This work is also a major contribution to Prévost studies; it provides fresh readings of his work in a variety of genres, draws from English and French sources to construct an extensive chronology of his career, and provides an unprecedented, detailed overview of all twenty volumes of Le Pour et contre, with dates and subject matter. The strength of this erudite and well-written study is its careful construction of a rich context, historically nuanced and critically up-to-date, for each of the two writers separately, as foundations for the larger picture of cross-cultural relations between England and France in the eighteenth century. In connecting Richardson and Prévost as writers whose primary interest is psychological realism, Robert J. Frail constructs a complex view of the points of connection and of resistance, the sympathies and the repulsions, that shaped the French view of English genius. He uses the idea of the translation as his primary concept for illustrating this complex view, and provides thoughtful and compelling readings of Prévost’s translations (of Richardson as well as other authors, both novelists and dramatists). In the process, Frail examines representations of women, provides detailed commentary on a wide range of genres including the epistolary novel, the memoir novel, the travel narrative, and the “miscellany,” and provides a fresh look at the Enlightenment both in England and in France.” – Martha J. Koehler, Associate Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg
Table of Contents
Foreword by Theodore E. D. Braun
1. Prévost Pour et contre: Gallicized Misconceptions of England
2. Grandison Trimmed to Perfection
3. The New Gospel: The Influence of the Pauline Letters on Richardson’s Novels – Notably Clarissa Harlowe
4. Out of Slavery into Bondage: L’Histoire d’une Grecque moderne
5.The Cross-Functional Family in Cleveland
6. L’Histoire générale des voyages: Originality and Influence
7. Colonel Morden: Richardson’s Exterminating Angel
8. Border Crossings: Prévost Reads Frances Sheridan
9. Prévost and Other Defrocked Priests: Custodians of the Enlightenment
10. Pamela in the Chat-room: The High Entertainment Value of a Garrulous Heroine
Other France/French: All Subjects Books