Partisan Debate and Moderation Politics in Samuel Richardson’s Fiction

  • Rachel Carnell


For several decades, scholars took for granted the connection between Samuel Richardson’s “bourgeois” or “progressive” politics and his contributions to formal realism, although the bulk of twentieth-century criticism did not focus on Richardson’s political stance. 1 According to the biographers Duncan Eaves and Ben Kimpel, Richardson (1689–1761) was opposed to any abuse of power that verged on tyranny, whether in the hands of Tories or Whigs. They point out that while Richardson is known to have bragged that his father sided with Monmouth during the 1685 rebellion, in the 1720s he probably printed several issues of the pro-Jacobite True Briton.2 For Margaret Anne Doody, Richardson’s novels are more Tory than Whig, although they are not reducible to either. Doody describes Mr. B. as a “Country Gentleman,” neither quite Tory nor Whig, who names his first son Charles; Lovelace could be either a tyrannical Robert Walpole or a sinister, plotting “Pretender”; Grandison is simultaneously a “Whig patriot” and a new image of “what the true Tory Prince should look like.” 3 Doody argues that, especially in Sir Charles Grandison, Richardson articulates “a dream of restoration, reconciliation, and wholeness [for] an England badly divided and given to division” (126). Richardson’s interest in conciliatory politics is certainly a defining


Social Contract Political Debate Liberal Political Theory Domestic Household Political Virtue 
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  1. 1.
    Ian Watt identified the social realism inherent in Richardson’s depiction of class difference and in the economic plight of unmarried women in the eighteenth-century Rise of the Novel, 137–38. Michael McKeon links the “subversive strain” of “progressive ideology” in Pamela to parallel development in epistemology. See The Origins of the English Novel, 378. See note 14 below for an overview of the standard apolitical interpretations of Richardson.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For his reference to Monmouth, see his letter to Johannes Stinstra, June 2, 1753, Selected Letters of Samuel Richardson, ed. John Carroll (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 228. Eaves and Kimpel describe the 1724 issue of the True Briton, for which Richardson was probably the printer and which resulted in a trial of treason for the publisher: “Englishmen would do well to beware of a ‘future’ possible king who, being easy and inactive, might ‘permit every Man in his Court to be a Tyrant but Himself.’ ” Richardson’s biographers are here summarizing issues 5 and 7 (17 June and 24 June, 1724) of the True Briton. See Duncan Eaves and Ben Kimpel, Samuel Richardson: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 26–29.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Margaret Anne Doody, “Richardson’s Politics,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 2 (1990): 119, 123, 125.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Samuel Richardson, Pamela or, Virtue Rewarded, Shakespeare Head edition, 4 vols. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1929), 2:229.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, 3 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), 3:470.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    Morris Golden, “Public Context and Imagining Self in Clarissa,” SEL 25 (1985): 575–98.Google Scholar

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© Rachel Carnell 2006

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  • Rachel Carnell

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