Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Slow books

From T. C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel, Samuel Richardson: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), p. 599:
The length of his novels has probably done Richardson's reputation even more harm than his moralizing. It has kept Clarissa from being read. Or it has caused it to be read in a version which curtails those minutiae which, Richardson rightly pointed out, are the strength of his method. Or it has caused readers to sample Pamela and reject Richardson on the basis of that book. . . . If one likes to read, there is no necessary assumption that the sooner one gets through reading a book the better. In spite of Poe, it is our opinion that neither poetry nor prose need aim exclusively at sharp, simple effects--length itself, if the details are not dull and are so organized as to support each other, may contribute to an effect unified in complexity and gaining cumulative impact. Whether Richardson succeeds in making his details interesting and in unifying them, each reader must decide. Tennyson, speaking of Clarissa, told FitzGerald that he loved 'those large, still, Books'. It does not seem to us that 'still' is quite the right adjective, since almost every episode in Clarissa is written with considerable intensity. 'Slow' might be more accurate. Clarissa is long not because, like War and Peace, it is rich and varied in incident and character, but because, like The Remembrance of Things Past, it wrings the utmost possible out of the incidents and characters it has.

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