Samuel Richardson and the theory of tragedy

Clarissa's caesuras

By James Smith

Samuel Richardson and the theory of tragedy


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1398-6
  • Pages: 192
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £12.99
  • Published Date: April 2018
  • BIC Category: Literature, Literary studies: general, Anthologies: general, LITERARY COLLECTIONS / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: c 1500 to c 1800


Samuel Richardson and the theory of tragedy is a bold new interpretation of one of the greatest European novels, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa. It argues that this text needs to be rethought as a dangerous exploration of the ethics of tragedy, on the scale of the great arguments of post-Romantic tragic theory, from Hölderlin to Nietzsche, to Benjamin, Lacan and beyond. Taking the reader through the novel from beginning to end, it also acts as a guidebook for newcomers to Richardson's notoriously massive text, and situates it alongside Richardson's other works and the epistolary novel form in general. Filled with innovative close readings that will provoke scholars, students and general readers of the novel alike, it will also serve as a jumping off point for anyone interested in the way the theory of tragedy continues to be the privileged meeting point between literature and philosophy.


'Smith's book breathes new life into scholarship on Richardson by introducing links to theories of tragedy from the philosophical (Friedrich Nietzsche) to the psychoanalytic (Melanie Klein) . This reading gives it a fresh perspective that will be of interest to literary and book historians . Smith's forgiving prose style acknowledges the constraints of 'space and readerly patience' that many other first monographs are apparently unfettered by. This book would integrate well into teaching on Richardson or the eighteenth-century novel, and would perhaps even be a good primer for the bewildered on how to apply theory to text.'
LSE Review of Books

'Mr. Smith's study is refreshingly untimely, insightful andsometimes brilliant. A welcome testament to the ongoing power of Clarissa asliterature, and an intelligent articulation of Richardson's achievement intransforming a simple moral into an aesthetic and affective masterpiece.'
The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats

'An exemplary engagement with theories of tragedy and quite amarvel of psychoanalytic excavation. Few explanations of theinfamous statement, 'there is no sexual relationship', made by Lacan (theapplication of which to the case of Clarissa brings it to its moststinging realisation), will leave a reader much clearer on its meaning.'
Hong Kong Review of Books


J. A. Smith teaches English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

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