5 ENGL 4715.476 The Eighteenth-Century British Novel LECTURE 5: On Johnson’s Rambler No. 4, and Richardson’s Pamela (1740) Dr. Barbara Fitzpatrick These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct, and introductions into life. ~ Johnson, Rambler, No. 4 In the fifth week of the course, you are reading Johnson’s Rambler, No. 4, in e-Reserves; beginning Richardson’s Pamela; reading this lecture; writing Discussion Assignment 2 on Moll Flanders; and if you wish, writing the extra credit assignment on the Moll Flanders film. You may read the optional Oxford DNB biography of Richardson at e-Reserves. Conference 1 is scheduled for this week. The beginning of criticism of the new genre The English novel exploded in popularity in the 1740s and early 1750s. The following titles all became classics of the genre: Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740), Clarissa Harlow (1747-48), and Sir Charles Grandison (1753); Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742), Tom Jones (1749), and Amelia (1751); and Tobias Smollett’s Roderick Random (1748), Peregrine Pickle (1751), and Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753). The new genre was considered “low” on the scale of literary significance. Throughout the remainder of the century, novelists generally were on the defensive, finding it necessary to preface their narratives with moral justifications or undergird them with theoretical explanations. Once the two important review journals were founded (The Monthly Review in 1749 and The Critical Review in 1756), novelists often made reference in their fiction to “the reviewers,” critics they sought to placateor provoke. The most important literary critic of the period was Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). One of his periodical essays, Rambler, No. 4 [On Fiction], March 1750, was the first serious critique of the new literary form and remained the most significant criticism of the novel in the century. I’ve posted Rambler, No. 4, in e-Reserves in Assignments and ask you to read it (it’s also in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 1, with footnotes). In his essay Johnson recognized the following: the novel’s closeness to contemporary realitythat the genre was being read by members of the public both sophisticated and unsophisticated and therefore that its moral effect, for good or evil, would be particularly widespread The recent, popular novels of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett were probably all on Johnson’s mind when he wrote Rambler, No. 4. In the essay Johnson recognizes the psychological power of the novel and the identification that young, inexperienced readers (“the young, the ignorant, and the idle”) would feel for realistic, contemporary characters.
That being the case, and because for Johnson literature was to be didactic as well as pleasing, he warned authors to exercise responsibility in delineating virtue and vice. We