Five Fascinating Facts about Samuel Richardson

Interesting facts about a pioneering novelist

1. His first book was a guide for apprentices. The Apprentice’s Vade Mecum appeared in 1733 and offered advice for young apprentices of all trades, especially when it came to things like drinking and ‘wenching’. (Well, we all need a little guidance over such things…)

2. Samuel Richardson’s first novel, Pamela, began life as a conduct-book designed to teach young women how to write better letters. However, what began as a series of loosely related letters quickly began to coalesce into a clear narrative, and Pamela (subtitled Virtue Rewarded) was born. This 1740 novel tells the story of the titular character, a teenage servant-girl whose rakish master tries to seduce her. However, Pamela refuses to give herself to her boss unless he marries her first, which he does indeed end up doing – her ‘virtue’ is ‘rewarded’.

3. Richardson wrote a sequel to Pamela, but it sank without trace. Pamela was a bestseller, and inspired a host of spin-offs, including paintings, waxworks, and even a set of playing cards. But the follow-up Richardson wrote fared less well. Pamela in her Exalted Condition (1741) was met with little enthusiasm, and it would instead be the parodies of Richardson’s novel that would prove to be its most popular successors…

4. Pamela inspired another great early English novelist to start writing fiction. Richardson’s novel was hugely popular, but not everyone was a fan. Henry Fielding, who had started his writing career as a playwright (until the Licensing Act of 1737 put an end to his stage satires), ridiculed and parodied the novel as Shamela shortly after Pamela appeared. Fielding would become successful off the back of his pastiche of Richardon’s novel, and would go on to write several classic novels, including Joseph Andrews, Amelia (of which Dickens was especially a fan), and Tom Jones.

5. The character-list for Richardson’s novel Sir Charles Grandison is divided up into ‘Men, Women and Italians’. Sir Charles Grandison (1753) is not nearly so well-known as Richardson’s earlier novels Pamela and Clarissa, but it remains better-known than that forgotten sequel to Pamela, at least. Jane Austen, for one, loved Sir Charles Grandison, although this didn’t prevent her from mocking it, too. Richardson inspired much mockery, even from his devotees – but his place as a founding father of the English novel is secure.

If you enjoyed these curious facts about the novelist Samuel Richardson, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.

One Comment