Samuel Richardson’s 1748 novel Clarissa, an epistolary epic of intimate life, is a formidable book. At just under 1500 pages in the oversized Penguin Classics edition—and 100 hours on Audible— reading or listening to Clarissa can be an intimidating task, even more so alone. But now is the time to assay it. Summer 2020 is a moment when many of us are finding the experience of long, immersive novels to be sustaining in entirely new ways. And what Richardson does with the letter form speaks very well, almost eerily so, to our present moment of isolation and our reliance on technology to bridge distances, with Zoom representing for the 21st century what the post office represented for the 18th. The novel’s treatment of sexual ethics and gender inequity was already, pre-pandemic, topical for the #Me-Too era. It is newly apparent that Clarissa has lessons to teach us, as well, about mediation and communication and time’s duration and unevenness.
To foster the intellectual community that so many of us are longing for at this moment of social distancing, we are forming a reading group “Clarissa, in Lockdown, Together.” The reading group will involve both synchronous and asynchronous elements. Over fourteen weeks, as we read about 100 pages a week, or 15 pages a day, the group will hold roughly seven Zoom meetings. Those meetings will be supplemented by a blog for the group, hosted on Wordpress, which will receive postings on an almost-daily basis and which will serve as a durable record of our collective reading experience.
We hope to begin, with everyone using the Penguin or Everyman editions, on Friday June 12th. If you are interested in participating, please contact Deidre Lynch (email@example.com) and Yoon Sun Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) by June 7th. Once we have a committed group of participants, we will develop a more detailed schedule of meetings and experiences. See below for a preliminary reading schedule.
Clarissa, in Lockdown, Together: A Summer Reading Group
Week 1: To the end of Letter 18, Clarissa to Anna, Saturday March 4th
Week 2: To the end of Letter 44, Clarissa to Anna, Wednesday morning, 9 o’clock [March 22nd]
Week 3: To the end of Letter 78, Clarissa to Anna, Tuesday evening [April 4th]
Week 4: To the end of Letter 99, Lovelace to Belford, Tues-Weds, April 11-12
[end of vol. 1 in the Everyman edition]
Week 5: To the end of Letter 147, Arabella Howe to Clarissa, Friday, April 21
Week 6: To the end of Letter 194, Lovelace to Belford, Saturday, May 20
Week 7: To the end of Letter 228, Lovelace to Belford, Thursday evening, June 8
[end of vol. 2 in the Everyman edition]
Week 8: To the end of Letter 257, Lovelace to Belford, June 13
Week 9: To the end of Letter 315, Clarissa to Anna Howe, July 8
Week 10: To the end of Letter 361, Mrs. Norton to Clarissa, Monday, July 24
[end of vol. 3 in the Everyman edition]
Week 11: To the end of Letter 416, Lovelace to Belford, August 21
Week 12: To the end of Letter 457, Belford to Lovelace, Sunday evening, September 3
Week 13: To the end of Letter 497, Lovelace to Belford, September 9
Week 14: To the end
Charles Landseer, “Clarissa Harlowe in the Prison Room of the Sheriff’s Office,” 1833. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/landseer-clarissa-harlowe-in-the-prison-room-of-the-sheriffs-office-n00408 Photo copyright Tate. Image released under a Creative Commons license, Cc-BY-NC-ND 3.0.