Leslie Stephen, Catskills Comic

Last week, I read (Woolf’s father) Leslie Stephen’s essay on Clarissa as part of my ongoing quest to figure out the relationship between Richardson’s novel and Woolf’s. I found some wonderful stuff, including Stephen’s surprising (to me) wit. In fact, if you were to look over my reading notes, you might mistake them for some weird brand of literary stand-up. I give you some of my favorites:

On Richardson’s moralizing
“indefinite twaddle of a superior kind” (83)

More on Richardson’s moralizing
“he has succeeded in thoroughly forcing upon our minds, by incessant hammering, the impression which he desire to produce” (116)

On a priggish male character
“He is one of those solemn beings who can’t shave themselves without implicitly asserting a great moral principle” (103)

On Richardson’s gift with women characters
“Richardson’s sympathy with women gives a remarkable power to his work. Nothing is more rare than to find a great novelist who can satisfactorily describe the opposite sex” (82)

[pause. Wait for it.]

“Unluckily, his conspicuous faults result from the same cause. His moral prosings savour of the endless gossip over a dish of chocolate in which his heroines delight” (83)

On Pamela
“distinctly the words of his works—of which it is enough to say at present that it succeeds in being neither moral nor in amusing” (86)

On the thoroughness of his novels
“We get the same sort of elaborate familiarity with every aspect of affairs that we should receive from reading a blue-book full of some prolix diplomatic correspondence” (91)

And, the best one: On reading Clarissa
“readers…may find the prolixity less intolerable than might be expected” (94)