Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Composed in Tears: The 'Clarissa' Project

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Composed in Tears: The 'Clarissa' Project

Article excerpt

The Clarissa Project began as a series of chance encounters in the mid-and late 1980s among a group of scholars who had a like-minded sense that Richardson's Clarissa deserved a better modern text than the one most readers use. In a conversation, for example, I had with John Dussinger about the kinds of computer assistance I used both with The Eighteenth Century: A Current Bibliography and the Georgia Smollett edition, Dussinger asked if using large text analysis procedures would help establish what scholars did not have with Richardson's Clarissa, an authoritative edition. I said that this was an interesting question, and referred him to Florian Stuber's very fine article in Text, in which Stuber argued that scholars ought to reconsider their reliance on the first edition and instead turn to the third. Additionally, Peter Shillingsburg was developing a software collation program, CASE (Computer Assisted Scholarly Editing), for his Thackeray edition, with which he and I had been working to change the hardware requirements from his DEC mainframes in Mississippi and Australia to a broader based DOS environment, and I recommended to John that he direct some of his questions to Peter. Soon after that conversation, Florian wrote me about John's questions, enclosing an offprint of his Text article, and we met subsequently with Margaret Anne Doody at the 1986 meeting of The American Society for Eighteeenth-Century Studies to draw up our editorial board and the volume assignments. By 1987, The Clarissa Project had begun, with me as Project Director, Florian as General Editor, and Margaret as Associate Editor. We then wrote two NEH grant applications, both of which though favorably reviewed were denied at the Endowment's administrative level. I sought private venture funding from AMS Press, and, despite the extremely expensive aspects of publishing sixteen volumes of text and analysis, with CD-ROM and on-line access anticipated by the mid-1990s, AMS contracted to publish and distribute the volumes when they were submitted to press, and within a financially determined marketing schedule.

Any reader of the very long Clarissa (in the 1990 fascimile of The Clarissa Project's third edition, eight separate volumes of text and 3,029 pages) almost always stumbles over the problems caused by its size. But the textual history and Richardson's printing practices also generate problems for the unwary reader. The Clarissa Project's editorial board wishes to establish, in sixteen volumes, not only an authoritative text, but also an encyclopedic database of materials and electronic assistance for readers who want to read Clarissa and join the current Richardsonian debates in feminist theory, cultural history, audience response, narratology, and history of the novel.

Florian is very convincing in his Text argument, "On Original and Final Intentions, or Can There Be an Authoritative Clarissa?" He concludes, that of the five separate editions Richardson himself printed during his lifetime:

There would seem to be little question . . . as to which edition of Clarissa represents Richardson's final intentions. The third edition carries with it manifest signs of authority: its Preface recounts the history of Clarissa's publication and pronounces the third edition definitive; its apparatus is of the elaborate and finished sort one associates with an encyclopaedia; great pains were taken in the printing of the text - every line of restored or revised passages was prefixed by a "Dot, or inserted Full-point," and these passages were reprinted in Letters and Passages Restored so that owners of the first and second editions could possess a full and complete copy of Clarissa. Moreover, the third formed the basis for the last edition of the novel to appear during Richardson's lifetime. If a textual critic followed Richardson's example in printing an authoritative edition of Clarissa, the whole question of choosing a copy-text would become, in a manner, academic. …

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