Epistolary Bodies: Gender and Genre in the Eighteenth-Century Republic of Letters

By Elizabeth Heckendorn Cook | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Imprinting the Body LADY BRADSHAIGH'S 'CLARISSA'

The seven volumes of the copy of Clarissa that its author, Samuel Richardson, presented to his friend Lady Bradshaigh testify to the degree of Bradshaigh's--and Richardson's--engagement with her role in the novel's composition. These volumes have been passed back and forth between author and critic, an exchange documented by the annotations in two hands that appear in the margins of the printed text. The visual effect of printed letters, manuscript annotations, and comments on those annotations is palimpsestic: on some pages, the faded script overruns the empty space of the margins and extends into the interstices of the darker bars of print, an irregular manuscript tracery against the formal lines of typography. The back flyleaves of the seventh volume are entirely covered with Bradshaigh's distinctive scrawl, setting forth a proposed revision of the novel's ending: the virtuous Clarissa is to be allowed an exemplary single life; Lovelace also is to live, at least long enough for repentance.

As you sit in the hushed, auratic environs of Princeton's Rare Books reading room, opening the slipcase of each volume, lifting out the small book inside and turning its pages in search of the manuscript traces of an authentic historical exchange, this unique and irreplaceable copy of Clarissa begins to suggest the epistemological complexities that underlie eighteenth-century epistolary

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