That's Angus Ross, opening his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, which, indeed, impresses by running to 1,499 oversized pages. And while I've long since been convinced by friends who have sung the novel's praises (including in this space) that Ross's next line--"and rightly so, since that is an integral part of the work's reach and meaning"--is true, and that the novel is worth reading, I've never been willing to make the commitment. As my friend Maggie put it:
I read nine other books while working my way through this one, and I'm haunted by what I could have read instead. Three Dickens! The entire works of Graham Greene!I simply could never bring myself to commit the time. Even with as much and as quickly as I read, it would likely be a month's labor.
Enter my Twitter friend Stephanie Hershinow, scholar of eighteenth-century literature and Richardson fan. At breakfast in New York last month, she revealed a scheme for reading Clarissa that seemed eminently manageable: read this epistolary novel by reading each letter on the date it carries, beginning with the first letter, dated January 10, and finishing with the last on December 18. A year of broken-up reading--this would do!
Now it is January 10, and I am embarking. You're welcome to join me, and some other folks who've been caught. There will be some posts here throughout the year, and if you're on Twitter you can find us at #Clarissa. The first letter is a mere two pages! Join us!
"I am extremely concerned, my dearest friend, for the disturbances that have happened in your family . . . "