Characters of Women in Narrative Literature by Keith M. May

By Keith M. May

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Defoe of course was well acquainted with Newgate, but it is doubtful whether he minutely noticed the noises, the smells and 'all the crowd of Afflicting things'. Moll's perceptions, external and internal, are always of this limited order. We gain only bare information about her husbands or other persons with whom she is intimate; about places, incidents, sensations and feelings. For the most part the tale is told in functional terms : it is a story of what people did and why, though neither the doings nor the motives are intricately explained.

At the same time Richardson was in his curious way a man of the world. He was a fussy perfectionist in regard to social conduct and he disliked vice but it does not seem that he wholeheartedly wished it away. This is not to point out what is indeed obvious, that there was a vice-loving underside to his nature, a Shadowcomponent (to use Jung's terminology) which could express itself in the shape of a Lovelace : I mean instead that he revelled in the fight against vice. Richardson's dream was not like the dream of the Middle Ages, an image quite offset against the world.

Certainly Pamela is supposed to be proud, and she has her moment of near-despair, but Richardson gives no force to such flaws. Clarissa's saintliness is a state to which she grows, but she does not grow from real inferiority. In the first letter of Clarissa the heroine is spoken of, without undue partiality, as excelling all her sex: so she continues to her dying gasp. In Sir Charles Grandison Harriet Byron is fulsomely praised almost from first to last, though she, admittedly, is a promising character with interesting thought-processes at least up to the point when Grandison rescues her from abduction, and later she has her phase of understandable jealousy.

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