Eighteenth-century copyright law did not prohibit imaginative re-workings of famous characters. ...
Pamela, the novel, meanwhile, as Ian Watt memorably remarked in The Rise of the Novel, manages to offer the “combined attractions of a sermon and a striptease,”
Richardson rebuffed these efforts from the loyal readers of his Clarissa as conclusively
as he did the bawdy un-bowdlerized unauthorized sequels of his first epistolary novel’s
heroine, Pamela Anderson, albeit more temperately phrasing his refusals to the
cognoscenti whose interest in his novels he courted. His eponymous heroine Pamela is a
maidservant who marries her deceased employer’s son, Mr B, after he attempts to rape
her. The novel was massively popular in the eighteenth century and is a mainstay of
history of the novel criticism, especially on class and gender relations in the novel
The eighteenth century can claim character phenomena that rivalled, perhaps even
surpassed, the cult hits of today. In Clarissa, Samuel Richardson’s serially published
eighteenth-century novel about a heroine, Clarissa Harlowe, who is raped, by Richard
Lovelace, and, for the last five hundred pages of the seven-volume book, dies, the reading
circles, like the serial drama and soap opera fans today, had ample time to lobby the
author to save the heroine and plead that she marry her seducer.
There are deep connections between the
origins of the English novel as a distinct genre and the origins of English copyright law,
and these literary property debates are not coincidentally tied in to the development of
full fictional characters.
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