Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) was the author of Pamela (1740), a work usually regarded as the first English novel. Richardson was born in Derbyshire, the son of a joiner, but he spent most of his life in London. At age 17, he was apprenticed to a printer. By his early 30s, he was running his own printing business, eventually serving as the official printer to the House of Commons. Richardson now seems a perfect representative of the rising middle class, eager to advance himself financially, socially, and culturally. The turning point in his life is said to have come in 1739, when his fellow printers asked him to write a book of sample letters that could be used as templates by newly iterate readers. As he worked on this project, Richardson produced two letters that would become the basis for Pamela. Breaking off the initial project, he shifted all his attention to the new work, which he finished in two months. The book was an enormous success, inspiring dozens of imitations, theatrical adaptations, and parodies—including two by his greatest rival, Henry Fielding. In 1741, Richardson produced his own sequel to Pamela, a work known as Pamela in Her Exalted Condition. He went on to write Clarissa (1747–1749), one of the very few tragic novels in the early English tradition, and Sir Charles Grandison (1753–1754), the only one of his works with a male protagonist. He is most famous for his use of the epistolary form—his stories are told through letters to and from the characters—and his obsessive revisions. Eight different versions of Pamela appeared during his lifetime, and a ninth followed posthumously. He died from complications of a stroke about a month before his 72nd birthday.
[Courtesy: Professor Timothy Spurgin]