Research Stream


Olivia Murphy (2016)
The University of Sydney

Rereading Emotion in the Eighteenth-Century Novel, 1740–1755: Samuel Richardson’s Passionate Heroines

This research investigates discourses of ‘passion’ in Samuel Richardson’s three major novels Pamela (1740), Clarissa (1747–1748) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753–54), to understand what these novels have to say about emotions, power and gender.

Project image Olivia Murphy crop.jpg

This research takes Samuel Richardson’s three major novels, Pamela (1740), Clarissa (1748) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753), as preeminent sites through which to examine eighteenth-century discourse surrounding men’s and women’s emotional constitutions. In each of these novels ungovernable male passions become the pretext for crime, violence and ‒ most importantly ‒ plot, while negatively cast characters of both genders frequently ‘fly into’ passions. Enmeshed in this heady, violent emotional paradigm, Richardson’s heroines struggle to escape being constituted simply as provocatrices of others’ passions, and to become independent feeling, acting subjects.

My focus is on Richardson’s texts, and how far they are constituted ‒ in characterisation, language, and plot ‒ by a discourse of passion. Richardson’s novels were some of the first in the genre to receive close critical attention. Sarah Fielding’s Remarks on Clarissa, Addressed to the Author. Occasioned by some critical Conversations on the Characters and Conduct of that Work., etc. (1749) will be used here in an attempt to recover something of what Richardson’s emotional discourse meant to his contemporaries. The aim of this research is ultimately, through an anti-homophobic and feminist inflected close analysis of the use of ‘passion’ in these novels, to recover the passionate intensity ‒ and intense passion ‒ with which they were first read.


Conference paper at the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, in a panel on Eighteenth-Century Passions and Aesthetics.

Image: An illustration to the 1795 edition of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa by Elisabeth Challiou after Jean Giradet. Photograph: ©The Trustees of the British Museum.