It is important, when studying this novel, to examine what defines a Gothic novel in relation to eighteenth-century definitions of novel-writing. When one understands where this genre falls in the history of the novel as it began to take form, one may also learn its place in society at that time as a response to some of the more promoted types of writing, such as novels that are now categorized under the title of formal realism, which will be better defined further on. Both Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding are significant to understand when looking at formal realism because they are known as the founders of this genre. This genre is also important to understand since the Gothic is a direct response to it. It is also critical to note how the characters Ambrosio and Antonia in The Monk embody male and female chastity and their downfall after efforts for its preservation fail. By doing this, one discovers how Lewis’s novel suggests that chastity is worth fighting for. One also discovers how this relates to British society in eighteenth-century England in terms of their ideals of chastity.Antonia and Ambrosio are both created as examples of ideal chaste figures of their sex but are ruined instead of rewarded for their efforts to preserve themselves. The reasons for why the preservation of chastity is so essential differ for each gender. In understanding these reasons and differences, it is also possible to understand how the novel fits into the eighteenth-century Gothic genre
Understanding Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is crucial to understanding Lewis’s The Monk because it set the standard for female chastity during eighteenth century England. The heroines of both novels, Pamela in Richardson’s and Antonia in Lewis’s, share many of the same features as they are meant to portray the ideal chaste woman.
Richardson’s work is a series of letters written by his heroine whose chastity is threatened by her master, Mr. B. She never gives in, which turns his desire for her to admiration and ends with their marriage.
In his study of Richardson’s novel as a “media event” and example of formal realism, William Warner provides a great basic summary of the novel, saying simply that “Pamela recounts how a young girl imbued with prudential paternal warnings and innocent of novel reading nonetheless finds herself within a novel.” Warner points out that the simplistic style of this work reflects Richardson’s desire to move away from the pompous and elaborate into a style reflective of everyday life. This way, his novel could educate readers both in how to read and how to behave.
Warner says that “by casting his narrative as an edited collection of real letters, Richardson deflects the accusation of trivial fictionality, and the critical worry about repeating overworn generic conventions.” In other words, he makes his own rules and in doing so makes his novel realistic by making its contents unquestionable for audiences, which changed how novels were written and read. Richardson’s work is an example of how doubt becomes acceptable for authors to allow and audiences to hold. He provides his audiences with a character that tells her story in a language that is easily understood for them but is also questionable in its truthfulness.
This brings more of the real into the work and makes it into an easy conversation between the reader and the writer in which the reader can ask questions and engage with the text. Richardson shows that novels can be simple and easy for every reader to comprehend. In the end, his novel Pamela shows readers how a story can be told that carries as much truth and doubt as the real world but also how a virtuous woman can overcome seduction and be rewarded for maintaining her chastity.
Although it was written as a satirical knockoff of Pamela, Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews is also crucial to understand as it holds the same significance in formal realism but provides us with an understanding of the society’s ideal for male chastity. This is important in connection with The Monk since some of the same characteristics of his hero are shared by Lewis’s Ambrosio to develop him as an ideal chaste man, even though he fails in preserving himself whereas Joseph does not.
Fielding’s take on novel-writing is the same as Richardson’s in that he believes that the reader should be taken into account when producing a novel and that it should be as close to real life as possible. In his “An Essay on the New Species of Writing,” the anonymous author, commonly believed to be Francis Coventry, says that a novel is a “Journey, in which [the author] and his Readers are Fellow Travelers.” Fielding’s novel follows this same belief as he keeps an open conversation with his reader to guide him through the text.
In Joseph Andrews, Fielding’s hero is Pamela’s brother whose chastity is threatened by his mistress (a relation of Mr. B’s). Like his sister, he overcomes the challenge and his story ends with marriage to a girl just as chaste as him. He also discovers that he is of noble blood, even though he has been raised as a servant.
Fielding focuses on the real in writing his novel. In their essay, the anonymous writer says “it is the common Business of both Writers to make as deep Researches into Nature as they can, and cull from that ample Field whatever is to their Purpose.” Fielding uses the novel as an exploration of the relationship between author and reader and between reality and fiction. Joseph Andrews also shows how a male chaste figure in formal realism, just like the female, is rewarded for preserving their chastity at all costs with marriage and an elevation in class.
Formal Realism Versus the Gothic Novel
Both Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews are essential to understanding formal realism because these two authors and their novels are known as two of the founders of realism in the development of novel-writing. The Gothic genre was a direct response to formal realism and so also understanding that genre is essential when studying the Gothic.
One chief proponent of formal realism is Ian Watt, author of The Rise of the Novel, who claims that the writings of Richardson, Fielding, and Defoe are the beginnings of the rise of the novel form and realism in eighteenth-century England. He points out that both Richardson and Fielding viewed themselves as originators of new forms of writing as a break from old-fashioned romances. Most importantly, Watt recognizes that the novel differs from genres before it because of the way in which it depicts reality:
“if the novel were realistic merely because it saw life from the seamy side, it would only be an inverted romance; but in fact it surely attempts to portray all the varieties of human experience, and not merely those suited to one particular literary perspective: the novel’s realism does not reside in the kind of life it presents but in the way it presents it.”
In this way, the Gothic genre can be seen as an inverted romance since stories like Lewis’s The Monk are very much on the seamy side of life. Formal realism, on the other hand, is a reflection of everyday life, with a focus on real life aspects that are relevant to the novel’s story. Even if the life of the character is not completely realistic, the way in which it is presented to its audience brings it closer to reality.
Richardson’s Pamela does this by being written as a series of letters with censored or missing information (her master is only ever known as Mr. B) so that the reader can believe the correspondences are actually true. Fielding’s Joseph Andrews also does this by keeping a conversation between the author/narrator and the reader in which the narrator makes it seem as though the story is based on research that he has done. He gains the reader’s trust by providing him/her with information Richardson did not. For example, he gives us Mr. B’s full name through his relation, Lady Booby, who tries to seduce the hero.
Therefore, formal realism, as seen in Richardson and Fielding’s works, is all about how the story is told in order to make it as close to real life as possible as well as trustworthy for its readership. For novels like Samuel Richardson’s, for example, the focus is more on the form than on the actual development of characters or plots. Both Richardson and Fielding’s novel take their readership into account when writing their novels in a way that is so believable as to convince their readers that it could be true
Samuel Richardson wrote two immensely popular and influential novels. The first, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded was swiftly lampooned by Henry Fielding (An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews) and over 15 others. In Pamela, a young maidservant resists the attempted seduction of a gentleman, and eventually wins him for a husband. The Marquis De Sade undoubtedly had it in mind when he wrote Justine; or, the Misfortunes of Virtue and Juliette; or Vice Amply Rewarded, both of which turn the theme of Pamela upside down.
Well aware that most rakes do not reform well, Richardson wrote his masterpiece, Clarissa Harlow to show the other side of the coin. It is a dark novel in which the heroine is imprisoned, psychologically tortured, drugged and raped by someone she had trusted. Her diabolical would-be seducer, Lovelace, is said to be based on Richardson’s former employer, Lord Wharton, a notorious rake and founder of the original Hellfire Club.
Both novels are set out as a series of letters, a form widely imitated, most notably by Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Rousseau’s Nouvelle Heloise is also said to have been suggested by Clarissa. The themes of persecution, confinement and madness explored here are exploited further to great effect in early gothic novels, particularly those of Ann Radcliffe. Another of Richardson’s novels, Sir Charles Grandison, influenced the characterization of Falkland in Godwin’s Caleb Williams (Emily Melville is based on Richardson’s Emily Jervois). It also determined the reformation of Maria Edgeworth’s Ormond whose title character models himself on it after earlier imitating Fielding’s Tom Jones.
A few films based on the legacy of Clarissa and its rake Lovelace. See also Wharton.
Mary Wortley Montagu disparaged Richardson in public although her letters show that she read his works with pleasure: I was such and old fool as to weep over Clarissa Harlowe like any milkmaid of sixteen over the ballad of the Lady’s Fall. This Richardson is a strange fellow. I heartily despise him, and eagerly read him, nay sob over his works in a most scandalous manner. She was extremely class conscious and did not believe that middle-class Richardson should be writing about the aristocracy. I believe this author was never admitted into higher company [than of the lowest class] and should confine his pen to the amours of housemaids, and the conversation at the steward’s table, where I imagine he has sometimes intruded, though oftener in the servants’ hall….He has no idea of the manners of high life. Pamela she dismissed as the joy of chambermaids of all the nation.
This may have been a factor in Richardson’s lampooning Montagu in the character of Miss Barnevelt in Sir Charles Grandison. Like Montagu, Miss Barnevelt is said to declare to everyone that she is satisfied with being a woman because she cannot be married to a woman. Lady Mary wrote that she was not angry with [Richardson] for repeating a saying of mine, accompanied with a description of my person, which resembles me as much as one of the giants in Guildhall, and plainly shows he never saw me in his life. Other sources suggest that Miss Barnevelt does, in fact, bear a decided resemblance to Montagu.
Richardson’s daughter Mrs. Brigden edited the first version of Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story then entitled The Champion of Virtue, and the novel is dedicated to her.
Among Richardson’s friends may be counted the unforgettable Dr. Johnson, the actor Colley Cibber (known today for his autobiography), the poet Edward Young who wrote Night Thoughts (also a former employee of Wharton), Sarah Fielding (author of David Simple and sister of Henry Fielding), and the novelist Mrs. Barbauld who wrote one of his earliest biographies.