Amicable Annotation, Part 6 (Men and Women)

[Lady Bradshaigh and Samuel Richardson converse in the margins of Clarissa. Full text at the Princeton University Digital Library.]

Part 1 of the “amicable annotation” miniseries is here. Or you might begin at the midpoint, Part 5. Enjoy Part 6.

In the summer of 1748, the novelist Samuel Richardson received a letter from one “Belfour,” who wrote to prevent a “fatal catastrophe.” “I am pressed, Sir,” the letter begins, “by a multitude of your admirers, to plead in [sic] behalf of your amiable Clarissa.” Yes, the target of Belfour’s intervention was Richardson’s famous character, whose future looked dire (Belfour fears “rapes, ruin, and destruction”) at the conclusion of Clarissa‘s most recent installment (the fourth of what would ultimately be a stack of seven volumes). Richardson didn’t relent: Clarissa’s fate was sealed. But the letter nonetheless intrigued him, and his response was greeted with another in turn and soon a fairly regular correspondence emerged. In November, Richardson sent his correspondent first-edition copies of Clarissa‘s first four volumes, the fate of which will concern us below. The admitted pseudonym of “Belfour” was maintained for a year and a half, at which point the correspondent revealed herself to be Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh. Their trade in “friendly epistles” (to recall our language from Part 5), among other objects, would last for thirteen years, ending only with Richardson’s death in 1761.

This exchange provides a useful example for thinking about male-female or “cross-sex” friendship for two reasons. First, Richardson and Bradshaigh openly referred to each other as–and were acknowledged by onlookers to be–friends, although they only met in person on a few occasions. Paper was their friendship’s medium. Albeit with less ceremony than our old friend Gleim, Richardson made the reading of Bradshaigh’s letters a “semi-public” event, his auditors including male associates. He also lent copies of the correspondence to other female friends, such as the “Blue Stocking” Catherine Talbot. Again recalling Gleim, Richardson and Bradshaigh exchanged portraits, Richardson requesting in 1750 if might have a copy made of Edward Haytley’s portrait of Bradshaigh, book in hand, with her husband, Sir Roger:

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 3.10.41 PM

Given the interest in the publication of their letters (a matter that they discussed prior to Richardson’s death), we might even hazard to name them famous friends. Eighteenth-century thinkers were much warmer to the idea that husbands and wives could be friends than the humanists had been; more than one influential figure–right up to Mary Wollstonecraft at the century’s end–pronounced marriage friendship’s ideal incubator. With Richardson and Bradshaigh’s relationship, though, we encounter a friendship between a man and woman outside wedlock (both were happily enough married, it appears). It was also a relationship that arose outside of either party’s immediate social circles. In other words, here is a friendship of a voluntary nature, which arises from shared interests and is upheld by mutual esteem. This is, in other words, exactly the sort of friendship between a man and woman that the humanists,  as a result of their readings of Classical authorities such as Cicero and Aristotle, regarded as impossible.

Such a friendship was made possible, and this is the second reason noted above, by the new channels of circulating paper in the eighteenth century. Richardson and his audience were enthralled by the mail. Changes to the postal system in the seventeenth-century fostered a communications revolution discernible in many aspects of eighteenth-century European culture, including readers’ astonishing appetite for “epistolary novels.” To use the German scholar Bernhard Siegert‘s terms, literature in this period might be considered an “epoch of the postal system.” Richardson was among the beneficiaries of this hunger for letters, his great successes, beginning with Pamela, being fictional compendia of personal correspondence. Clarissa‘s preface speaks to the fascination, moreover, with friendly correspondence in particular: the book is billed as a “History […] in a series of letters, written Principally in a double yet separate correspondence,” the first “Between two young ladies of virtue and honor, bearing an inviolable friendship for each other,” and the second “Between two gentlemen of free lives.” It’s notable for our purposes, too, that the “model” friendship, the virtuous one, in this book belongs to women (“the highest exercise of a reasonable and practicable friendship, between minds endowed with the noblest principles of virtue and religion,” the preface advertises), whose very capacity for friendship the humanists, following their Classical advisors, had (once again) strongly doubted.

Bradshaigh’s “Belfour” epistles, meanwhile, expose us to another side of this “revolution”: the possibility–and permissibility–of contact between strangers of the opposite sex. The adoption of the pseudonym, of course, bespeaks a degree of caution about, a sense that a social risk is being taken in, such an approach. (Is it quite proper for a Lady to write to an unfamiliar man?) Even the postal service was enlisted in the ruse, the Lady giving her address as “To be left at the Post-office in Exeter till called for,” though she was then living in Lancashire. Richardson and Bradshaigh were able to pull off this still somewhat unconventional relationship, though, thanks to the matter that bound them: books. Richardson and Bradshaigh demonstrate how the eighteenth-century print market’s increasing attempts (including those of Richardson) to draw in female readers allows men and women to form new kinds of meaningful connections.


Here again, friendship arises through two parties’ common hold on the book–and, to come around at last to the “official” theme of this mini-series, through their inking up of commonly-held books’ margins. One of the most remarkable conversations in eighteenth-century literature took place in that “presentation copy” of Clarissa (available in full thanks to the PUDL initative). Bradshaigh had, of course, already read the first four volumes prior to the gift. Richardson’s repeated solicitations for her thoughts on his work, though, motivated her to return to the familiar text and work her pen across it until she reached the end of the novel–the last three volumes having been later “presented” by the author as well. (Her longest comment is, in fact, her last: immediately after the text’s “official” ending, she explained in detail how it should have ended. In this copy, Belfour gets the last word.) And Richardson, at a date that is debated by scholars, later not only read her marginalia but also responded–with questions, answers, approving remarks, and, on a few occasions, elaborate defenses of his decisions.

Scholars who have studied Bradshaigh’s annotations have noted a variety of editorial services. She strikes out unnecessary words, clauses, sentences, even (as in this particularly villainous moment for Lovelace in Vol. IV) whole paragraphs:

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 9.09.35 PMShe regularly suggests alternative phrasings (in the second letter of Volume I, for example, “politeness” is scratched out in favor of “goodness”):

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 8.48.15 PMShe observes words or actions that seem out of character, such as observing, at the end of letter XXXVI from Vol. II, that such “impudent” action does not seem “like the wisdom of Clar[issa] Har[lowe].”

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 4.43.05 PMShe critiques the author’s miscues regarding manners and class dynamics, as here (Vol. II, letter XVI) when she argues that it’s “absurd” that the Harlowes would speak so indiscreetly in front of their servant Betty, to which Richardson replies, “Do you think so, Madam? Characters considered?”

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 4.45.28 PMThe ink-covered pages that appear in the “feature image” atop this post record one of Richardson’s longest replies, the matter at issue there being Bradshaigh’s description of Clarissa’s attempt to escape Lovelace in Volume IV as a “poor device.” “Device, does your Ladyship call it? Cl. was above all devices!” Richardson begins–his defense then sprawling over several pages.

What became of this remarkable exchange? The old story, based on a late letter written on Richardson’s behalf by his daughter, held that the author saw Bradshaigh’s annotated copies of not only Clarissa but also Pamela for the first time in 1761. They then offered a “comfort,” as one biography puts it, in his final days. Barchas argues convincingly, however, that the book had circulated a decade earlier. She points, among other bits of evidence, to Richardson’s emendations to Clarissa‘s third edition (1751). The edition’s revised text shows multiple signs of Bradshaigh’s influence, such as in additions, subtractions, and reorganizations of words and clauses that align with her advice. Richardson also added material in spots that she had found questionable or hard to follow (including additional explanation of the “absurd” behavior of the Harlowes in the presence of Betty). The “shameless” passage that Bradshaigh wished excised, meanwhile, Richardson in fact “enhanced” in his revisions, in Barcas and Fulton’s language, thereby deepening his “villainy.” In other words, Bradshaigh’s marginalia guided Richardson’s process of revision, offering insight about the need for clarification and opportunities to intensify his effect. This procedure–Bradshaigh’s annotating, Richardson revising–would be repeated (or happen for the first time, depending on which Richardson scholar one consults) a few years later with Sir Charles Grandison, a book on which Richardson solicited advice from other female friends, including the aforementioned Catherine Talbot.

Lady Bradshaigh’s annotations to the seven volumes of Clarissa–and Richardson’s responses–exemplify how, to recall one of the running themes of the “Friendship by the Book” series, the book has served us as a medium of communication in which readers get a say. The conversation that one overhears in the margins of this book is of a piece with their correspondence, including remarks of surprise, vexation, and delight (“Now, Madam at last you see him [Lovelace]!” Richardson writes in the margins of Vol III); indeed, given how much of their correspondence is also dedicated to notes on their reading, and particularly of Richardson’s fiction, it is difficult to delineate boundaries between their “correspondence” and “annotation.”


The Bradshaigh-Richardson exchange is, of course, exceptional in many respects. My ambition has been not to set this relationship up as a paradigmatic case; rather, I have sought to use their example as a way to make initial observations about the possibilities for friendship between men and women opened up by changes taking place in the eighteenth century’s mail systems and book culture. We need, in other words, to think about “cross-sex” friendship against the backdrop of the century’s evolving media ecology–the increasing diversity of reading options both in terms of genre and format, and the new means of distributing one’s own writing by press and post. At the same time, we need to be careful to avoid thinking about that ecology in terms only of new tools and techniques; the very presence of literate women such as Bradshaigh, capable of navigating (even manipulating) the post and, as consumers, of influencing the print market, might be the most significant environmental change of all in this period.

This thread will continue over the next two posts. Enjoy Part 7.

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