Modernizing Clarissa: the Affordances and Limitation of Letters and Blogs. Kendra Sheehan.

As a blog, Clarissa loses many traditional literary qualities associated with a print novel. For instance, the dramatic scenes Lovelace writes in Letter 214 move from being written like a play in print to resembling an Instant Messaging conversation in an electronic blog. That is to say, the letters that appear so formal in print become casual and modern in an electronic medium such as the blog.

Further, the idea of editions, as found in printed texts, is lost as Clarissa becomes a blog. Clarissa‘s author, Samuel Richardson, made changes through various editions that were based in part on his engagement and correspondence with his audience. As a blog, Clarissa would have the potential to be similarly changed and edited, but its original format may be lost with revisions unless each draft was saved and uploaded separately or cached in an online database. Only in later editions can a print author make changes or revisions based on audience response. Richardson was a printer and publisher who had the unique rights to change and print his work at will. Today it is much harder for an author to make numerous editions of a work without consent of a publisher or even his literary agent.

In a blog post, one can easily edit and make changes, whereas with a hand-written letter (of the sort contained in Clarissa) one must start over or leave a visible marker of mistakes, such as scratched out words or the use of white-out. Also, a letter cannot be changed, “deleted,” or called back once it has been sent to its recipient. A blog post, however, can be easily posted and deleted before anyone reads it, or can even be set to “private” so that it’s available to only a select few. While blogs can be “written” in different fonts, the fonts are not necessarily unique to the blog and are quite standard to many word processors. Letters, on the other hand, can display handwriting unique to the individual. Blogs can provide links and images to things that a blogger likes, but letters can have drawings by the same hand that wrote the letter. Then again, a blog can upload images of letters complete with the blogger’s handwriting. The voice present in the blog can tell the readers when something is rushed or written in an emotional moment, and so on. Hand-written letters can also show these emotions and hurriedness at first glance based on the handwriting alone.

Writing functions similarly and differently in blogs and letters. For instance, blogs can be updated nearly anywhere at any time via one’s cellular phone, laptop, or tablet, whereas letters can be written anywhere but not immediately updated or posted because the letter needs to be mailed to a recipient rather than uploaded through the internet. Finally, both blogs and letters can be written using the present tense, but are often about the past or recently past events.

In terms of an audience, letters are typically meant for one person whereas blogs are often meant to be read by an audience of innumerable people. A blog’s audience can be affected by the community in which the blog is posted or linked to. Despite the audience number, blogs and letters can still be intimate because the reader is being provided with thoughts as well as sharing in the private moments of the writer’s life. The audience for letters is often one person and can be tailored to just that specific reader. A similar thing happens in blogs when they are specifically tailored to a member of the online community to which they belong. Most importantly, both letters and blogs provide a way for the writer to connect to at least one person in the world at large.

As a blog, Clarissa would connect to more than just college students reading 18th century literature. A blog offers an opportunity to modernize Clarissa’s story for a modern and technologically literate audience, with little to no change to the story’s plot. The intimacy of the letters in Clarissa allows others to sympathize with her plight and even create communities based around it. As a blog, Clarissa goes beyond the scope of the 18th century audience that Richardson engaged with and introduces the novel on a global scale for a new generation of readers.