It is rather embarrassing to admit, but my first actual encounter with Clarissa — other than an occasional glance at the Wikipedia page or hearing an off-hand comment from a fellow 18th-centuryist about their (always failed) attempt to read the unabridged version — was with the 2010 radio play adaptation of the novel for BBC’s Radio 4 starring Richard Armitage and Zoe Waites. To be entirely honest, I only began listening to it because I’d just finished listening to Armitage’s audiobook recording of one or another of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance novels and wanted to hear more of his lovely reading voice (really, I am a bit of a fan-girl; he speaks beautifully and is a costume-drama-addict’s dream man (watch him in the BBC’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian Pride and Prejudice, “North and South” (#swoon))). I can still remember where I was listening as Clarissa Harlowe met Robert Lovelace for the first time, and I can clearly remember the feeling of being instantly transfixed.
Ask me about Clarissa today and I will lie and tell you I have since tried valiantly to read the unabridged work (I haven’t really). And yet, something about the adaptation struck me so forcefully that I am now able to read excerpts of the novel, or reader receptions, and understand the psychological pull of Richardson’s story. An adaptation has enabled me personally to access a deeper level of understanding of the original material, and also distributes the story to (possibly) millions of people who aren’t specialists in English literature. The BBC Radio 4 version was made, presumably, not for profit (I assume this pretty safely because it is not available to purchase anywhere (most of the BBC’s fine radio adaptations never are released)), although the BBC receives public funds in order to continue producing content. The fact that I cannot find an actual streaming version of the entire, four-part adaptation is not particularly shocking, then. The work is still copyrighted, but the distribution is poor (BBC radio programs are broadcast only once on the radio (usually) and are then available for seven days after that, online (luckily, everyone in the world has access to these radio programs)), and buying the content afterwards is basically impossible.
Of course, there are numerous blogs which contain links to the mp3 files on file-sharing websites; just another way that fans in the Age of the Internet are able to control the circulation of goods and services to a wider audience than authors and creators may have desired. Here is one of the only uploads I could find of the radio play (Armitage is the voice of Robert Lovelace, and creates, through his voice, the tension between the two “Lovelaces”: the glib Libertine and the obsessed, transfixed (soon to be) rapist of our heroine):
The user who has uploaded this clip is also the person responsible for a fan-made video of Richard Armitage talking about his fans (#meta). He says (in reference to his appearing in “North and South”): “It’s quite difficult with television to get feedback . . . so for me the online forum is a way of sort of really getting in contact with fans and what they think of your work. It’s really lovely.” After this interview the video creator has a slide with part of the Wikipedia entry for the word “fan” which ends:
It comes from the Modern Latin fanaticus, meaning “insanely but divinely inspired”.
With all this talk about the sanctity of the “genius” of the author, it is refreshing to see someone appreciating the work of the fan (obsessive as it may be).