Abstract. Samuel Richardson’s use of the motif of the ouroboros in Clarissa (1747–1748), his masterpiece, has continued to baffle both his readership and his critics for 275 years now. The surprise and the puzzle derive from the sharp difference between the two traditions that have thus been forced to meet: Richardson’s conservative Anglican Christianity (of the Puritan kind) and the pagan tradition of Hermetic alchemy of Egyptian extraction. The following paper explores dimensions that the ouroboric symbol has from the perspective of alchemy, myth and science, as well as the reasons Richardson may have had in making such a bold choice in his famous million-word novel. Special reference is made to Clarissa’s Paper X and letter to Lovelace (Volume 5), in which she sketches something like a bill of indictment and list of last wishes before execution. We conclude that: 1) the Ouroboros, a cultural legacy of immeasurably old origins, is a versatile symbol of possibly quite advanced knowledge of various transformations; 2) Clarissa is a female embodiment of the Ouroboros (or transmutation matrix); 3) the novel partakes of the nature of the alchemical Ouroboros, by becoming similar to a “time capsule,” meant by Richardson to be repeatedly “unburied” by future generations, who will in their minds resurrect Clarissa and reopen her “horizons,” again and again. The fascination with Clarissa is thus perhaps to grow as time goes by, because every new generation will likely rediscover anew what it describes: the fierce battle between the head and the heart.

Key words: alchemy; science; consenting negative; ouroboros/dragon; transmutation matrix; ouroboric logic/dynamics; eclipsed Sun; basic instinct; to be alive; time capsule

Stroe MA (2022) The ouroboros motif and Richardson’s Clarissa: the transmutation matrix. Creativity 5(2): 3–51. doi:10.22381/C5220221

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University of Bucharest,
Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures,
English Department;
Bucharest, Romania

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