This biography of Richardson, emphasizes three areas of his work. Firstly it examines literary contextualization, reassessing the relationship between Richardson and early 18th-century popular fiction. This is further developed in light of new evidence which discredits Richardson's professed lack of acquaintance with French and English amatory fiction. Secondarily it looks at political contextualization. Biographical evidence is used to highlight Richardson's youthful political dissidence and the clash between his residually oppositional sympathies and establishment printing thereafter, following through into a reading of the novels. Both "Pamela" and "Clarissa" trace conflicts arising when legitimate authority turns tyrannical, and are riddled with a politicized vocabulary of liberty, treason, rebellion, and usurpation. "Clarissa" was written during a major armed insurrection (the Forty-five), and cries out for a historicized analysis that would see it as deeply coloured (though less ostentatiously than Tom Jones) by this wider public experience. Thirdly it looks at form and ideology.
It reads the competing narrative voices of the novels as articulating unresolved conflicts within Richardson himself: between Jacobite legitimism and Whiggish contractarianism, for example, or between traditional piety and libertine freethinking.