Richardson began his career in 1706 as an apprentice printer in London, and later came to write fiction. His Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1741), an epistolary novel, is held by many to make him the originator of the English novel. His Clarissa (1748), one of the longest novels in the English language (and also epistolary in form), recounts the rake Lovelace's seduction of Clarissa Harlowe and her eventual death. His last novel, Sir Charles Grandison, appeared in 1753.
Richardson's correspondence was edited by Anna Letitia Barbauld.