Tuesday, February 19, 2008


by Emily C. Friedman, University of Missouri

In a very real sense, the Samuel Richardson Society, which will make its debut at this year's ASECS in Portland, was born out of a surprising love not of the much-taught Pamela or even the monumental Clarissa, but in fact, Sir Charles Grandison.

Grandison's admirers, of course, are in good company: Henry Austen tells us his sister Jane was fond of the novel (Northanger Abbey's Catherine Morland defends it against Isabella Thorpe's distaste), as were Frances Burney and George Eliot. However, despite the many authors who trace their genealogy back to Richardson and Grandison in particular, critical attention has never been as sustained as that of its racier sister-novels.

Happily, this appears to be changing. The readings assembled here are a taste of the wealth of emerging scholarship on Grandison, and Richardson's work in general.

Nick Nace concentrates on the form of the novel and its connection to its title hero -- unlike Lovelace's continual "great and beautiful blooms of text" concealing unknowable lacks, Grandison's consistency creates a narrative problem -- how to create a suspenseful narrative that remains "open" in the presence of a fixed hero. He suggests that perhaps Grandison is the Richardson novel which most perfectly fits Johnson's dictum, "Why, Sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment." I too discuss Grandison's relationship to closure, calling for readings that draw upon the body of the book and its massive supporting apparatus to guide us toward new potential "senses of ending".

Rachel Schneider draws attention to rhetoric in the novel, focusing on Sir Charles and Sir Hargrave's verbal "duelling" and the construction of gentility through the moral deployment of language. Melinda Parker-Kolb is also interested in Sir Hargrave, suggesting that the Clementina-Harriet-Sir Charles love triangle at the heart of Grandison is, in fact, more complex (and quadrilateral) than traditionally thought, connecting this perception shift to a continuum of ethical systems in play in the novel, making a case for increased attention to Grandison as a text dealing in new symmetries. Sam Cahill intriguingly problematizes Grandison's influence as "cruel persuasion," making connections between the Poretta family's survelliance of Clementina, the Grandison family's manipulation of Charlotte, and the Harlowe's desire for conformity and obedience in Clarissa. Sir Charles's benevolent dictatorship is read as the "foundational sadism of a man who uses people’s personal attachment to him to create the world he wants" -- hot stuff, indeed.

These "blessays" (to borrow a phrase from Stephen Fry) are just the apertif to a banquet of Richardsonian work being presented at ASECS. Portland will be a playground for Richardsonians, from start to finish: on Friday, the editors of the Cambridge Grandison will speak on a roundtable in Session III, Session IV features papers on "Popular Fiction After Richardson," and more papers on Grandison will be presented in Session V. Saturday's morning session will feature a Grandison paper by Sam Cahill, and the final session will include a roundtable on Richardson, featuring Margaret Anne Doody, Jocelyn Harris, Betty A. Schellenberg, William B. Warner, and Lisa Zunshine. I do hope you will join us for what promises to be an illuminating discussion, both here and in Portland.

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