Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Arthur Krystal, at the New Yorker, considers the history of duelling. Here's a book on the early history of dueling in England, and its table of contents and introduction can be found here (PDF). The bibliography in that book would be a good thing to consult if you're interested in pursuing questions about honor, civility and masculinity as they affect our reading of Richardson's novel; it will include a thorough account of primary sources on duelling from the period, though you can get a preliminary sense of that by doing a few keyword searches in ECCO. (Be wary, though, of using keywords to trawl through a database--you don't end up with a very good sense of proportion, i.e. which works are widely distributed and read, or broadly speaking influential, and which may have been obscure--it's always worth checking the authoritative scholarly sources on the topics. They are not always infallible, but at least they have been vetted by scholars in the field and academic publishers' review boards!)

The Grand Tour

Clarissa enters into a correspondence with Lovelace because her uncle requests from him a series of letters concerning his own experience with the Grand Tour. That link includes descriptions of related paintings and sculptures that can be seen at the Met, plus a short bibliography at the bottom of the page; here's another link to an exhibition at the Getty, and the wikipedia definition seems to me in this case fairly useful and informative.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Lady's Preceptor

As a 21st Century reader, I couldn't help but notice the strikingly different connotation surrounding the word "condescension" in the text. Obviously for us, the word has a typically negative meaning, but in the text it is seen as an attribute. For example, Ms. Howe writes to Clarissa, "Your condescension has no doubt hitherto prevented great mischiefs" (71). Elsewhere, Clarissa describes her mother using this term. Sure enough, when I looked at the OED, I found this definition: " 3. Gracious, considerate, or submissive deference shown to another; complaisance." Ironically enough, Fielding's Tom Jones was used as an example for usage.

While I was fuddling around with that, I actually stumbled across something I consider even more interesting: a French etiquette guide for women translated into English in 1743. I say it's more interesting, because it seems to describe a situation very similar to Clarissa's. However, it instructs the girl to always follow her family's advice (particularly her parents) since they are free from the emotional blindness that afflicts young women. It seems to stand for the very conditions which Richardson is criticizing, which, it seems was considered the norm.

The Gentlewoman's Companion

After reading the preface to Clarissa, I was intrigued by Richardson's own discussion of epistolary writing describing the letters that follow to contain both "critical situations" and "instantaneous descriptions and reflections."  In the preceding images, a book titled The Accomplished Housewife, or The Gentlewoman's Companion from 1745 has a brief poem discussing the purposes of epistolary writing as a means of instruction.  The rest of the manual is also relevant in researching the expectations of the time period.  These images were found on ECCO.  They seem to illuminate the purposes of letters, for and by women at that time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Grim grin"

I was struck by the similarities between the opening paragraph of Frederic Raphael's TLS review of a one-volume selection of Graham Greene's letters and some of what we were talking about in class yesterday:
Ever since Rome established its domination of the Mediterranean, letter-writing has been a regular adjunct of civilized life. The spread of Latinitas and reliable couriers allowed Cicero to exchange personal messages and canvass cronies throughout the Roman world. His letters, like those of many subsequent writers, are at once seemingly off the record and artfully composed. The epistolary Cicero is as much the advocate of his own fame, and poster-boy of his wit, as Cicero the orator. If a writer’s correspondence seems to reveal him without artifice, his prose is professionally calculated to entertain, seduce or intimidate. “When an artist spits”, the Dadaist said, “that’s art!” And when Graham Greene writes a letter, it is no less (or more) his work than anything else. To believe that letters affect to show what he was “really like” discounts his mutability. In any case, to be “like” implies approximation, if not imposture, the novelist’s working habit. It was said of a portrait by John Singer Sargent that you couldn’t see the man for the likeness. Greene was like many things, but no one essential thing, unless it was English: “Anglais, terriblement anglais”, was a French critic’s sighing encomium.
You may also spot the references to Laclos later on in the piece...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cognitive tears

From Harold Bloom, introduction to Samuel Richardson: Modern Critical Views (New York: Chelsea House, 1987):
I first read Clarissa as a Cornell undergraduate in the late 1940s, under the skilled direction of my teacher, William M. Sale, Jr., a fierce partisan of Richardson and a remarkable critic of fiction. Since I cannot read a novel other than the way that Sale taught me, it is not surprising that forty years later I hold on fast to his canonical judgment that Clarissa is the finest novel in the English language. Rereading it through the years, I find it the only novel that can rival even Proust, despite Proust's evident advantages. The long and astonishing sequence that ends the novel, Clarissa's protracted death and its aftermath, is clearly at one of the limits of the novel as an art. I find myself fighting not to weep just before the moment of Clarissa's death, but as a critic I submit that these would be cognitive tears, and would say little about me but much about Richardson's extraordinary powers of representation.