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.