Tuesday, February 26, 2008

18th Century Letter Writing

The Instructor, or American Young Man's Best Companion Containing Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetick
Fisher, George
Published by Isaiah Thomas, Worcester
Location of original: Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts

Letter Writing

I discovered some facts about writing in the 18th century which I found to be of particular interest.

First when researching letter writing on ECCO the amount of manuals dealing in epistolary etiquette was staggering. Manuals included example letters, and rules for writing in various situations all published at the same time as Clarissa. In addition these letter manuals were, for the most part, geared towards men. However, other research suggested that much of the 18th century population could write by the end of the century however not all could read and write. Many people were able to copy letters or words from other documents yet needed help reading or creating letters. Without the aid of individuals to help with writing letters many would remain incoherent.

Also, there were specific styles of writing which were used in different types of letters. Women most often used a style called Italian Hand of which I have provided an illustration. There was no standardized spelling at the time so there might have been multiple spellings for any given word. However the letter Y was often used in place of an E as in the word THY but it would be pronounced the same as the.

http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/crossedletter.html -source

Letters were written in a very different way than they are today. For one thing, they were what we now call "cross-letters" thanks to the style in which most letters were written. The reason for this is that the recipient of a letter paid a fee based on the letter's size and the distance it travelled. Smaller letters were cheaper; therefore, a cross writing style would better conserve space and allow more to be said for a smaller fee.

The letter shown on the right can be deciphered in this manner:

My Dear Herb

I have treated you very badly in not writing but the truth is I have been so hard put for time that I have not been able to do so. Your letter reached me, about a month after it was written. I hope this will find you in Rome. Will you tell Samuel that I have not got time to write and that I am sorry to say I shall not be able to get abroad this year after all and so unless he can get to England, I shall not have the pleasure of seeing him. I suppose we shall see you up here next term at least at Oxford. You already know my eyes have been bad and have thrown me back considerably, I am very much.......

the crossed lines continue from the other side of the letter....

feet deep here and I very nearly killed myself the other day up et....

Every quill pen was unique, and some took to the task of writing better than others (Letter-writing, 1). It could be hard to find a well-cut quill pen, and it took a skilled hand to do it right.

Letters & Seals (Images)

Letters & Seals

Here is a description of the writing practice of the military in 1775, from a website:


It describes letter writing details that they apparently still engage in today as a form of 'living history.' In particular, the issues relating to postage and black sealing wax are discussed. Black wax was used in matters related to death, and assured expedient service through the post.

"There were no envelopes (or postage stamps), and any mention of an "envelope" is merely another sheet of paper folded around the rest (there could be writing on one side of the "envelope", as well as on the part of the other side that didn't end up on the outside of the letter).

It did not bode well to have handwriting as being too large, -- at the time, letters were charged according to the number of sheets of paper, so the smaller you could make your writing, the more you could fit in. To save postage, letters were frequently "crossed": i.e. after a sheet of paper had been written on, it was turned 90°, and further lines were written crossing the original writing. It was the recipient, rather than the sender, who paid the postage. Some original references to this matter are lifted from actual letters below:

"I will endeavour to make this letter more worthy your acceptance than my last, which was so shabby a one that I think Mr. Jones could never charge you with the postage."
"Your letter was a most agreeable surprise to me to-day, and I have taken a long sheet of paper to show my gratitude."
"Do not be angry with me for not filling my sheet, and believe me yours affectionately,..."
"I thank you for yours, though I should have been more grateful for it if it had not been charged 8d. instead of 6d., which has given me the torment of writing to Mr. Hall on the occasion."

Franking (Frank) was a term applied to the superscribed signature of a person, such as a member of Parliament, entitled to send letters free of charge. A Frank was a letter bearing such a superscription.

Each quill feather pen, hand cut as it were, was like no other, and some reacted to the task much better than others. Cutting a pen properly is still an art, and good ones are difficult to find today.

Laid paper was the most common for letter writing, especially for formal correspondence. Parchment was reserved for certificates, &c.

As there were no envelops to be had, sealing wax was used to hold the letter's pages intact. This was usually a red wax, although examples of blue is to be found, as other colours more rare. The seal was likely the initial of the Surname, or in the case of a title holder, government or Crown seal, the engraved symbol of that entity. The use of Black wax was reserved for the notification of death in the family, more so to speed the letter in the postal system than to give the receiver advanced notice upon receipt."

Letters & Seals

As Clarissa considered her own letter writing to be a form of "compact", it is interesting how letter writing itself in the eighteenth century had issues with identity and tampering. Seals were not only attached to envelopes, but the pages themselves. According to the Wikipedia article on "Seal (device)," the process was complicated by the addition of cords and knots to the wax. Also below is an image of a seventeenth century seal. I am currently looking for more images to add to the blog.

"The use of seals, in wax, in lacquer or embossed on paper, to authenticate documents, is a practice as old as writing itself. Seals of this nature were applied directly to the face of the document or attached to the document by cords in the owner's, or to a narrow strip of the document sliced and folded down as a tail but not detached from the document. This helped maintain authenticity by not allowing the reuse of the seal. If a forger tried to remove the seal in the first case, it would break. In the other cases, although the forger could remove the seal intact by ripping the cords from the paper, he'd still have to separate the cords to attach it to another document, which would destroy the seal as well because the cords had knots tied in them inside the wax seal. Most governments still attach seals toletters patent. While many instruments required seals for validity (i.e. the deed or covenant) it is rather uncommon for private citizens to use seals anymore."

From two sides of the room

I really loved the scene in which Clarissa was finally introduced to Lovelace's acquaintances. Especially since Lovelace had been corresponding with John Belford for so long, it was intriguing to finally have him described by an outsider, someone who had just met him. What I found even more interesting, though, was the problem of representation that arises when the scene is described from two points of view--Clarissa's and Lovelace's. The evening seems to be a generally unpleasant one for both parties, but it's interesting to see where the blame falls in both accounts. I've included snippets from the two letters (161 and 167) below.

Clarissa on the evening:
"I have just escaped from the very disagreeable company I was obliged, so much against my will, to be in. As a very particular relation of this evening's conversation would be painful to me, you must content yourself with what you shall be able to collect from the outlines, as I may call them, of the characters of the persons, assisted by the little histories Mr Lovelace gave me of each yesterday." (542)

Lovelace on the evening:
"To the pure, every little deviation seemed offensive, yet I saw not that there was anything amiss the whole evening, either in your words or behaviour. Some people could talk but upon one or two subjects: she upon every one: no wonder, therefore, they talked to what they understood best; and to mere objects of sense. Had she honoured us with more of her conversation, she would have been less disgusted with ours." (552)

Body and Mind

I have been interested, in the course of my reading, how often Clarissa--and other characters for that matter--refer to the relationship between mind and body.

When referring to the scathing letter from Arabella, Clarissa tells Anna:
"I think is has touched my head as well as my heart." (512)

Clarissa seems to credit something greatly when it touches both intellectual and emotional chords. As to Lovelace, she chides:

"For pride, as I believe I have heretofore observed, is an infallible sign of weakness; of something wrong in the head or heart" (561)

Clarissa asserts: "that a fine person is seldom paired by a fine mind" (601)

There is a disconnect, then, between mind and body, and yet a togetherness of the two entities that creates a sublime harmony. Clarissa bemoans the absence of a sound mind in the agreeable "person" or body/appearance of Lovelace, suggesting that one often appears without the other (ie, a beautiful person with little intellect or integrity, or an ingenious person with little physical appeal).

Belford: "For why, in short, should not the work of bodies be left to mere bodies"?

This quote really interested me. Belford is persuading Lovelace not to constrict Clarissa to the chains of motherhood and domesticity. Because she is of sound mind and wit, he believes her body should be kept in tact. The use of the phrase "mere bodies" suggests that manual work is below the work of the mind, and thus childbirth is ignoble and base.

Lovelace: "Oh Belford! she is a lion-hearted lady...Yet her charming body is not equally organized...But had the same soul informed a masculine body, never would there have been a truer hero." (647)

This is a very strange sentiment of the part of Lovelace toward Clarissa. It seems that he is both praising her and wishing her more masculine. Her temperament, he seems to think, is ill-suited to her body. It seems her "charming body" cannot contain the wrath that he inspires within it.

I would think that discussion of the body was taboo in 18th century aristocratic circles. Particularly the bodies of women were most likely not spoken about, but rather ignored in the light of common decency. It intrigues me to hear Clarissa use the word "body," even in a non-sexual sense in regular writing, and to use it in a dichotomoy with "mind."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Theories of the Self: Judith Butler

I referenced Judith Butler in seminar this past Tuesday, so instead of a post on letter writing, I wanted to post the passages I had in mind. They're from Giving an Account of Oneself (Fordham, 2005), which is actually a compilation of the Spinoza Lectures she gave for the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam in Spring 2002. Butler draws from Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Hegel, Hannah Arendt, and Adriana Cavarero...

"The opacity of the subject may be a consequence of its being conceived as a relational being, one whose early and primary relations are not always available to conscious knowledge. Moments of unknowingness about oneself tend to emerge in the context of relations to others, suggesting that these relations call upon primary forms of relationality that are not always available to explicit and reflective thematization. If we are formed in the context of relations that become partially irrecoverable to us, then that opacity seems built into our formation and follows from our status as beings who are formed in relations of dependency
This postulation of a primary opacity to the self that follows from formative relations has a specific implication for an ethical bearing toward the other. Indeed, if it is precisely by virtue of one's relations to others that one is opaque to oneself, and if those relations to others are the venue for one's ethical responsibility, then it may well follow that is is precisely by virtue of the subject's opacity to itself that it incurs and sustains some of its most important ethical bonds" (20).

*is Clarissa only defined by others? what are the ethical implications of her flight from her family, both in terms of how she sees herself and how others see her?*

Butler goes on to highlight the frustrations of giving a narrative account of oneself:
"There is (1) a non-narrativizable exposure that establishes my singularity (she is referring to a bodily experience), and there are (2) primary relations, irrecoverable, that form lasting and recurrent impressions in the history of my life, and so (3) a history that establishes my partial opacity to myself. Lastly there are (4) norms that facilitate my telling about myself but that I do not author and that render me substitutable at the very moment that I seek to establish the history of my singularity. This last dispossession in language is intensified by the fact that I give an account of myself to someone, so that the narrative structure of my account is superseded by (5) the structure of address in which it takes place" (39).

Butler's comments were particularly applicable, I thought, to the passages we looked at in Clarissa--pages 483 and 460...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Passages from class today

"I Am A Very Bad Casuist"

From Letter 135, Clarissa to Miss Howe:

"...But when I set down what I will do or what I have done, on this or that occasion; the resolution or action is before me, either to be adhered to, withdrawn or amended; and I have entered into compact with myself, as I may say; having given it under my own hand, to improve rather that go backward, as I live longer."

The word "compact" leapt out at me from Clarissa's discussion of writing (as a letter, or as a journal) and its importance to her.  There is a sense of the solidity of the tangible page, the subjective action or decision, that is in someway a undeniable foundation for her own moral 'improvement'.  As in a contract, the letter cannot be destroyed and is a weapon against moral complacency, or voluntary ignorance. 
According to the OED, it is suggested that the word "compact" in the seventeenth century abided by the older notion of 'contract' or 'mutual agreement', but also participated in the more sociological understanding of the "general" or "family" compact.  In this case the compact implies a tacit understanding among a social group that is conveyed by convention.  In Clarissa's letters, there is a complex understanding of her "compact" as both an agreement with the addressed, but also a more general agreement with the moral and social codes of her time.  This will perhaps be interesting in a discussion of seals for next week, in the material culture of the letter, and in its connection and relation to contracts (being documents containing declarations and even a date and signature).  I am curious as to the problematic divergence of contracts and letters at this time.

The materiality of letters

Here are the passages that caught my eye in this week's reading and made me think that we should have some blog discussion next week, in lieu of our canceled class, concerning the materiality of letters in eighteenth-century England:

Clarissa to Anna: “Mr Lovelace is so full of his contrivances and expedients that I think it may not be amiss to desire you to look carefully to the seals of my letters, as I shall to those of yours. If I find him base in this particular, I shall think him capable of any evil; and will fly him as my worst enemy” (529).

Clarissa to Anna, on Col. Morden’s letter: “This letter was enclosed (opened) in a blank cover. Scorn and detest me as they will, I wonder that one line was not sent with it—were it but to have more particularly pointed the design of it, in the same generous spirit that sent me the Spira—The sealing of the cover was with black wax. I hope there is new occasion in the family to give reason for black wax. But if there were, it would, to be sure, have been mentioned and laid at my door—perhaps too justly!”

Lovelace to Belford: "Dorcas, who is ever attentive to all her lady's motions, has given me some instances of her mistress's precautions. She wafers her letters, it seems, in two places; pricks the wafers; and then seals upon them. No doubt but those brought hither are taken the same care of. And she always examines the seals of the letters before she opens them" (570-71).

Another sentence that seemed to me to need glossing: "Subscription is formal between us. Besides, I am so totally hers, that I cannot say how much I am thine, or any other person's" (575).

What are the "seals"? What would "black wax" mean? (And what is "Spira," though this doesn't have anything to do with letters?) What are "wafers"? What is a "subscription," and what did letters usually look like? How much did they cost to send, and how were they usually sent? These are the sort of questions I'd like you to look into. Claim a particular aspect of the topic in the comments, if you like, so that everyone doesn't end up pursuing the same group--any useful links, facts or just thoughts on the matter will be relevant.

"It was inky"

Passages from last week's class on Letters 77-110 (299-431):

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Marriage in 17th and 18th Century

From the discussion in class concerning the attitudes toward love matches in the 18th century I did find some relevant material to support the idea that love matches were encouraged by intellectuals, philosophers, writers and families during the 17th and 18th centuries. For those of you interested in the role of marriage and the reasons for marriage in the 17th and 18th centuries, I found two wonderful articles which address the topic. Most importantly these articles address the fact that attitudes began to change in the late 17th century and through the 18th century and romance and love matches played a larger role. While parents still influenced the choice of a partner more often love matches were encouraged and there was a strong belief that marriage should not be forced on unwilling partners.
I will scan in the relevant parts of the articles but I wanted to just put up the titles and databases in case any one was interested. I was researching a different novel however the time period is the same and the content of the articles are applicable to Clarissa's predicament.

1. On JSTOR "Changing Attitudes Toward Marriage in the Time of Defoe" David Blewett- author
2. ECCO- "Conjugal Lewdness and Matrimonial Whoredom"(1727)
3.JSTOR- "The Weightiest Business: Marriage in an Upper Gentry Family in 17th Century England " Miriam Slater

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Clarissa, Anorexic?

Last week we briefly touched on the contested critical interpretation that Clarissa suffers and eventually dies from anorexia. This is what I had assumed about the novel before signing up for the class, having heard from others that Clarissa, in blunt terms, was about a girl who "is raped, gets anorexia, and dies."

I am interested to see how this diagnosis holds up in the end, and I found a few relevant sources that might help to think about anorexia and Clarissa's lack of appetite and thin wrists as I continue to read.

The OED defines anorexia as a "want of appetite," and specifies anorexia nervosa as "a condition marked by emaciation, etc., in which loss of appetite results from severe emotional disturbance." A few of the early citations seem to use the word to describe extreme religious fasters, and only the citations from the mid-nineteenth century onward specify anorexia as a mental and physical medical condition.

The following pages are excerpted from Peter Shaw's "A New Pracitce of Physic"--a kind of WebMD for 1745, or more likely a manual for other physicians. (There's something I really like about the diction and syntax in some of these sentences, like: "When the thoughts or sight of proper food, create a sickness in the stomach, or a tendency to vomit, 'tis called nausea." It's a sentence you could dance to.)

In this account, anorexia is generally considered a prolonged loss of appetite, and Shaw mentions many different causes from hard drinking to having too much tea. The most interesting causes listed are "passions of the mind, as fear, etc." and "suppression of evacuation, as the menses, etc." Aside from the preceding examples, Shaw refrains from discussing anorexia in gendered terms and characterizes anorexia as a general disorder. This doesn't seem to be the same anorexia that people think of today.

Facsimile Page ImageFacsimile Page ImageFacsimile Page Image
Another interesting source is a critical article by Gillian Brown: "Anorexia, Humanism, and Feminism" in the Yale Journal of Criticism, which can be found here. She ultimately argues, "The anorexic interdiction against food removes the self from social space in order to secure as well as redraw the dominion of selfhood. Thus the ultimate aim of the anorexic critique of humanism is to compose a sturdier model of self-possession by clearing the space of the self's operations." I think that Clarissa's philosophical concern with her own freedom shows that she is negotiating the same sort of questions that the article tries to reckon with, but I'm not too sure if she becomes anorexic in order to redefine her own subjectivity. Brown refers often to the work of Wollstonecraft and Rousseau, both of whom published after Richardson, so I wonder to what extent her article can be used to understand Clarissa's condition.

Bits and bobs

1. Lovelace to Clarissa, Letter 35: “I can attend her anywhere in thee rambling, Dutch-taste garden, whenever she will permit me that honor…”

A Google search yields several JSTOR articles--you can't click through directly from those links, but you can go the JSTOR page through Columbia's electronic resources and read either one of those articles. Here is a decent wikipedia entry on the Dutch garden (more geometrical than the "English style" during this period). There are a lot of good books about gardening and English literature--ask me if you want more details.

2. Betty’s snuff-box (265), and the topic of servants.

These images will give you a feel for the visual style of eighteenth-century snuff boxes. A useful page with lots of details concerning eighteenth-century clothing styles--scroll down (or search) and you will find a brief discussion of the snuff box as accessory. You could also try a keyword search in ECCO to dig up literary references--there are very well-known ones in Pope and Sterne, among others. Keyword and subject searches in CLIO led me to the realization that there seem to be two different books called "Snuff and Snuff-boxes". In short, the snuff box takes us to a world that is fashionable, luxurious, commodity-oriented and implicitly imperial... For more details on servants aping upper-class manners, start with J. Jean Hecht's classic The Domestic Servant Class in England
and Bruce Robbins' excellent The Servant's Hand: English Fiction From Below.

3. Anna on Betty: “Does the Coventry Act extend to women?” (276). That link's to the Encylopedia Britannica article; it should be you get asked for your Columbia uni and password and then click through straight to the entry, but just in case not, I'll paste in the relevant bit:
In December 1670, during a debate on a playhouse tax, [Sir John] Coventry hinted that King Charles II's interest in the stage was confined to actresses. He was waylaid (December 21), and his nose was slit by some guards officers led by Sir Thomas Sandys. Parliament delayed business until the passing of the Coventry Act, declaring assaults accompanied by personal mutilation a felony without benefit of clergy. An attempt was even made to bar the royal prerogative of pardon that had been exercised to protect the assailants. The king was shielded from further repercussions by an organized court party majority in the House of Commons.
4. Anna to her mother: “I desire my hoop may have its full circumference. All they’re good for, that I know, is to clean dirty shoes and to keep ill-mannered fellows at a distance.” (292) Here's a good link from an exhibit at the Met with a picture of an actual hoop petticoat--take a look! The paintings of artist Joseph Highmore, including illustrations of Richardson's novels.

4. Clarissa, speaking to Lovelace after she has gone off with him: “But here, like the first pair, I at least driven out of my paradise, are we recriminating” (Letter 98, 393). An (unannotated--I think the editor of the Penguin edition must have been overwhelmed by the sheer notion of annotating such a long novel, and I do not blame him!) allusion to Milton's Paradise Lost... but was Harlowe Place really a paradise? What does it mean that Clarissa keeps on thinking of herself as a character in literature?!?

Libertine poetry

A few poems by the Earl of Rochester. This is the sort of thing Lovelace would have known well...

Here's another Rochester link online. The critical sources Susanna quoted in her post are excellent; the Turner book would be a good resource for someone pursuing the topic of libertinage. David Vieth's Penguin edition of Rochester's poems is very good, but possibly out of print...

Libertinage continues to exert a certain mental sway over us, including a number of more or less casual references: consider this and this...

Passages for Letters 35-76 (161-298)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lovelace the Libertine

When Lovelace's first letter to John Belford breaks into Clarissa's correspondence with Anna Howe and her "friends," Lovelace includes a portion of Dryden's Tyrannic Love: "But raging flames tempestuous souls invade:/A fire, which ev'ry windy passion blows;/With pride it mounts, and with revenge it glows" (p. 144, L 31). Lovelace's correspondence with Belford continues in this section of reading, as does his "Roman style." Not only does he make poetic allusions but he also compares Clarissa to Portia and Calpurnia (p.420, L107) and dares to suggest he can be likened to Caesar: "Was not the great Caesar a great rake as to women?" (p. 429, L110).

We've talked a bit in seminar about Lovelace's style, but I wanted a better sense of the historical and literary context in which he was writing. After an investigation into the half-vengeful, half-enamored tone of Lovelace's professed love, I found two books with helpful commentary:

from James Turner's essay "Lovelace and the paradoxes of libertinism" (from Doody and Sabor's Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays, Cambridge, 1989)
"Libertine sexuality cannot be understood simply as a surrender to spontaneous physicality; it is inseparable from the cerebral triumph over the opposite sex, from mastery exercised through tactical reason. ... It is important to recognize, at this point, that the term 'libertine' referred to an aesthetic as well as a sexual or philosophical stance, a style of writing as well as a mode of behaviour. Lovelace's antecedents tried to align the aesthetic and the erotic, but they do not necessarily coincide. Dryden (a favorite poet of Lovelace's!) and Oldham, for example, use 'libertine' to denote the free mode of translation that Pope would later use in his Imitations of Horace--a form of imitation that is fruitful and energetic rather than 'abortive'. For Pierre Corneille, to abandon the unities in drama is 'libertine'. And Mme de Sevigne--one of the few French authors whom Richardson acknowledges and discusses, precisely because she raised issues of propriety and style--uses the word to denote a delightful improvisatory freedom of style. She refers continually to 'le libertinage de ma plume', and particularly praises those letters written by her daughter 'when you have no subjects', when she is free to write 'lettres toutes libertines'. In this sense, Clarissa herself is 'libertine'. Richardson ... has created for Clarissa a style of penetration and freedom, the aristocratic lady's epistolatory manner that had been brought to perfection by Mme de Sevigne" (71, 75).

and from Margaret Doody's A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson (Oxford, 1974)
"Dryden's dramatic verse becomes part of Richardson's own fictional language, contributing imagery and content, used ironically by the character and ironically about the character. The role Lovelace most often adopts is that of the tragic tyrant-lover. ... Like the tyrant-heroes of the stage, Lovelace seizes upon the 'Vengeance', the 'Rage', which gives him the right to conquer and humiliate the woman, even, if necessary, by sheer force. His threats about Clarissa's fate, his belief that after the act of sexual possession she will lose all personal will and identity in humiliated subjection are totally in keeping with the actions and attitudes of tyrannic lovers" (110, 112).

I found it particularly interesting that while Lovelace is overtly free in his style, even to the point of theatricality, Clarissa's letters might be interpreted as libertine as well in terms of style and structure.

On Dreams

I found Clarissa's dream (as she relates it to Anna) a really bizarre rupture in the delicate, mannered tone of the novel. Not only is Clarissa violently stabbed to death and left to rot among the corpses, but the act of murder is done in a churchyard, an interesting choice on behalf of Richardson (or Clarissa's subconscious). Perhaps this reveals something about how Clarissa perceives herself--as a martyr? as rightfully punished?--or perhaps it says something about how we are to perceive Clarissa. Either way, I find her dream foreboding, and maybe worth a second look.

'Methought my brother, my uncle Antony, and Mr Solmes had formed a plot to destroy Mr Lovelace; who discovering it turned all his rage against me, believing I had a hand in it. I thought he made them all fly into foreign parts upon it; and afterwards seizing upon me, carried me into a churchyard; and there, notwithstanding all my prayers and tears, and protestations of innocence, stabbed me to the heart, and then tumbled me into a deep grave ready dug, among two or three half-dissolved carcases; throwing in the dirt and earth upon me with his hands, and trampling it down with his feet.'
I awoke with the terror, all in a cold sweat, trembling, and in agonies; and still the frightful images raised by it remain upon my memory. (L84, 343)

There's relatively little written in the 18th century on the interpretation of dreams. Most of the material is more novelty than academic scholarship; I found quite a few dream journals, and translations of others' dreams. What I did find pretty neat was the preface to Reverend Saalfield's A Philosophical Discourse on the Nature of Dreams. Saalfield is interested in the taxonomy of dreams--separating the rational ones from the supernatural ones. He also suggests that dreams might even be God revealing himself to the dreamer. I've added the preface if you'd like to take a look.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


The OED definition:

The action, habit, or quality of condescending.

1. Voluntary abnegation for the nonce of the privileges of a superior; affability to one's inferiors, with courteous disregard of difference of rank or position; condescendingness.
1647 CLARENDON Hist. Reb. I. (1843) 18/1 The duke, according to his usual openness and condescension, told him, etc. 1677 HALE Contempl. Lord's Prayer II. 104 Give us a sense of thy Great Condescention to thy weak and sinful Creatures. 1710 STEELE Tatler No. 225 {page}3 Familiarity in Inferiors is Sauciness; in Superiors, Condescension. 1752 JOHNSON Rambler No. 200 {page}6 My old friend receiving me with all the insolence of condescension. 1856 EMERSON Eng. Traits, The ‘Times’ Wks. (Bohn) II. 119 With the most provoking air of condescension.

b. with pl.
1654 WHITLOCK Zootomia 332 He [Christ] was to expiate mans Pride in the lowest Condescentions possible. 1751 JOHNSON Rambler No. 172 {page}6 He concludes himself insulted by condescensions. 1843 LYTTON Last Bar. II. ii, You have spoiled them by your condescensions.

{dag}2. The action of descending or stooping to things unworthy. Obs.
1642 JER. TAYLOR Episc. (1647) 313 Of all Bishops, he [S. Cyprian] did acts of the greatest condescension, and seeming declination of episcopal authority. a1797 H. WALPOLE Mem. Geo. III (1845) I. ii. 17 Every vice, every condescension was imputed to the Duke that the Prince might be stimulated to avoid them.

3. Gracious, considerate, or submissive deference shown to another; complaisance. ?Obs.
1650 T. B. B[AYLEY] Worcester's Apoph. 38 To answer his humour with a condescention at the first word. 1692 BENTLEY Boyle Lect. ii. 43 In compliance and condescension to the custom of their Country. 1692 RAY Dissol. World Pref. (1732) 13 He did it only in condescension to their Weakness. 1749 FIELDING Tom Jones I. vi, Their extreme servility and condescension to their superiors. 1799 W. GILPIN Serm. I. ix. (R.), If we are displeased with an opposition to our humours, we ought to shew a condescension to the humours of others. 1871 FREEMAN Hist. Ess. Ser. I. x. 291 A man who thus showed no condescension to the feelings of his age.

{dag}4. The action or fact of acceding or consenting; concession. Obs.
1648 MANTON Spir. Languish. 2 In obedience to your Order, and condescension to the requests of some Friends, I have now made it [this Sermon] publick. 1664 DK. ALBEMARLE in Marvell's Corr. Wks. 1872-5 II. 99 That some condescentions and abatements be made for peace sake. c1720 Lett. fr. Mist's Jrnl. (1722) I. 238, I almost doubt your Condescension to my Request.

Passages from letters 1-34

Clarissa's Closet....

**this is more in the vein of a "Grand Tour" sort of post...background rather than essential info...**

After reading the L. 53 (229), I was intrigued by Clarissa's description of her flight from her sister into her closet:
"whither I retired with my heart full, and pulled the sash-door after me; and could no longer hold in my tears.
Nor would I answer one word to her repeated aggravations and demands upon me to open my door (for the key was on the inside) nor so much as turn my head towards her, as she looked through the glass at me. At last, which vexed her to the heart, I drew the silk curtain that she should not see me, and down she went muttering all the way."

I didn't have a clear visual image as to what her closet looked like, so I searched and found this excerpt from a JSTOR article:

For Christina Gillis the letters of Clarissa are analogous to other spatial phenomena
such as architecture and stage design, for the rooms that relate and pair in
the eighteenth-century house she ingeniously links to the arrangement of the letters.
House-plans suggest Clarissa's meaning when they indicate the growing desire for
privacy in the eighteenth century, an insight that illuminates her division of the
Harlowe house into the 'up' of Clarissa's protected space and the dangerous 'down'
of the tyrannical family (this is far more helpful than all the loose talk about keys and
doors). Clarissa is continually being pushed back into small spaces: her closet, her
room inside the brothel, her prison, and finally ofcourse her coffin. But even here she
controls what may be known: if Bella follows her to her closet she pulls the sash door
after her; if Bella looks through the glass, 'at last, which vexed her to the heart, I
drew the silk curtain, that she should not see me'. The papers Clarissa writes there
turn mental event into public disclosure, and just as the most private room was
regarded as the most sacred, or the inner stage might frame an exemplary tableau, so
these constrained settings display, paradoxically, Clarissa's very public privacy.

Clarissa's story occurs in time. but the letters relate spatially to one another like

rooms in a house. We progress through letters which overlap, reach out expressively
or didactically to particular readers, and are broken open by collectors, arrangers,
editors, and readers inside and outside the text. Such 'openers' are vital, since
private letters must be made public before they can communicate a meaning.
Christina Gillis carefully teases out the writer-to-recipient-to-reader relation in this
strange epistolary world, seeking authenticity in a bewilderment of text.

It didn't really answer my question as to a visual but the relationship between architecture and privacy is interesting...and the work cited looks like it could be good further reading:

Reviewed Work(s):
The Paradox of Privacy: Epistolary Form in 'Clarissa' by Christina Marsden Gillis

And the URL for the article is below....

Stable URL:

Monday, February 4, 2008

The relationship between ethics and rhetoric in Clarissa

After reading through this week's assignment, I started to wonder about Richardson's thoughts on the ethics of reading and writing practices in the 18th century. Before writing Pamela, Richardson wrote a letter-writing manual called Familiar Letters, which instructed its readers on how to properly construct letters in different situations. With this in mind, I wonder if Clarissa betrays any of Richardson's original interest in letter-writing manuals. Some observations have led me to believe that aspects of Clarissa are still within this letter-writing manual genre.

I noticed that Clarissa and Lovelace's writing styles fall into classical conceptions of the plain style and the grand style, respectively. In general, Clarissa's use of language is economical. Her descriptions are clear and precise, her arguments are tightly constructed, and every object of analysis--including her own emotions--is rationally dissected in a philosophical manner. Clarity through language is immensely important to Clarissa so that the thought-process of her reader(s) is not directed onto the wrong track. When someone uses her words as a reason for why they are on a different track (i.e. whenever Anna says she believes Clarissa has feelings for Lovelace), Clarissa is quick to isolate those words and break down their meanings to see if they suited her argument or not.

Lovelace, however, is interested in moving and persuading others through the eloquence of his words. For example, in L64.1 (270) Lovelace tries to persuade Clarissa that there are only two alternatives in her situation: marry Solmes or seek refuge in himself. He tries to eliminate the possibility of escape through death and does not dare suggest that she escape to her Cousin Morden or attempt to lay claim to her own estate (both of which she has already considered through her own reasoning of the situation).

He consistently attempts to plead his case to Clarissa through hyperbolic language intended to intensify the purported message behind his words. For example, in the cited letter, he begins "Good God! What is now to become of me!...My feet benumbed with midnight wanderings through the heaviest dews that ever fell: my wig and my linen dripping with the hoar frost dissolving on them!" He then goes on to paint himself as the anguished jilted lover, too despondent to even care about his appearance, let alone adjust his wig. The letter ends with "Your ever-adoring yet almost desponding LOVELACE!" (exclamation marks abound), which stands in stark contrast to Clarissa's consistent use of "Your humble servant." At times, it is difficult for Clarissa to see beyond these words, but as a reader who sees both Lovelace's and Clarissa's letters, it is easy to see that Lovelace uses language disingenuously to move his readers in the direction of his desires.

I think Richardson is actively participating in a historical conversation about ethical writing, which began with Cicero. In his writings on rhetoric, Cicero defined the instructive and rational plain style as most suitable to the ends of philosophers, and he defined the persuasive grand style as most suitable to the ends of politicians. During Cicero's time, the grand style was viewed as the best style because it was more rhetorically demanding and of the most "persuasive stylistic register," according to Peter Auski in "Christian Plain Style: The Evolution of a Spiritual Ideal." However, the Catholic church rejected the grand style because it only appealed to learned and cultured men, not the simple and pious. The Church adopted the plain style as the most direct and effective method of religious instruction, and the plain style came to be equated with moral virtue. According to Auski, this attitude lasted through the 17th century.

It is noteworthy that Auski does not extend this Christian view of the plain style to the 18th century, so I wonder if the 18th century saw some debate between the plain and grand styles. There was definitely a focus on the relationship between ethics and writing, evidenced by the plethora of letter-writing manuals written in both England and France.

In light of these ideas, I wonder: is Clarissa a type of letter-writing manual in defense of the plain style? Why might Richardson feel the impulse to moralize language? And is the tie between ethics and rhetoric an arcane idea to us in the 21st century?

Some More Word Confusion

One word that keeps reappearing in the text is "condescend," yet it is not used in the same way it is generally though of today. To me, "condescend" means to talk down to, to treat someone as an inferior, to patronize. Dictionary.com gives as its first definition of the word: 'to behave as if one is conscious of descending from a superior position, rank, or dignity.' The word, in this connotation, is negative and unfriendly.
In Clarissa, however, "condescend" is used to mean something different. To condescend, in Richardson's prose, is to disregard one's superiority or station and purposely assume equality with one in need. This definition is at once similar to the first, yet in a way its opposite, for it suggests a benevolence and decency not usually associated with the word.

Of her uncle Harlowe, Clarissa quotes:
"I only came to make my earliest court to you, were his condescending words" (294)
Lovelace appeals to Clarissa:
"Yet, I must, I do, insist upon your promise--or that you will condescend to find better excuses for the failure." (270)
When first confined to her bedroom, Clarissa often talks of her mother "condescending" to see her, despite her stubbornness of the rest of her relatives.

It is interesting that Richardson uses the term "condescend" to mean something positive. When Clarissa writes of being "condescended to," it is equal to being humored, indulged, or accommodated by those who otherwise should or would treat her with disdain. It seems that this usage has faded in popularity, for I have always connected the word to impoliteness and arrogance.

[And to anyone who was as curious as I was about this word:]
"Wrens and sparrows are not too ignoble a quarry for this villainous goshawk!" (284)
Clarissa writes these angry words when she is under the impression that Lovelace has seduced the young "Rosebud."
Apparently, "goshawk" is a large powerful hawk having broad rounded wings, a long tail, and gray or brownish plumage.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Word usage/confusion

Having read a novel by Richardson previously I took little notice of various connotations for words which were already familiar. However, this could be because I was struck dumb by the wonderful story(yes I am serious loved it)blind, or because Richardson seems to have changed his writing style and restructured the way in which he writes from the time of Pamela until Clarissa. While Mathew Glasser picked up on the various differences in word usage from the 1700s until now I also noticed that there were familiar sounding words which held completely different meanings. I was most intrigued by the word "niggard" or "niggardly" which first appears on pg 81 Letter 13 in the 4th full paragraph where it states"riches left by one niggard to another, in injury to the next heir, because that other is a niggard." First I was surprised because when reading it sounds sounds so similar to a common racial slur but after investigating not only is the spelling different but it is a harmless word meaning a miser or someone who is stingy.

The adverb form niggardly, miserly or stingily, was formed in the sixteenth century from niggard, a miser or stingy person. In the Wycliffe Bible of 1384 it was spelled nygard; earlier still it can be found as nigon, and another form nig also existed. We are pretty sure this was borrowed from a Scandinavian source, because there are related words in several Germanic languages, for example, the Old Norse hnøgger, meaning “stingy”. So it has nothing to do with nigger, which comes via French nègre from Spanish negro, ultimately from Latin niger, meaning “black”.

Another interesting note: the word is not used today or is rarely used as it is too often mistaken for the "bad word"

The point of this post is that Richardson's word usage is not only different from how we use words today but is in fact somewhat different from how authors used words in the 18th Century as well.
According to Donald Ball in an Article titled "Richardson's Resourceful Wordmaking "Ball states that "a feature of Richardson's language that has not been examined is his wordmaking- his ability to use, to coin, and to develop single words, compound words, and phrases to suit the purposes of the expansive new world of fiction he was creating"(56).
While the article only points to a few words I am planning to keep my eyes open. There is something creative in forming new words, which goes beyond simply "writing,"
so I found this to be a particularly intriguing fact about Richarson's writing.