Wednesday, August 3, 2016

a mellow manly voice, and great command

Richardson’s method of concentrating your attention on an idea is to mention it repeatedly rather than beautifully, issuing periodic capsule summaries of sympathetic actions, eg, “The Count saluted me in a tender accent,” vol. 5, ch. 7, without any detailed description of the salutation; multiple characters stating the same idea in their own ways – here’s a paragraph from the same chapter –

O that I could embrace my fourth son! said the Marchioness. The Bishop threw his arms about me. Generous expansion of heart! were the words that fell from his lips. Jeronymo shewed his friendly Love in what he said: And must not, said the Count, this young man be one of us?

--in which he varies the nature of the affection that each person shows to Grandison, with the Marchioness and the Count uttering speech at opposite ends of the bloc, Jeronymo not having his speech reported, and the Bishop both acting and speaking, but the important part, the dominating motive, is that we realise everyone in this house feels tenderly enthusiastic towards Grandison while he approaches the daughter, Clementina. Grandison is loved. As a further example, there are the sentences, “He sung. He has a mellow manly voice, and great command of it” (vol. 4, ch. 16), which are not trying to get a reader vitally excited in the moment when Grandison sang, but present his vocal handsomeness as a kind of plain fact that joins the other facts we have learnt about him, mounting up, mounting up, volume after volume, creating a kind of inescapable mass. The word “inescapable” reminds me of Richardson’s penchant for shutting his characters anxiously in rooms or other enclosed spaces such as carriages. The books ostensibly preach patience and reason but they are neither patient nor reasonable. See the reaction to Clementina’s religious decision in vol. 5: people calling her an angel, Harriet deciding that nothing she can do will live up to the heights of C.’s behaviour; a monotonous hysteria of praise. They are knotted inside these hysterics. But they have their variety, that little leak. Speaking of enclosure, there is also the way Harriet will shut herself alone in her room for hours because she values the attention she has to pay to what she calls “narrative letter-writing.” This kind of writing does not happen quickly, she tells her friends when they ask her to come down. It takes effort (vol. 2 somewhere?). Clementina, beginning to go mad because Grandison may have left her, becomes a compression of all of this, the enclosure, the focus, the addressing of words to people who aren’t there --

She shut herself up in her chamber, not seeming to regard or know that her woman was in it; nor did she answer to two or three questions that her woman asked her; but, setting her chair with its back towards her, over-against a closet in the room, after a profound silence, she bent forwards, and, in a low voice, seemed to be communing with a person in the closet.

’And you say he is actually gone? Gone for ever? No, not for ever!’

(vol. 3, ch. 20)


  1. The way you describe the way this book is argued, with an accumulation of facts and claims, reminds me of the way a lot of Baroque music is structured: cumulative movement of similar motivic forces, building and building with the drama mostly coming from ornamentation and increased complexity of presentation of the basic material, heading to a formal (rather than thematic) climax.

    "a monotonous hysteria of praise" is good, really good.

    1. That's a pretty accurate analogy. I'd definitely call him a musical writer rather than a pictorial one; he doesn't "paint a scene," he arranges it or composes it or even choreographs it, out of hundreds of tiny movements. Then the letters are the larger movements, and the choreography there is phenomenal. He puts this all together and he makes himself vanish behind it -- he's not Fielding or Dickens, he doesn't assume that you're a friend that he can address directly: his opinion is there, everywhere, but he's not the one giving it to you. The structure is giving it to you, or the action is giving it to you, or you get it from Harriet admiring Grandison's clean teeth.

  2. These have been great. It's such an unusual book.

    1. It's a strange one. Greville bursting into tears was unexpected.