Friday, August 12, 2016

read it out, that I may know what I have written

So (repeating myself) Grandison is a book of evidence, of evidence addressing itself forwards and backwards to more instances of evidence, and not only complicitly, internally, with innocent remarks between characters (actually the opposite of innocent, since they are written as if they mimicked spontaneity), but also with obvious footnotes that point you from (for example) the words “that situation” in vol. 6, ch. 18 to an incident in vol. 3; and then there are the references to letters that are not actually there, annotated with the news that “These three letters do not appear” when Harriet in vol. 7, ch. 45, refers to “my last three letters,” as if the story took place in a real universe where those letters exist as of course they do not, and never did, though the author will (in his endnotes) include quotes from genuine texts, namely a sermon by John Tillotson (1630 – 1694) – and a military law against duelling – to supplement the book as an entity, though he is still pretending to pretend that he is only the editor of someone else’s letters, a transparent protest as everyone knew, and he knew they knew; and he wrote this book that teases its own exterior context by having Grandison take away a stack of Harriet’s letters and return the next morning to say that he’d stayed up all night with them because the story was so exciting – he couldn’t put them down – (vol. 2 or 3? Somewhere around there).

There is a second critic, a more technical and cynical one, in the character of Charlotte or Lady G, whose way of reflecting on people’s motivations gives Richardson an opportunity to show his readership how conscious he is of his invention, this structure made of letters that pretend to have been written almost immediately after the events that they describe. (He remarks covertly: I have the personality of a writer who identifies that opportunity and takes it.) Immediacy increases the emotional thrill, Charlotte says. “No pathetic without it.” Contrast with Tom Jones, Fielding, 1749, which only takes place after everything is safe. But the wrong amount of distance is comedy, continues Richardson through Charlotte: look – fidelity? – too much fidelity, becomes – what? – look, that’s a playscript – (like a contemporary writer putting in something that feels like a movie scene, that impression of almost-unconscious influence – but this is ‘life’ that scripts itself).

I am referring to the letter that Charlotte writes to Harriet, vol 6., ch 9, from the moment when she records the approach of her sister.

But here she comes. – I love, Harriet, to write to the moment; that's a knack I had from you and my brother: And be sure continue it, on every occasion: No pathetic without it!

Your servant, Lady L.

And your servant, Lady G. – Writing? To whom?

To our Harriet –

I will read your Letter – Shall I?

Take it; but read it out, that I may know what I have written.

Now give it me again. I'll write down what you say to it, Lady L.

Lady. L. I say you are a whimsical creature. But I don't like what you have last written.

Charlotte. Last written – 'Tis down. – But why so, Lady L.?

Lady L. How can you thus teaze our beloved Byron, with your conjectural evils?

Ch. Have I supposed an impossibility? – But 'tis down – Conjectural evils.

Lady L. If you are so whimsical, write –
'My dear Miss Byron – '

Ch. My dear Miss Byron – 'Tis down.

Lady L. (Looking over me)
'Do not let what this strange Charlotte has written, grieve you: – '

Ch. Very well, Caroline! – grieve you.

Lady L. 'Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.'

Ch. Well observed. – Words of Scripture, I believe. – Well – evil thereof.

Lady L. Never, surely, was there such a creature as you, Charlotte –

Ch. That's down, too. –

Lady L. Is that down? laughing – That should not have been down – Yet 'tis true.

Ch. Yet 'tis true – What's next?

Lady L. Pish –

Ch. Pish –

(Describing his own technique in a letter to his friend and collaborator Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh as a “way of writing, to the moment," 14 February, 1754.)

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