Monday, October 17, 2016

this terrible Inundation

Richardson’s contemporary and friend Ann Lennox wrote a book called The Female Quixote, 1752, a satire against – against? - women who loved Madeleine de Scudéry’s Grand Cyrus, 1649 – 53, Cleopatra, 1648, by Gauthier de Costes, Roger Boyle’s Parthenissa, 1676, and other serialised romantic stories. The character Glanville begins trembling in vol. one (“began to tremble”) when he sees “the Girl return, sinking under the Weight of these voluminous Romances.” Courting Arabella the Quixote, he has promised to read her favourite books. “Glanville sat wrapt in Admiration at the Sight of so many huge Folio’s, written, as he conceived, upon the most trifling subjects imaginable.” Imbalance, the underlying subject of Lennox’s humour, lies, in this moment, with the idea that a huge Folio should pay the reader off with plenty of intelligent meat. If the subject matter is light then the size of the book is ludicrous, and Glanville is right to start trembling in the face of an assault. He should not be expected to … he is right to inhabit the same mindset that produces Infinite Jest, a well-packed, bursting big beef flesh parcel … so should we all …

De Quincey in the Opium Eater, 1821, proposing that “the deaths of those whom we love” have more impact in summer because the clouds are a different shape, is, I think, making a more complicated use of the instinct for ludicrosity that Lennox draws on when she wants to make you sympathise with Glanville; the romantic stubbornness and potential vulnerability in the face of possible disgust that also comes into play at the end of this sentence from de Scudéry’s Clelia, 1654 – 1661. De Scudéry is the most daring of them all: she is serious.

This pleasing anxiety proceeding from an amorous Impatience, did nothing discompose his usual temper sometimes clouded by most strange Distractions of his Spirit, which perswaded him some doleful accident might intervene whereby his happiness might be retarded as formerly it had been; for e're this he had Espoused his Mistress had not the River on whose Banks was situated a stately House wherein Clelius resolv'd to consummate his Daughters Nuptials, with such a sudden violence exceeded its prefixed limits that 'twas impossible to solemnize any Feast there during this terrible Inundation, the Waters continually encreas'd for the space of twelve hours, the Wind, Lightning, Thunder, and a dreadful Shower of Rain so multiplying the horrour of this fatal Deluge, that there was generally fear'd a total ruine and desolation: the water of the River seem'd to reach the Skies, and conjoyn'd, with that the Heavens pour'd down, agitated by those impetuous Tempests, roar'd as the swelling Billows of an angry Sea, or the falling of the most rapid Torrents: this violent eruption of the River, much disordered this Region of delight; for it demolish'd Buildings both publick and private, rooted up Trees, covered the Fields with Sand and Stones, levell'd Hills, furrowed the Plains, and changed the whole face of this little Country, but when it had wholly spent its fury, 'twas evidently seen that this inundation had in some places, unburied the ruines of divers Tombs, whose Inscriptions were half effaced, and in others it had discovered great Columns of Marble, with many other precious Materials; so that this place in stead of being deprived of its former beauty, received a more additional lustre from those new acquired Ornaments.

Translated by John Davies and George Havers.

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