12.04.2007

Eureka!

A few weeks ago, I posted an entry on the reading habits of characters in novels and what I perceived as the unexpected absence of contemporary novels in other contemporary novels. Why hadn't Clarissa read Pamela, I queried; why hadn't Tom Jones read Joseph Andrews? Part of my dissertation is about the temporal organization of literature by genres (how do genres mediate other forms/modes/genres in such a way as to render them obsolete or contribute to their longevity), so I hope I'm appropriately obsessed with what would most simply be called intertextuality. I'm not particularly in interested in the meanings created by such references--if Derrida has taught me anything it's that there's no point chasing down the infinite (or the nothing)--I just want to know what's going on in terms of interpolated literary criticism. What gets noticed, what gets left out.

I have been "reading" Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison, the shorter but even less interesting follow-up to Clarissa. The former aspires to even more encyclopedic heights than the latter; SGC's billion or so pages incorporate treatises on education, morality, philosophy, economics, ethics, courtship, and so on; there are whole sections recorded as dialogue, like you'd see in a play, and indeed at the there's a list of dramatis personae (called "Names of the Principal Persons" but I'm not fooled). There are plenty of references to other texts, both well-known and otherwise. The Battle of the Books and Tale of a Tub are mentioned early on; there's an excerpt from Young's Night Thoughts. A Bold Stroke for a Wife gets a mention; Locke is quoted several times. One letter even records a version of that wonderful old poem, "Dr. Fell":
I do not like thee Dr. Fell;
The reason why, I cannot tell--
But I don't like thee, Dr. Fell.
There's more at work here than just the usurpation of the commonplace book by the novel. Richardson is very insistent that all the parts are connected; the narrative systematizes, and literarure is part of the system. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Unsurprisingly, Richardson seems to be continuing his unspoken declaration of damnatio memoriae on the sort-of-novels of Behn, Manley, and Haywood. Though their content has been absorbed (amorous intrigue), it's been largely de-fanged and systematized--justified to the ways of Richardson, and no longer of kinship to its mothers (I shall be drawing out the point of the child being of no relation to its mother in the context of genre/generic inheritance when I get to Tristram Shandy). Thus far, Fielding's novels too are nowhere to be found as existing within the diegesis. Richardson, like a good megalomaniac (and not unlike an encyclopedist, I think--your Chambers, your Diderot), wants to define the whole genre and decide what counts as valuable or true and what doesn't.
So imagine my joy--my boundless, sad academic joy!--when I discover, entirely by accident, in the first letter of volume II, the following:
Lord G. appeared to advantage, as Sir Charles managed it, under the awful eye of Miss Grandison. Upon my word, Lucy, she makes very free with him. I whisper'd her, that she did--A very Miss Howe, said I.
To a very Mr. Hickman, re-whispered she. But here's the difference: I am not determined to have Lord G. Miss Howe yielded to her Mother's recommendation, and intended to marry Mr. Hickman, even when she used him worst.
Harriet (the author of the letter) and Lucy (her cousin and friend) have both read Clarissa. Unless I miss my guess--and I have a lot more skimming to do before I can say for sure--Clarissa will be the only novel mentioned in Sir Charles Grandison. What the significance of this is I am not prepared to say. I'm just pleased to have found it.

1 comment:

Adela said...

Oh, the moments of discovery! I know few pleasures as satisfying as this one! Happy hunting! Thanks for the passage! Best for 2008!