Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sir Charles Grandison: first thoughts

Sir Charles Grandison
I've started reading Sir Charles Grandison as part of my Postal Reading Challenge this year. I've had it on my shelf for many years and needed some incentive to finally pick it up...as it is over 1500 pages long! Because of this, I don't want to wait until I've finished it (some months hence) to share my thoughts on it. Instead, I thought I'd share some of the gems I've found so far. 
It's written in epistolary format and has a fabulous heroine, Harriet Byron. She is funny and clever, and apparently all that is beautiful and good as well, with men proposing to her left and right. She's headed off to London with her cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Reeves, and will be experiencing the whirl of a season, with lots to write home about.

Thus far (about 30 letters in) she has written nearly all the letters, and nearly all addressed to her cousin Lucy. Something I was surprised by was the nonchalant statement by Harriet that the Reeves' would be reading all her letters, essentially vetting them, before she sent them. And that Lucy would, of course, be reading them aloud to her family -- Harriet is always throwing in asides to "my Uncle" to be kind to her female judgments. Letters were indeed a kind of public discourse at this time.

So far Harriet has met a handful of new people, and has already been proposed to twice, upon the strength of one or two meetings. She has refused, even in the face of £8000 a year and two estates. I'm finding her quite modern in her insistence that she will not wed where she can't love and respect a spouse's character and intelligence.

She is forced to reveal her wit at one small house party when one of the men in attendance is rather pompously showing off his scholarly bent, and they get into a discussion about whether or not Latin and Greek are absolutely necessary to be a true scholar. Harriet argues that surely the pagans in pre-Greek and Roman times were able to communicate and live and create and learn without the wisdom of the ancients. Mr. Walden gets so infuriated that Harriet relates:

I could almost wish, said he (and but almost, as you are a lady) that you knew the work of the great antients in their original languages.

Upon which Harriet's friend replies:

Something, said Miss Clements, should be left for men to excel in.

Another thing that has struck me is that this book was published 260 years ago -- and yet there is so much that is still current in human nature, good and bad. Sir Hargrave Pollexfen, upon being rejected by Harriet, demands to know who she has given her affections to. She states "to no-one". He can not understand how, not already being the property of another man, she can possibly not become his. He angrily concludes:

For I will not cease pursuing you till you are mine, or till you are the wife of some other man.

It reminds me of those awful men who hit on you and won't leave you alone until you bring the existence of a boyfriend or husband (imaginary or not) into the mix. As if anyone who isn't already claimed as male property is fair game no matter what opinion they may be expressing! This infuriates me, and this scene was so evocative of modern life that I was rather discouraged by this idea's persistence.

Anyhow, I am finding this a ripping good read and can't wait to find out what Harriet is going to do now that she's found out that her two (unwelcome) country swains are coming up to London to see what is happening... and I still have 1400 pages to go ;)


  1. I've read Clarissa but never this lesser known work so I am following your posts along with interest, I find Richardson fine in small doses but felt rather exhausted by him when I tried to follow Clarissa's very detailed (and repetitive) footsteps... This sounds a bit more interesting to be honest!

  2. Oh this sounds like fun! I hope it keeps up for the remaining 1400 pages. If it does, what a delightful treat it will be!

  3. Alex - I have a copy of Clarissa but thought that this one looked a little more lively so chose it instead. So far it is entertaining!

    Stefanie - I can see why this was one of Jane Austen's favourite books - the quiet zingers are so funny!

  4. Oh, so glad the woman is a winner :-)

    As for the letters, everything I've read of the period has said much the same - that they weren't personal at all. They were also quite hard to read as to save paper, they'd first write in one direction, and then write over the first part 90 degrees around, so it must have been quite a skill to read a letter! They'd also number them, in case one got lost in the mail, so that people could tell in what order to read them.

  5. It sounds really good. May have to check it out. I did read Clarissa some years ago.

  6. Aarti - yes, the crossed writing must have led to many crossed eyes! I've just come to a section in which Harriet is marking paragraphs with little symbols to tell her cousin not to read these parts aloud :)

    Shonna - I am really surprised at how well it holds up -- really very good.

  7. Sounds intriguing! Coincidentally, yesterday was the first time I'd ever heard this title. Mrs Morland reads it in Northanger Abbey. I hope you continue to enjoy the remaining 1400 pages!

  8. Lee-Anne, I'd missed that reference in Northanger Abbey (which I haven't read in years). I think I'll have to pick it up again once I've finished this and try to locate it :) Thanks for the tip!


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