Manly lessons: Sir Charles Grandison, the rake, and the man of sentiment.
--Sir Charles Grandison, 4:246
Such is the wisdom of Samuel Richardson's ultimate heroine, Harriet Byron. Harriet's metatextual address reminds us that she and her interlocutors are characters in a didactic novel, that they are "set up" to instruct and delight the young men and women reading her history. Richardson's paragon of female virtue also reminds us that the warnings, the wicked characters, serve the moralist's purpose better than exemplars like herself, for it is more important to mark out the shoals to avoid than to point toward open sea. Warnings are more visceral, more shocking than exemplars and thus imprint themselves more strongly upon the reader's mind, and none are more visceral than the parade of bad and inadequate men who populate the mid-eighteenth-century novel. Furthermore, the warning was easier to draw. In order to be effective, the didactic character had to be recognizable, his qualities exaggerated sometimes to the point of caricature, yet he also needed to be believable. While exaggerated wickedness can retain its believability and fascination, exaggerated goodness is far more difficult to convey. Earlier exemplars, like Steele's Bevil Jr., the wholesome hero of Conscious Lovers (1722), were rejected as lacking "flesh and blood" (Dennis 38) and considered boring (see Dennis and Victor, who responds to widespread criticism).
Female characters were set up for warnings as often as their male counterparts, but the rules of delicacy and politeness tended to screen them from explicit depictions of their sufferings and punishments. (1) Readers are told about the unsavory fates of female warnings, who are summarily dispatched, whereas they watch the wreck of the male, whose downfall is described in lurid detail. Thus Richardson deals with Clarissa's whores Polly Horton and Sally Martin in a single epigraphic paragraph, but the bad end of their counterpart, the rake Belton, takes several letters and accompanying commentary to describe. In an important respect, the relationship between warnings and exemplars can be expressed as the difference between objective and subjective masculinity. Warnings are objects for the reader's censoring or pitying eye whereas exemplars are the admirable agents through whose eyes and actions readers learn the novel's plot and lessons. The educative aspect of the eighteenth-century novel taught readers to correctly value these different masculinities and to prefer a Sir Charles Grandison to his showier but passive rivals.
Yet the violence reserved for male bodies in mid-century novels is not exclusively attributable to the etiquette that comparatively protected the female body from such scenes. In the eighteenth century, as many critics and historians have noted, masculinity was in crisis: traditional and defining masculine characteristics like strength, power, and roughness were at odds with the social ideals of polite society - the virtues of delicacy, conversation, and grace traditionally coded as feminine (see Mangan, Carter, Mackie, and Shoemaker). As one mid-century writer worried, "The Question is, Whether we shall become more than Men, that is, The Pretty Gentleman; or worse than Brutes; i.e., Masculine, Robust Creatures with unsoftened Manners?" (The Pretty Gentleman 34). In order to succeed in polite society, men were taught to curb their natures and acquire social polish, to put away their swords and pick up forks.
Yet as Paul Langford explains, "politeness" was at best "an ambiguous term [that] included the intellectual and aesthetic tastes which displayed the continuing advance of fashion in its broadest sense.... The essence of politeness was often said to be that je ne sais quoi which distinguished the innate gentleman's understanding of what made for civilized conduct" (71). While the reader may thus distinguish the exemplar from the warning by the exemplar's engagement in the public sphere, by his acts of civic virtue and benevolence, Langford's definition highlights the difficulty of distinguishing true politeness from feigned civility: je ne sais quoi and innate gentility are notoriously difficult to discern. How does the novel demonstrate that politeness and gentility are innate, that the exemplar is as polite in his behavior as he is in his self-presentation? To be of use, negative characters in the didactic novel are manifested so that their bodies reflect their souls, closing the potentially deceptive gap between external characteristics and moral character. Men who are poor models of masculinity therefore have their manhood removed or broken. Castration is the most extreme form of this poetic justice, but other popular tropes include impotence, infantilism, and feminization.
While rakes were clearly "worse than Brutes," the alternative, becoming "more than Men," was equally disagreeable. Close scrutiny of these mid-century didactic novels indicates that both rakes and polite men of sentiment endured similar punishments for failing to achieve the masculine ideal, a "muscular politeness" that seemed to combine the positive traits of both traditional masculinity and modern civility. The similarity of their bodily suffering points to their essential similarity of character: far from being antithetical, these two extreme character types are both prodigal without being productive, both anti-or asocial, and both privilege the sensual over the practical, preferring to feel rather than do. Notably, Richardson does not even attempt a male exemplar until his third and final novel; and when he does, he sets his titular hero amidst an epic cast of inadequate men. Sir Charles Grandison's perfections can only be drawn in contrast to the failings of the rakes and men of sentiment that Harriet and the reader encounter in the novel's opening chapters. (2) Grandison thus functions as a golden mean charted between the twin dangers of the rake and the man of sentiment.
"Husbandry" became an increasingly central term in eighteenth-century debates about the nature of masculinity; the husbandry of estates was linked, metaphorically and literally, with marital roles and male sexuality. (3) The husbandry metaphor is often combined with language of investment, appropriate for a mercantilist age. This is a marked shift from the standard metaphors of the seventeenth century, related to play and conquest, that were used to signify a more aggressive, speculative, and purely penetrative male sexuality. As Lovelace discovered in Clarissa, rape-the ultimate conquest-is not the demonstration of absolute power but an admission of failure. Warnings gamble and lose; exemplars husband, invest, and live to reap and enjoy the benefits. Yet the very punishment suffered by warnings and the spectacular nature of their failure also frequently make the warning more interesting as well as more useful than the exemplar. He engenders a morbid fascination and arouses feelings of pity as well as horror that has its own attractions. Despite, or even because of, the care taken in portraying the warning, his signification always exceeds the didacticist's intentions.
The Rake's Progress
Grandison informs us that "there is such a Sameness in the lives, the actions, the pursuits of libertines, and such a likeness in the accidents, punishments, and occasions for remorse, which attend them, that I wonder why they will not be warned by the beacons that are lighted up in every brother libertine whom they know" (5: 667). In Grandison's-and Richardson's--view, not only are negative examples more useful, they are also more numerous and display more uniformity than do positive examples, making them easier to recognize and learn from. This "sameness," this rake's progress, recites the early novel's most common didactic lesson: the rake's anti-social behavior is self-destructive; he reaps pain, not pleasure, from his sensual life. Indeed, the libertine's life leads him inexorably to his own unmanning.
Negative portrayals of the rake in eighteenth-century literature are intended to satirize and correct earlier, positive images of the rake-hero. (4) Early Restoration drama particularly presents the rake as a masculine ideal--attractive to men--and the reformed rake as a marital ideal--attractive to women. Mid-eighteenth-century images of the rake challenge both the masculinity of the rake and the possibility of his reform. A lifetime of hard drinking, designed to prove his conviviality and capacity, weakens this figure's constitution so much that he can only sup warm milk; his high tastes at table, which demonstrate both his generosity and Epicureanism, give him the gout and confine him to his bed; his voracious sexual appetite, which should prove his hyper-masculinity and desirability, is curbed by the pox or destroyed by its cure, mercury; his bravery and honor lead him into duels that lead to his disfigurement or death. Each rake goes through the same progress, teaching readers that there can be no escape or deviation from this pattern. Speaking for his tribe, Smollett's Roderick Random bewails the fate of the rake: "my good name was lost, my money gone, my friends were alienated, by body infected by a distemper contracted in the course of an amour ..." (114). (5) The activities that define the rakish character contribute to its destruction.
At this point we should remember the idiomatic connections between "rake" and "cavalier," the derogatory term given to the men who fought and went into exile with Charles II and shared both the young king's taste for libertinism and his "cavalier" manner. Parlimentarians blamed Cavaliers for the Civil War and held them responsible for breaking the peace. As the common usage of "cavalier" suggests, the rakish, the martial, and the high-handed are inseparable. This representation would not change after the Restoration. Perhaps as a result of defeat by the Puritan army and years spent in exile where they remained at the mercy and whim of Catholic Italy and France, cavaliers embodied resistance to what they considered to be the illegitimate and repressive forces of state and moral authority. The rake was amoral, asocial, and violently anti-christian (see Wilson). Therefore, the rake's dueling, whoring, gambling and other asocial vices exemplify his disdain for common law and Christian morality as well as exhibit his power and resources. He is above the law, not subject to it. As one Restoration hero famously put it: "I alone am King of me!" (Dryden 1.1.206). His philosophy is to satisfy all his appetites (see Steensma and Mayo). But, centrally, the rake requires an audience: he must be seen to be believed. His masculinity is ultimately dependent upon homosocial approval, not heterosexual congress. As a result of this need for display, the rake is identifiable primarily by external signifiers: his dress, his witty speech, and his boasted prowess with sword and phallus determine, even as they illustrate, his manly character. The rake is a charismatic, powerful figure. A man of high estate and aristocratic lineage, the rake's power and magnetism stem from his privileging of a martial code of honor, of Roman virtu, and a disdaining of Christian and national social and moral laws, or virtue. The homosocial competition that characterizes rakish intercourse thus means that there can be no satiation, only increasing expenditures of physical and fiscal resources as brother rakes attempt to outdo each other.
The rake's excessive appetites and this competitive over-expenditure necessarily lead to his physical unmanning and social exclusion: the reputation of rakishness limits a man's social circle to like-minded men and women who have already been rejected by polite society. Even positive portrayals of the rake admit this point. Dorimant, the rake-hero of Etherege's 1676 The Man of Mode, is forced to assume a polite identity--Mr. Courtage--in order to gain access to Harriet, the "wild, witty, lovesome, beautiful" and respectable young lady that he desires. Had Dorimant been true to his character--had he not adopted all the social restraints that his libertinism supposedly frees him from-he could never have aspired to a woman of Harriet's quality. While Etherege encourages audiences to side with Dorimant and admire his dexterity, negative portraits of the rake, like Richardson's, emphasize the hypocrisy inherent in adopting the social manners explicitly rejected in the rake's creed. Lovelace, the consummate social actor, plays the part of a respectable gentleman in order to gain access to Clarissa-and then abducts and rapes her. Mary Davys's rakehero, Sir John Galliard, is done in by a cruel practical joke when a brother rake substitutes a syphilitic whore for the virgin Sir John had seduced into his keeping: "This Rencounter proved the very worst that ever poor Sir John was engaged in; for tho' he had had many Skirmishes with the Ladies, they had all hitherto prov'd light ones: But in this last Battle he was almost Mortally wounded" (220). Here, as elsewhere in the novel, the author uses the language of dueling to describe sex, reminding us of the conflation of antisocial martialism with extramarital sex. As with many novelistic duels, this encounter leaves Sir John branded with a permanent reminder of his illicit satisfaction: his extra-social crime is written on his body in the form of mercury-induced impotence and forces him to retire from the field, in this case back to his country estate.
Finally, Richardson's own novels abound with bedridden rakes. Lovelace's uncle, Lord M, is confined to his chamber for the entirety of the novel. His sufferings have unmanned and disempowered him in a number of ways. Unable to leave his room, he is unable to perform in the public sphere, the natural activity of a gentleman and something that he considers necessary for a man of spirit (see letter 206). In addition to the indignity of his confinement--the language of childbearing-his mastery over his home and business is inadequate. The pain of his gout makes holding a pen difficult, with the result that he only writes two of Clarissa's 537 letters. The phallic power of the pen in Richardson's epistolary novels cannot be overstated, and it is particularly significant that a number of Richardson's male warnings lose the power to write and must give up their pens to a surrogate, usually a female or a servant. (7)
The rake's internal failings manifest themselves externally, inscribing his body with his vices. The rake might pride himself on his natural attractions (see Man of Mode 1:309), but his libertinism destroys them. His face is made pale or sallow by illness, his nose reddened by drink, and his body covered in bruises and scars from duels and less genteel reencounters. David Simple's Cynthia instantly recognizes a rake by his physical appearance: "one Side of his Face was beat black and blue, by Falls he had had in his Drink, and Skirmishes he had met with by rambling about. In short, every thing without was an Indication of the Confusion within, and he was a perfect Object of Horror" (176). The rake's black and blue exterior reflects the blackness of his character; it serves as a visible warning to readers as well as other characters. Far from being attractive to Cynthia, who regards his muddied clothes and bruised face with disgust, this man of mode offends the lady's nose. Warnings like these rewrite the external signifiers of rakishness: the careful dress is disordered, the attractive face is scarred, the strong body is undermined, and the physical vigor is sapped.
Early modern rhetoric styles the male body as a reservoir containing a finite number of resources or physical and reproductive energies. The profligate "spending" of rakes transforms them from reservoirs into conduits that are quickly emptied. (See Laqueur 149-51, McKeon 152-53, and Chernaik.) For example, Charles II's inability to produce a legitimate heir was popularly blamed on his habit of wasting his sexual energies on his mistresses, leaving none in reserve for the interests of State and succession (Weber 156). The excessive and unproductive sexual misconduct of rakes leads inevitably to impotence through seminal exhaustion or venereal taint. (6) Just as virility took on the added significance of sexual potency, so contemporary understandings of masculinity began to privilege fathering over mere penetration. Thus Grandison's first act upon coming into his estate is to replenish what his libertine father has wasted, and his last act is to impregnate Harriet.
The rigors of poetic justice demand that the punishments that rakes suffer match their crimes; injuries are most often inflicted either directly on their groins or on metonymically displaced phalluses. Sir Charles Grandison offers many such examples. The rake Merceda suffers from a knife wound in his thigh, which, "but for his valiant struggles against the knife which gave the wound, was designed for a still greater mischief' (4: 443). Bravos hired by his rival attack the Italian rake Jeronymo, who is attemping to gain the illicit affections of a young woman: their task is to render him unfit for further amorous adventures. Although Grandison saves his friend from death, the bravoes succeed in unmanning their victim: "His wounds proved not mortal; but he will never be the man he was" (3: 121). (8) Due to the "wrong methods" taken by the "French and Italian surgeons" who first treated him, Jeronymo's groin wound festers, leaving him incapable of producing anything but pus. The infection proves too great, and he is forced to undergo "a dreadful operation" (3: 249). Penile amputation is not the final indignity: the surgery replaces his penis with an infected gash--a diseased vagina--that continues to suppurate. Jeronymo is left in this position--prostrate, with his bedclothes tented around his exposed wound--for the bulk of the novel's Italian action. (9) Jeronymo is also feminized by his resemblance to his sister, Clementina. Not only do the siblings resemble each other physically, but the sufferings of the neutered brother and the insane sister are also frequently mentioned in the same breath. Both also relinquish their agency and require Grandison's intervention to right their wrongs and ease their sufferings.
The painful realities of the rake's progress frequently reduce him to tears; as we saw with Jeronymo, his physical wounds also suppurate or weep. Both of these forms of weeping are types of unmanning. In their tears, these men identify themselves as women or "nurslings." Often, as with Jeronymo, physical unmannings cause these tears: lacking seminal fluids, castrated rakes can only produce unproductive tears or pus. At the end of his adventures, broken, ill, and impotent, "Sir Hargrave wept. He called himself a hardened dog" (Sir Charles Grandison 5: 665). Clarissa's Belton, dying of libertinism, epitomizes the weeping rake. Belford dramatizes his friend's death for Lovelace, and through him the (male) reader: "'Weak! Weak indeed, my dearest Belford ... and weaker in my mind, if possible, than in my body'; and wept bitterly--' or I should not thus unman myself. I, who never feared anything, forced to show myself such a nursling!'" (1224). While a great deal of critical attention has centered on Clarissa's "increasingly childlike body" in her continued illness after the rape (Ferguson 107; see also Eagleton and Castle), Richardson's male warnings like Belton self-identify as infants, which Clarissa never does, and call attention to the inadequacy of their bodies and the immaturity of their minds. The idleness and physical dependency of enforced bedrest turns these men from agents into objects of pity and of voyeuristic titillation as the male body is exposed for view, dressed only in bandages and bedclothes.
Much has been made of Richardson's prurient voyeurism, and he certainly does linger over the bodies of his girls, especially Clarissa and Pamela. However, his most intimate revelations are of the disfigured, deformed, and decaying bodies of his male warnings. He describes Belton, Jeronymo, and Pollexfen in rich, vivid language. Their bodies are put on show, they lie in state for the casual inspection of all comers. Richardson is not alone in this voyeuristic tendency: all of his contemporaries join him. Tobias Smollett takes readers on tours of inadequate male bodies and seems particularly keen on the indignities of mercury cures (see Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker). From Pollexfen's tears of remorse to Mr. Norbert's impotent tears in John Cleland's Fanny Hill, rakes are repeatedly brought to bed and made to cry for our amusement and education. This habit of weeping directly links the rake to his supposed opposite character--the man of feeling.
The Man of Feeling
The rake is not the only male social type to suffer in the eighteenth-century novel. His literary opposite, the sentimental hero, has his manhood similarly constrained. Like the well-progressed rake, the sentimental hero is prone to illness and is physically weak. He too cries, copiously and often. Like his opposite, he is effeminate and childlike (see Carter 88-123, Mangam 135-66, Mullan, and Barker-Benfeld 37-104). Where the rake is an object of pitiful gazes, the sentimental hero is a passive spectator; neither is an admirable agent. Like the rake, the man of feeling's excesses lead to dissolution. But whereas the rake's pleasures are corporeal, the sentimental hero's are more metaphysical. Both, however, are self-destructive. Humphry Clinker's Matt Bramble, whose rakish youth has left him physically incapable of anything but feeling, best illustrates the relation between rake and man of feeling. The rakishness that spawned Clinker made Bramble a sentimental invalid: "his peevishness arises partly from bodily pain, and partly from a natural excess of mental sensibility; for, I suppose, the mind as well as the body, is in some cases endued with a morbid excess of sensation" (17). In turning from the excesses of libertinism, Bramble fell into the excesses of sentiment.
The sentimental hero, like the rake, is impotent, though some suffer from constitutional aversion rather than physical incapacity. (10) George Starr, in his seminal essay "Only a Boy," argues that "sexual consummation would be a betrayal of the sentimental hero's essential childlikeness and an assumption of all the compromises, grossness, and responsibilities of adulthood in a fallen world.... [S]exual impotence is a bold but apt emblem of being outside the compromising fray, of ultimate irreproachability" (516, 21). Sarah Fielding's sentimental hero is "simple" and Mackenzie calls his man of feeling "a child in the drama of the world" (10). Harley's mission throughout the novel is to remain child-like despite the experiences thrust upon him: he dies without completing his business and as soon as his beloved, Miss Walton, threatens to reciprocate his feelings. This avoidance of the responsibilities of adulthood, of husbandry and fatherhood, means that sentimental impotence takes on the same supra-and a-social role as libertine profligacy. Just as the rake's sexual credo places him above and beyond the reach of social and moral laws, the sentimental hero's impotence keeps him from acting within that world. However, like the rake's, his is an ultimately negative freedom-he may be free of the grossness and corruption of the world but only by his refusal to act for change. Any engagement with the world would taint him; he can only maintain his purity and exemplariness by remaining passive. He, like the rake, can spend freely, but his generous effusions are limited to tears and money. The former may relieve him and the latter may free the object of pity from immediate want, but neither rights the wrongs he cries about. (11) Ready tears are the hallmark of the sentimental hero, seen most spectacularly in Harley, the eponymous Man of Feeling (see Carter 89-90, 94-96 and Johnson). Harley courts distressing spectacle the way rakes like Dorimant court amorous adventure. Upon reaching London, he visits Bedlam and makes a visit to the "quarter of the house set apart for the insane of the other sex" (21). He takes particular notice of a beautiful unfortunate, whose story "had particularly attracted Harley's notice; he had given it the tribute of some tears" (22). The woman, attracted to Harley, who reminds her of her lost love, gives him her hand, then presses his to her bosom. This advance causes Harley to erupt: "He burst into tears, and left them" (23). This expenditure relieves Harley but does nothing to save the girl. In a similar situation, Grandison not only rescues the mad Clementina but also manages her cure and fully restores her to her senses.
Nor are sentimental heroes free from the "sameness of accidents ... and occasions for remorse" that afflict libertines (Sir Charles Grandison 5: 667). No character in eighteenth- century literature suffers more accidents or demonstrates more remorse than Tristram Shandy. His branding as an inadequate man begins at birth when the doctor's forceps squash his face and disfigure his nose, which, as the text makes clear, is a metonymic displacement of the phallus. As traumatic as this would be, Tristram's sufferings have only just begun. The real indignity happens when he is four: "'Twas Nothing ... Susannah did not consider that nothing was well hung in our family,--so slap came the sash down like lightening upon us;--Nothing is left,--cried Susannah ..." (264). The accident with the window transforms Tristram from "ill-hung" to having nothing, a popular euphemism for the vagina. Of course, like the nose, this incident is also much ado about nothing--Tristram is circumcised, rather than fully castrated. But the language Sterne employs in both of these misadventures plays upon readerly expectations. The inordinate number of dashes, blanks, and "nothings" in the text all stress Tristram's connection to and affinity with the feminine; he constantly calls his own masculinity into question.
Tristram is not the only accident-prone character in Tristram Shandy: his Uncle Toby also suffers from an incapacitating groin wound that readers and characters worry has rendered him "unfit for the service" of both country and women: "He was four years totally confined,--part of it to his bed, and all of it to his room; and in the course of his cure, which was all that time in hand, sufer'd unspeakable miseries." This cure echoes the one Jeronymo suffers in Grandison. During its course, Toby's "os pubis [suffered] a succession of exfoliations." Nor did Toby suffer alone: every guest who entered the Shandy home was taken upstairs to "see ... Toby and chat an hour by his bedside" (56). Like Jeronymo, Toby becomes a spectacular object, one of the Shandy curiosities displayed to guests and readers. Toby's wound also infantilizes him: he take up his "hobby horse" as a direct result of his confinement and the misplaced pity of his guests.
Just as Toby's wound worries the Widow Wadman, Tristram's accidental circumcision and squashed nose mark him as less than man and bring his virility into question. And with good reason. While Toby's abilities are eventually proven to be intact, Tristram's radical foreshortenings leave him capable only of "rash jerks, and hare-brain'd squirts." His ink, in sympathy with his "other humours," spurts uncontrollably, punctuating his manuscript with dashes (nothings) and premature full stops (156). Both Tristram and Tristram ejaculate prematurely and unproductively. The sentimental hero, like the incapacitated rake, cannot wield a pen. (12) As if in recompense for the accidents to his phallus, both literal and figurative, Tristram is granted a superabundance of feeling and the ability to vent his emotions in tears.
Like the rake, the man of feeling is asocial; he is a voyeur outside the frame of the social problems that he witnesses. He, like the women and children with whom he empathizes, passively mourns unfortunate events, blurring the boundaries between him and the feminine and infantile. Not only does the "sentimental hero violate sexual stereotypes" as Start argues (523), but he also calls attention to his own inadequacy. The sentimental hero simultaneously emphasizes not only the tableaux of woe and injustice that he finds at every turn, but also his own inability to right these wrongs, his practical impotence. The sentimental hero cannot be a male exemplar because he cannot act as a man--he cannot be husband or father, judge or defender. Thus Tristram cannot himself be the main actor in his own tale of digressions and observations. Both the public sphere and the domestic are denied the man of feeling. This inability to act means that "sentimental hero" is a misnomer: he can no more be heroic than he can do anything else. The idea of a sentimental hero is ultimately just as problematic as that of a rake-hero.
The man of sentiment's failings do not pass unnoticed in the didactic literature of the eighteenth century. While men of sentiment are applauded for their moral continence, they are derided as men by both male and female characters and presumably, readers. Satiric literature on the mollifying softness and effeminate weakness of sentiment abounds (see The Pretty Gentlemen 33, The Fribbleriad and The Vauxhall Affray). Even Richardson regards the man of sentiment with disdain. Grandison's Mr. Orme and Mr. Fowler are both men of sentiment who aspire, unsuccessfully, to Harriet's hand. Mr. Orme has impeccable morals in contrast to his libertine rivals, but he is in such ill health that even his courting is done by proxy. That his sister is his surrogate lover removes even the slightest hint of sex from the equation. His rival, the rakish Greville, dismisses him as a "sniveling milksop" (1: 10)--an impression that readers are asked to share. Likewise, Mr. Fowler prefers to let his aged uncle make his devoirs. Sir Meredith Rowland's proposal is rather to make Harriet his niece than Mr. Fowler's wife. Despite their good characters, Harriet objects to the sentimental, inactive, and incapable men as much as she opposes the blustering and ultimately impotent rakes. She treats the men of sentiment as children who deserve praise for their good manners but no serious consideration as husbands. Harriet withholds her heart and hand for a worthy man, one with whose morals she cannot find fault and who is not disagreeable in either mind or person (1:32). She and readers require a Grandison, a man who can be both active and moral, attractive and continent.
Scholars generally accept that "Sir Charles is an effort to bring together the most attractive features of the bold, virile rake and the diffident good man ... to develop a hero who is humane yet manly, modest yet worldly, gentle yet forceful, in short, a feminine wish-dream of the ideal male suitor" (Barker 15). Lady Bradshaigh, the most persistent and vocal of the "dozen ladies of note and virtue" (1: 3) who repeatedly begged Richardson to compose such a "wish-dream," reminds him of Anna Howe's description of Lovelace:
"So little the fop, yet so elegant and rich in his dress! His person so specious, his air so intrepid! So much meaning and penetration in his face! So much gaiety, yet so little of the monkey! Though a travelled gentleman, yet no affectation! No mere toupee-man, but all manly! And his courage and wit--the one so known, the other so dreaded!" Now, sir, I suppose this was designed to be thought an amiable appearance, do not you think it was? You answer yes. Well, then, to this body let us join a great and good soul--and pray Sir, what fault have you to find with this union? (Letters 180)
This is indisputably what Richardson provides in the "amiable appearance" and "great and good soul" of Sir Charles Grandison. What is still in dispute is the degree of wish-fulfillment that Richardson achieves in Grandison. (13) In other words, does Richardson succeed in creating a masculine ideal who embodies both rakish charisma without the attendant vice and the moral probity of a man of sentiment without his infantile weeping and whining? Does he create an exemplar who is useful to the world? Richardson does, and he does so by employing the attractive qualities of both the rake and the man of sentiment to safeguard his hero from falling into the excesses of either. Grandison's polished manners ensure that his masculine vigor never degenerates into brutishness while that vigor ensures his politeness is never mere foppery or sentimental effeminacy. Grandison unites the rake's attractive external characteristics with the sentimental hero's moral character, but this does not make him, as some have argued, a "mixed character" (see Yates). Grandison is actually far more consistent than either the rake or the man of sentiment: he neither has to dissemble as does the rake, nor is his morality limited to good thoughts as is the man of sentiment's. Grandison acts consistently and well.
Grandison proves that the ideas and behaviors of the inadequate men surrounding him are illusory. He takes great pains to demonstrate that the honor that the rake so cherishes is, like his freedom, false: "Of whose making ... are the Laws of Honour you mention? I own no Laws but the Laws of God and my Country" (2: 242). Grandison's lofty speech echoes contemporary satires on honor, such as Henry Fielding's definition of the term, which denies that "Honour," as bandied about in polite society, retained any meaning at all: "In what then doth the Word Honour consist? Why in itself alone. A Man of Honour is he that is called a Man of Honour; and while he is so called, he so remains, and no longer" (80). Sir Richard Steele wryly notes that "it is not to do handsome Actions [that] denominates a Man of Honour; it is enough if he dares defend ill ones" (470). Grandison is also truly, thoroughly, and consistently polite. Lawrence Klein argues that "politeness, from the French politesse, is the summation of male social graces/virtues-Honesty, Courage and Wit" (190). Philip Carter adds that "politeness was the means to acquire a suitably refined, yet virtuous, personality that proved superior to many existing forms of manly virtue which, on account of their association with elitism, violence or boorishness, were judged detrimental to truly polite society" (1). The expression of politeness can seem like a visible affectation that, as Carter's definition highlights, can be learned or copied and that thereby runs the risk of being "merely formal and external" (Klein 190; see my discussion of Langford above). Politeness can be falsely "put on"--the same charge levied against moral exemplars like Pamela. This is certainly the case with Dorimant's entrance into polite society as Mr. Courtage. However, Grandison assumes a politeness that goes beyond mere social affectation: he embodies politeness while Dorimant can only impersonate it. Richardson is equally keen to have Grandison demonstrate that the refined honor of the sentimental hero is a false notion. Grandison's compassion for others does not cripple him, evident in the myriad practical and legal services he provides, from finding apprenticeships and wives to executing wills and resolving disputes. He saves his sister's marriage and Everand's constitution and finances, rescues Harriet, and raises Emily, just to name a few. He does not hesitate to become involved in the often unsavory adventures of his extended family, their friends, or even complete strangers.
Not only is Grandison both moral and attractive, but he is also utterly competent, demonstrating rationality and effectiveness in both the domestic and public spheres. Here again, Richardson clearly distinguishes Grandison from both the rake and the man of sentiment. Whereas the foppish Lord G. has been "brought up to be idle and useless" (6: 237), Grandison has studied "Husbandry and Law ... the one to qualify him to preserve, the other to manage, his estate" (7: 288). He takes an active role in the management of his (and others') affairs. Prudent management-and an emphasis on "husbandry" rather than profligate "spending" as means of displaying masculinity--guides all of his actions, from the handling of his lands and monies to the handling of his and others' bodies. Sensible rather than sentimental men distance themselves from their passions; they think before acting or speaking. Grandison's handling of duels perfectly exemplifies this control. He explains: "I never meet any man ... as a duelist. I am not so much a coward, as to be afraid of being branded for one. I hope my spirit is in general too well known for anyone to insult me on such an imputation.... I live not to the world: I live to myself; to the monitor within me" (1: 206). He never initiates swordplay and goes to great lengths to avoid it altogether--attempting first to reason with his aggressor and, failing that, to disarm him without causing harm. However, as a paragon of masculinity should, when Grandison is called upon to prove himself, he always does so admirably. As the rake Greville recounts:
I came to a point with him. I heard he would not fight: I resolved he should. I followed him to his chariot. I got him to a private place; but had the devil, and no man to deal with. He cautioned me, by way of insult, as I took it, to keep a guard. I took his hint. I had better not: for he knows all the tricks of the weapon. He was in with me in a moment. I had no sword left me, and my life was at the mercy of his. He gave me up my own sword-Cautioned me to regard my safety--Put up his; withdrew.--I found myself sensible of a damnable strain. I had no right arm ... (6: 87)
This is but one instance of Grandison's consummate skill at arms. He disarms-unmans--each of his rivals, an important classification, as opponents to his courtship of either Harriet or Clementina instigate most of the duals. In all of his encounters, Grandison proves himself to be the better man.
Grandison is equally active and equally efficient in the prosaic realm of practical business affairs--the realm shunned by both the rake and the man of sentiment. Even though his "fortune is lessen'd by his father's profusions" (3: 358), (14) Sir Charles's prudent management of his estates actually improves his financial standings: "in a few years, improving only what he has in both kingdoms, he will be very rich" (7: 288). But Grandison's efficiency and competence is not limited to his own business. He takes an active interest and role in the physical and fiscal well-being of his extended family, from managing his recalcitrant sister Charlotte's courtship and marriage to rescuing his cousin Everand from a series of libertine mishaps (and paying his debts). He arranges a marriage for his uncle and undertakes a lawsuit on behalf of the new wife's family. He commences the executorship of his friend Danby's will and establishes all of Danby's children in trade and marriage. Sir Charles is an Anglican knight-errant, a romantic ideal coursing through the text, rescuing women, children, and the infirm from the prosaic, practical, and legal problems that tie their hands far more effectively, or at least more frequently, than do abductors. Of course, he handles abductors as well, rescuing both Harriet and Clementina from bondage.
While not all modern readers have been impressed with Grandison's Christian knight errantry, it is clear from the text how Richardson expected his readership to respond to his exemplar. Near the novel's close, the remaining unmarried English girls gather to hear Harriet's--now Lady Grandison's-latest letter. The girls, who, like readers, have been following the progress of Harriet's love through to its happy conclusion, are now all somewhat at a loss; for while they, like readers, wished Sir Charles to marry Harriet, there is a pang when they are forced to acknowledge that this ultimate romantic wish-fantasy is no longer available to them. The only hope Richardson holds out to his girls and his readers is the tantalizing image of a world refashioned in Grandison's image. Searching for consolation, Grandison's love-struck ward, Emily Jervois, acknowledges that "[w]ere men to form themselves by his example.... [No unfavourable hint for Sir Edward]--There she stopt" (7: 396, ellipses and brackets in original). This is a direct address to the readers, assuring women that showing preference for such a man is morally and romantically acceptable and assuring male readers that such a character will be attractive to women. The cynicism with which some readers respond to Richardson's sole male exemplar does not so much echo the hue and cry of the Pamela/Shamela debates as attest to the truth of Harriet's observation. The shining example can seem pale next to the blazing light of a warning: it is, after all, more fun to watch the spectacular crash than applaud the perfect landing.
This human fascination with disaster connects to the spectacular nature of the male warning's performance: the sick, mutilated, enervated, and otherwise grotesque bodies of warnings like the rake and the man of sentiment attract and hold our gaze. Like David Simple's Cynthia, we may be horrified by the specter of masculinity that is a progressed rake, but we cannot turn away. Uncle Toby in his sick bed may be a failure as a man, but he is an excellent curiosity and a welcome addition to the Shandy collection. This state of "to-be-looked-at-ness" is effeminizing, as critics from Laura Mulvey to Kristina Straub have demonstrated (see Mulvey 14-28). But it is also a source of both erotic power and authority: the gaze afforded the decaying rake or man of sentiment may be tinged with pity, but their bodies also arouse interest, pathos, and fascination. The fascinated gaze turned on these characters gives them power and importance that their status as warnings should deny them. In his health, the man of sentiment may have merited respect; in his death he finally earns love. Likewise, the rake's emasculation also softens responses to his character; no longer a character to be feared, he can finally become the object of a more tender passion. Thus, in an ironic turn, the narrative strategy adopted to expose the failures and punish the pretensions of inadequate male social types--the poetic justice of physical unmanning--backfires and instead invests these characters with even more glamour and more erotic potential. While the text may point readers to Grandison's example, the vividness with which the warnings are painted ensure that they make the greater impression.
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My thanks to Jennie Batchelor and Judith Hawley for their comments and careful reading.
(1) Compare the exemplary suffering of Jane Shore--"most beautiful in her distress"--with the grotesqueries discussed below.
(2) The distinction is not marked enough for many modern readers (see Carter 100).
(3) See Humphry Clinker's contrasted husbands Baynard and Dennison for an example. See Marshall for an analysis of the "new husbandry" of the eighteenth century.
(4) "Virility" took on the additional meaning of sexual potency in 1721. Before this date it referred to unsexualized "manly strength and vigour of action or thought" (OED). For more on the rake's hypermasculinity, see Turner, "The Properties of Libertinism" and Cherniak.
(5) For more examples, see Mary Davy's The Accmonplish 'd Rake, all rakish characters in Richardson, and, of course, Hogarth's A Rakes Progress.
(6) This impotence trope is found in a number of scurrilous ballads about Charles II as well as several novels including Grandison (2: 461, 3: 20-21, 5: 655) and John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (164, 196-98, 212-13).
(7) See Clarissa's Lord M, Belton, and Lovelace and Sir Charles Grandison's Jeronymo and Sir Hargrave Pollexfen.
(8) Grandison's knight errantry is a continuation of the novel's didacticism: he only rescues the unfortunate from excessive retribution. The novel makes it clear that Jeronymo, Pollexfen, and Merceda had all acted immorally and deserved to be left impotent.
(9) If the pox is the "French disease" then castration is surely the "Italian cure." The identifcation of castrati with Italians is never more apparent than in the novel's dramatis personae that lists "Men, Women, and Italians." See also Qualtiere.
(10) Positive portrayals of the sentimental hero, like those of the rake-hero, often end in marriage (see David Simple). But didacticists like Richardson remind us that this marriage is no more believable or in character than the rake's last-act reformation. While some men of sentiment, like Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby, do prove their manhood in the end, incapacity is the expectation of both reader and character.
(11) Carter also suggests that the sentimental hero was not designed as an exemplar (101). See also Barker-Benfield 141-48.
(12) Note that Lovelace loses the ability to write when his rakishness is most complete.
(13) The general tone of modern scholarship on Sir Charles Grandison is apologetic or amused. Cynical postmodern readers fail to understand the appeal that Grandison clearly had for contemporary audiences and authors: Godwin, Burney, and Austen all model heroes of their own on Sir Charles Grandison. Carter erroneously dismisses Grandison as sentimental, Yates attempts to make him a rake, and Schellenberg emphasizes his "femalities."
(14) Sir Charles's personal, as well as literary, genealogy should be kept in mind. He is doubly the son of a rake, defining his character against the lesson of his rakish father and his textual predecessor Lovelace. As Clarissa is invoked in the text Lucy calls herself Harriet's "Anna Howe"--it is not unlikely that Richardson meant for Grandison to have read and benefited from the lessons in his earlier novel.
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|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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