Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sir Charles Grandison, Volume 3: The mystery revealed


Image: Internet Archive

Volume 3: The mystery revealed

In the previous volume Harriet Byron had been brought to confess her love for Sir Charles Grandison to his sisters, Lady L. and Charlotte. But although they assure Harriet that they are in favor of the match, they hint to her that Sir Charles may have an attachment to "some foreign lady" (see Volume 2: The confession).

"A Series of Letters Published from the Originals." I haven't yet commented extensively on the epistolary form of Sir Charles Grandison, but it's a crucial aspect of the novel. As in Richardson's earlier novels, in Sir Charles Grandison he maintains the fiction that he is merely the collator and editor of genuine letters that have come into his possession, rather than the author of the letters himself.

Although no one was fooled, Richardson thought the pretense heightened the illusion of immediacy and the emotional engagement of readers. He claimed that he was presenting "a species of writing. . .that may be called new," which involved "every one putting him and herself into the character they read, and judging of it by their own sensibilities." Women readers in particular were intended to identify strongly with women characters "writing of and in the midst of present distresses! How much more lively and affecting, for that reason, must her style be." [1] 

And he was not wrong. His first novel Pamela (1740) became a huge hit: "Fashionable ladies displayed copies in public places, and held fans painted with pictures of its best-loved scenes. Pamela became a play, an opera, even a waxwork" [2]. It is said that in one village where the novel was being read aloud in the village square to the rapt inhabitants, when the end of the final volume was reached and Pamela and Mr. B. were married, the audience "were so delighted as to raise a great shout, and procuring the church keys, actually set the parish bells ringing." [3]

Clarissa (1747-48) also gripped readers; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu reported weeping over scenes that reminded her of her own father's attempt to coerce her into marriage with a man she detested. "This Richardson is a strange fellow. I heartily despise him and eagerly read him, nay, sob over his works in a most scandalous manner. The 2 first Tomes of Clarissa touch'd me as being very ressembling to my Maiden Days." [4]


Portrait of Samuel Richardson, "Author of Clarissa," by Joseph Highmore, 1750 (detail). Image: Wikimedia Commons

And copies of Sir Charles Grandison were jealously guarded by their owners; Richardson's friend Elizabeth Carter wrote him that she didn't dare share with her acquaintances a pre-publication set that he had sent her because "I apprehend there would be so much scratching & clawing that it would be impossible to keep him in my possession & he would run some hazard of being scattered to the four winds of heaven." [5]

Richardson's influence lasted for decades after the first publication of his books. It can be traced in later writers such as Fanny Burney (see Jane Austen's favorite novelist) and Jane Austen (see Volume 1: The abduction), both of whom adopted the epistolary form and elements of his plots when writing their first novels. [6]

The social network. It is a contradiction of letters that they are personal and intimate, but also intended for someone else's eyes; they are social, as well as private, documents. They are the spontaneous productions of the moment that are "the very soul of Nature," candid and unreserved, but are written with an eye to the effect on their reader(s). [7] And in Sir Charles Grandison, each correspondent writes in the knowledge that their letters will be read not only by the recipient, but by their friends and relations as well (or at least read to them). In her letters to Lucy Selby, Harriet even includes joking asides intended for her uncle, Lucy's father. (Of course, the reader of the novel becomes a part of this community of sharing as well, which also heightens engagement.)

This sharing has significant effects. Harriet's letters to Lucy about her abduction by Sir Hargrave Pollexfen are shared not only with all of her own relatives, but with Lord and Lady L., Charlotte Grandison, Sir Charles's mentor Dr. Bartlett, and Sir Charles himself. By allowing her relatives and acquaintances to vicariously experience her terror and desperate courage, Harriet cements her place in their affections.

But sharing letters can not only be a way of tying readers more intimately together, but of distancing them. Sir Charles, we suspect, is not blind to Harriet's growing feelings for him. One of the running jokes in the novel is that Harriet believes that she has succeeded in concealing her secret love, while to everyone else (including the reader) it is utterly apparent. After he reads Harriet's letters about her abduction and its aftermath, Sir Charles shares the letters he wrote to Dr. Bartlett about the trip to Italy from which he has recently returned. Does this gesture contain a message for Harriet?


Map of Bologna (detail) by Johannes Blaeu, 1640. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Sir Charles in Italy. In Sir Charles' letters from Italy we learn of his encounters with the noble della Porretta family. One of the sons of the family, Jeronymo, lives a dissolute life. He is attacked by hired assassins as he is travelling through the woods (the favors of "a Lady, less celebrated for virtue than beauty" are the point of contention between Jeronymo and a rival [8]). Sir Charles happens to be passing by, chases off the assassins, and transports the wounded Jeronymo to a nearby town where he can be treated. In gratitude, the family invites Sir Charles back to the family estate in Bologna while Jeronymo recovers there.

Lady Clementina. While staying at the della Porretta palazzo, Sir Charles begins giving English lessons to the family members—including the beautiful daughter, Clementina. The inevitable happens: after many turns about the garden in the company of her maidservant Camilla, Clementina is slowly (very slowly) brought to confess that she has fallen in love with her handsome English tutor.


"Ay, now you come with your beseeches again: but if you love me, Camilla, leave me."
Illustration engraved by Blake from a drawing by Stothard

And, although he does not make a like declaration, Sir Charles has also fallen in love with her. But there are two obstacles. The first, seemingly insuperable one, is that she is Catholic, and he Protestant, and neither is willing to convert. The second obstacle is the men of the family (except the grateful Jeronymo), who are appalled that Clementina would fall in love with a foreigner and a heretic. The family is closely tied to the Catholic church—one of Clementina's three brothers is a bishop—and an alliance with a Protestant is unthinkable.


"She turned her face toward me as I drew near her; and, seeing who it was, stopt."
Illustration engraved by Heath from a drawing by Stothard (1783).

"Her rage and despair." Sir Charles, conscious of Lady Clementina's own objections and her family's implacable opposition, decides that it would be best for him to leave Bologna, and ultimately returns to England. His absence, and Lady Clementina's recognition of the insurmountable barriers between them, throws her into a crisis. When Sir Charles' friend Mrs. Beaumont goes to visit her, she finds her "in a deplorable way: Sometimes raving, sometimes gloomy; and in bonds—Twice had she given them apprehensions of fatal attempts: They therefore confined her hands. . .When they knew you were actually gone from Bologna, they told her so. Camilla shocked me with the description of her rage and despair, on the communication. This was followed by fits of silence, and the deepest melancholy." [9] Like Clarissa, Clementina also begins to starve herself: "She is so loth to take nourishment, and when she does, it is so very abstemious, that the regimen is hardly necessary." [10] Everyone fears for Clementina's sanity, and even her very survival.

Well, perhaps not everyone. Clementina's widowed aunt Lady Juliana Sforza and her daughter Laurana think that the family is being too soft on Clementina. As Mrs. Beaumont reports, "Lady Juliana de Sforza is earnest to have her with her at Urbino, or at Milan, where she also has a noble palace; but I hope it will not be granted. That Lady professes to love her; but she cannot be persuaded out of her notion of harsh methods which will never do with Clementina." [11] As we will learn, Lady Sforza has ulterior motives for wanting Clementina treated like a madwoman or confined to a nunnery.

The invitation. The della Porrettas did not allow Clementina to have a farewell interview with Sir Charles, but some members of the family begin to think that Sir Charles should be invited back to meet with her.
"Her head runs more than ever upon seeing her tutor, her friend, her Chevalier, once more. . .Could she but once more see him, she says, and let him know the cruelty she has been treated with, she should be satisfied. He would pity her, she is sure, though nobody else will.
"The bishop has written to beg, that Sir Charles would pay them one more visit at Bologna. . .It is but within these few days past that this new request has been made to him, in a direct manner. The question was before put, If such a request should be made, would he comply?" [12]
Is the della Porretta family's opposition to the marriage of Lady Clementina and Sir Charles weakening? Will Sir Charles return to Italy to see her and perhaps renew his offers of marriage, crushing Harriet's own romantic hopes?

Lady Olivia. Complicating matters is Lady Olivia, a noblewoman from Florence. She first sees Sir Charles at the opera, where he defends a woman being persecuted by a rejected lover. Twice thereafter he meets her in company at invited gatherings, and soon she (like seemingly every woman who encounters Sir Charles) has conceived a fierce passion for him. But Lady Olivia is "violent and imperious in her temper"; she makes an open declaration to Sir Charles, which he rebuffs as gently as he can.
I could not have been happy with her, had she been queen of the globe. I had the mortification of being obliged to declare myself to the Lady's face: It was a mortifi­cation to me, as much for her sake as my own. I was obliged to leave Florence upon it, for some time; having been apprized, that the spirit of revenge had taken place of a gentler passion, and that I was in danger from it. [13]
This is not the last we will see of the fiery Lady Olivia.

The machinations of Mrs. Jervois. Meanwhile, in England Sir Charles is beset by the troublesome mother of his ward Emily Jervois. Mrs. Jervois turns up repeatedly, demanding to see her daughter. With such a woman nothing can be taken at face value, even maternal love, and indeed it becomes clear that her plan is to marry Emily against her will to one of Mrs. Jervois' confederates in order to seize control of her wealth. That wealth is astonishing: Emily will be mistress of £50,000 inherited from her father (and currently held in trust by Sir Charles). Mrs Jervois enlists two men in her plan: her supposed new husband, the supposed Major O-Hara, and his supposed brother-in-law, the supposed Captain Salmonet.

Mrs. Jervois and her companions insist on seeing Sir Charles and issue high-handed threats to sue him over custody of Emily. When Sir Charles shows them to the door, the hot-headed Salmonet draws his sword and threatens Sir Charles in his own house. It does not end well for the intruders.


"I drew, put by Salmonet’s sword, closed with him, disarmed him, and, by the same effort, laid him on the floor."
Illustration engraved by Blake from a drawing by Stothard (1782)

Salmonet has his sword taken from him and finds himself on the floor hors de combat; the Major is also soon swordless. Seeing the defeat of her champions Mrs. Jervois flees in terror, and her two belligerent companions are unceremoniously ejected.

As is turns out, Mrs. Jervois and her husband are dependent upon an allowance set up by Emily's father that Sir Charles also controls. He has the power to pay her £100 or more annually, and lets her know in no uncertain terms that any further trouble from her will result in the reduction of her allowance to the minimum. But we wonder whether that threat will be sufficient to end her scheming.

"Eyes swimming in tears." Emily's emotional turmoil is not limited to her justified fear of her mother. Harriet suspects that she is in love with her guardian:
. . .Emily is cherishing (perhaps unknown to herself) a flame that will devour her peace. . .I watch the countenance, the words, the air of the girl, when he is spoken of. And with pity I see, that he cannot be named, but her eyes sparkle. . .So young a creature—Yet how can one caution the poor thing? [14]
Harriet finds a way. She comes to Emily's room as she is about to go to bed, dismisses the servants for the night, and then turns the conversation to their favorite subject, Sir Charles. After confirming what she already knows—that Emily shows all the symptoms of first love—Harriet confesses that she too "greatly esteems" him. Emily teases her: "Esteem! Is that the word? Is that the ladies’ word for love?" [15]

This exchange of confidances is not only an acknowledgment of the growing intimacy between the two, but also intended by Harriet as a warning to Emily about the necessity of guarding her feelings (just as Harriet receives that warning when she learns of Sir Charles' prior attachment to Lady Clementina).

After Harriet's confession, Emily sweetly tells Harriet, "I wish my guardian to be the happiest man in the world; I wish you, madam, to be the happiest woman: And how can either be so, but in one another? Upon my word, I wish no one in the world, but you, to be lady Grandison." [16]

Is Emily really as guileless as she appears? And is she entirely unconscious of the effect of her blossoming beauty? At times it even seems that she is intent on seducing Harriet:
And then the poor girl threw her arms about my neck, smothering me with her kisses, and calling me by all the tender names that terror and mingled gratitude could suggest to her. [17]
But her eyes swimming in tears, her earnest looks, her throbbing bosom, her hands now clasped about me, now one another, added such graces to what she said, that it is impossible to do justice to it. [18]
O madam—(flinging her arms about me, and hiding her face in my bosom) Have I not cause to sigh? [19]
Emily's tears, sighs, kisses, ardent embraces and throbbing bosom are brought to bear in an extraordinary scene that immediately follows Harriet's confession. Emily, clinging to Harriet, asks her to intercede on her behalf with Sir Charles after their marriage:
I have but one fear—

And what’s that?

That my guardian won’t love me so well, when he marries, as he does now. . .he would not take my hand so kindly as now he does: he would not look in my face with pleasure, and with pity on my mother’s account, as he does now: he would not call me his Emily: he would not bespeak every one’s regard for his ward.

My dear, you are now almost a woman. He will, if he remains a single man, soon draw back into his heart that kindness and love for you, which, while you are a girl, he suffers to dwell upon his lips. You must expect this change of behaviour soon, from his prudence. You, yourself, my love, will set him the example: you will grow more reserved in your outward behaviour, than hitherto there was reason to be—

O, madam! never tell me that!. . .Would you, madam, were you Lady Grandison (now, tell me, would you) grudge me these instances of his favour and affection?

Indeed, my dear, I would not: if I know my own heart, I would not.

And would you permit me to live with you?—Now it is out—Will you permit me to live with my guardian and you?—This is a question I wanted to put to you; but was both ashamed and afraid, till you thus kindly emboldened me.

Indeed I would, if your guardian had no objection.

That don’t satisfy me, madam. Would you be my earnest, my sincere advocate, and plead for me? He would not deny you any thing. . .—Dear, dear madam! you are moved in my favour—Who could have forborn being affected by her tender prattle? and she threw her arms about me; I see you are moved in my favour!—. . .

I could not bear this.
No more, no more, my lovely girl, my innocent, my generous, my irresistible girl!—. . .I folded her to my heart, as she hung about my neck. . . [20]
Emily has turned Harriet's admonishment about her too-visible signs of emotional attachment to Sir Charles into permission for her to continue to seek "instances of his favour and affection." She has also enlisted Harriet as her advocate in her campaign to live with the couple, should they marry. Harriet seems remarkably sanguine about the prospect of sharing her future home with a beautiful young woman who has all but declared her passion for her husband-to-be.

Harriet does not seem to recognize that she has made all the concessions in this encounter. And whatever the conventions of 18th-century romantic friendships between women, the end of their intimate tête-à-tête sounds like nothing so much as the parting of two lovers:
I must leave you, Emily.

Say then my Emily.

I must leave you, my and more than my Emily.—You have cured me of sleepiness for this night!

O then I am sorry—

No, don’t be sorry. You have given me pain, ’tis true; but I think it is the sweetest pain that ever entered into a human heart. Such goodness! such innocence! such generosity!—I thank God, my love, that there is in my knowledge so worthy a young heart as yours.

Now, how good this is! (and again she wrapped her arms about me) And will you go?

I must, I must, my dear!—I can stay no longer. But take this assurance, that my Emily shall have a first place in my heart for ever. I will study to promote your happiness; and your wishes shall be the leaders of mine.

Then I am sure I shall live with my guardian and you for ever, as I may say: and God grant, and down on her knees she dropped, with her arms wrapped about mine, that you may be the happiest of women, and that soon, for my sake, as well as your own, in marriage with the best of men—my guardian!. . .

I struggled from her.—O my sweet girl! I cannot bear you!—I hastened out at the door, to go to my chamber.

You are not angry, madam? following me, and taking my hand, and kissing it with eagerness. Say you are not displeased with me. I will not leave you till you do.

Angry! my love! who can be angry? How you have distressed me by your sweet goodness of heart!. . .

And I kissed her once, twice, thrice, with fervor; and away she tript: but stopt at the door, courtesying low, as I, delighted, yet painfully delighted, looked after her. [21]
Is Emily really all sweetness and innocence? Or—child of a conniving mother—is she playing a deep game?


  1. Quoted in Terry Eagleton, The Rape of Clarissa, University of Minnesota, 1982, pp. 25-26.
  2. Mark Kinkead-Weekes, Introduction to Pamela, Everyman, 1966, p. v, quoted in Eagleton, p. 5.
  3. Stephanie Fyshe, The Works of Samuel Richardson, University of Delaware Press, 1997, p. 60. 
  4. Letter of 22 September 1755 from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to her daughter Lady Bute. From Montagu, Selected Letters, edited by Isobel Grundy, Penguin, 1997, p. 415.
  5. Quoted in Eagleton, pp. 28-29. 
  6. Burney's Evelina (1778) is a series of letters featuring the misadventures of a young heroine who, like Pamela, Clarissa, and Harriet Byron, is persecuted by harassing suitors. Austen's Lady Susan (written in 1794, when Austen was 19), Elinor and Marianne (the first version of Sense and Sensibility, written in 1795), and probably First Impressions (the first version of Pride and Prejudice, written in 1796-97), were also written in epistolary form; the first wasn't published in Austen's lifetime, while the latter two were rewritten as narratives before publication.
  7. Eagleton, p. 45. 
  8. Richardson, Sir Charles Grandison, Volume 3, Letter XX. Miss BYRON[, to Miss SELBY]. In Continuation.
  9. Volume 3, Letter XXXII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  10. Volume 3, Letter XXXII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  11. Volume 3, Letter XXXII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  12. Volume 3, Letter XXXII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  13. Volume 3, Letter XX. Miss BYRON[, to Miss SELBY]. In Continuation.
  14. Volume 3, Letter III. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  15. Volume 3, Letter VII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY. 
  16. Volume 3, Letter VII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.  
  17. Volume 3, Letter V. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  18. Volume 3, Letter V. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  19. Volume 3, Letter VII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  20. Volume 3, Letter VII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.
  21. Volume 3, Letter VII. Miss BYRON, to Miss SELBY.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

In memoriam: Anner Bylsma


Anner Bylsma. Image: Medici.tv

I learned today from Anthony Tommasini's obituary in the New York Times that Anner Bylsma, the renowned Dutch cellist, died in Amsterdam on July 25.

Bylsma was a champion of performing 17th- and 18th-century music on the instruments of the time. While this is now common, he was a period-instrument pioneer, first playing historical instruments in the 1950s. I was introduced to him through his 1999 recording of Vivaldi's six Sonatas for Violoncello (published in 1740, but probably composed earlier). On that recording Bylsma played a violoncello built by Matteo Goffriller in Venice in 1693. It took some time for my ears to adjust to the sound of Bylsma's cello, whose gut strings produced a sound both softer-grained in tone and softer in volume than modern steel-stringed cellos. But once I had learned to hear the warmth of the instrument and the lyricism of Bylsma's playing, I was won over.

Here is his performance of the first movement of Vivaldi's Sonata for Violoncello No. 3 in A Minor, RV 43; the continuo is played by Francesco Galligioni (violoncello), Ivano Zanenghi (archlute), and Andrea Marcon (harpischord):



I soon sought out his other recordings of cello music by Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn, Boccherini, and Mozart. All are wonderfully rewarding, but I think my favorite is his second recording of Bach's Suites for Solo Violoncello, done in 1992 (he had made a previous recording of the suites in 1979). Pablo Casals' historic first recordings of these pieces in the 1930s set a standard that few musicians have approached since; in my view, Bylsma's 1992 recording is one of the few that can stand comparison with Casals'. To hear the two cellists performing different movements of Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, please see my post on Eric Siblin's book The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the search for a Baroque Masterpiece.

Here is Bylsma's performance of the prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No. 1, played on the "Servais" violoncello built by Antonio Stradivarius in 1701 and now housed in the Smithsonian Institution:


If you are interested in more details of Bylsma's life, please see Tommasini's "Anner Bylsma, Eminent Cellist With an Ear for the Past, Dies at 85" in the New York Times.