Sir Charles Grandison has quite a bit in common with Richardson’s previous book, Clarissa. Both are massive epistolary novels with the main characters writing to each other about current events, and both have characters of similar class with similar issues. Richardson, in his capacity as “editor” (wink, wink) of both books, states that his purpose in writing Sir Charles Grandison was to publish an example of “the character and actions of a man of TRUE HONOUR,” presumably as a counterpoint to the female excellence of Clarissa Harlowe.
In the first volume of Sir Charles Grandison, readers are introduced to Harriet Byron, a young lady of the gentry who lives with her aunt and uncle Selby, as she leaves their charming company for a stay in London with her cousins Reeves. Miss Byron is a prolific writer, much like Clarissa, though we rarely see the Selby’s responses to her epistles; thus far, the book seems almost like one long letter from Harriet to her cousin Lucy. The main plot thread thus far has been, much to Miss Byron’s dismay, her inundation with beaus, or “humble servants,” as she calls them: I counted at least 6 in this volume alone. The conflict lies in the fact that Miss Byron is spirited away by one of the more vehement beaus, Sir Hargrave Pollexfen, whose surname conjures up unhealthy obsession. After almost being forced to marry Sir Hargrave, Miss Byron is providentially rescued by the baronet Sir Charles Grandison (another man with a telling surname), the book’s hero. Extreme gratitude and praise ensues.
This volume seemed almost like a microcosm of Clarissa, with a happy outcome: the heroine is unpleasantly annoyed with too many admirers, one of whom contrives to get her away from her friends and family. In this case, however, the family is loving and supportive, allowing Harriet to make her own choice of husband; Harriet is not strong enough to escape on her own power from Sir Hargrave, and falls into the protection of Sir Charles.
The two main female characters whose personalities we have been introduced to thus far are Miss Byron, and Charlotte Grandison, Sir Charles’s younger sister. Both of these young ladies are exemplary women, with personalities–particularly the latter–that have a lot in common with Anna Howe, Clarissa’s confidante: they are vivacious and a bit saucy, intelligent, and respectful of family duty. On the very last page of this volume, Harriet and Charlotte even have a brief conversation about Miss Howe and her beau, Mr. Hickman, comparing their behavior to Charlotte and one of her admirers.
I am starting to work on the second volume of Sir Charles Grandison, as well as the DH Lawrence book The White Peacock. Looks like the bulk of Sir Charles Vol. 2 will be a history of the Grandison family, which should be super exciting. See me jump up and down in joyful anticipation. I’m jumping.