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Protean LovelaceJocelyn Harris When Clarissa calls Lovelace "a perfect Proteus," more variable than the chameleon (II, 82),' she points to him as a very icon of the mutability that once meant man's paradoxical potential for creation and destruction. To Erasmus, Vives, Pico della Mirandella, Ariosto, Montaigne, Burton, Spenser, and Shakespeare, the shape-changing seagod Proteus was at once lawmaker and lawbreaker. As Spenser says in the Mutability Cantos, men "their being doe dilate" by their changes.2 Civilization itself results from their restless aspirations to learning and the creative arts. But when like Proteus in his other manifestations men hide malignity behind a benevolent mask, creative art turns to illusion, verbal distortion, acting, deception, rape, and chaos in civil society.3 Lovelace, who parodies Richard Ill's most famous line (III, 421), might boast like him, I can add colours to the chameleon, Change shapes with Protheus for advantages, And set the murderous Machiavel to school. (/// Henry VI, III, ii, 191-93) 1 Richardson references are to the Everyman edition of Clarissa, based on the revised third edition, ed. John Butt, 4 vols (London and New York: J.M. Dent, 1932, reprinted 1962); Pamela, ed. T.C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971); The History ofSir Charles Grandison, 3 parts, ed. Jocelyn Harris (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972 [reprinted in one volume, 1986]). 2 The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser, ed. J.C. Smith and E. de Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1912, reprinted 1959), Mutability Cantos, vii, 58. 3 See A. Bartlett Giamatti, "Proteus Unbound: Some Versions of the Sea God in the Renaissance," The Disciplines of Criticism: Essays in Literary Theory, Interpretation, and History, ed. Peter Demetz, Thomas Greene, and Lowry Nelson, Jr (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1968), pp. 437-75. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 2, Number 4, July 1990 328 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION To identify the exuberant Lovelace, who is "so light, so vain, so various, that there is no certainty that he will be next hour what he is this" (II, 95), with the sinister shapechanger Proteus and various of his avatars goes some way to explaining the powerfully ambivalent responses he gives rise to. In his masterpiece, Clarissa, Richardson opposes the Protean flux of Lovelace to the fixity of Clarissa. To do so, he draws on two vigorously competing world-views of his time, Hobbism, which perceives a materialistic universe based on restlessness, power, corruption, and self-interest, and Christian Platonism, which assumes the universe to be spiritually informed . Hobbist attitudes lie behind everything that Lovelace is and does, whereas ideal visions of an immanent being, expressed on earth in the power of law, sustain his victim and antagonist, Clarissa. The philosophy of Hobbes was expressed most clearly for the age by that "perfect Hobbist" John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester,4 and details from Rochester's life, works, and reputation flesh out Richardson's emblem of mutability , Lovelace. Rochester-Lovelace merges with other Proteus figures to whom he is explicitly linked in the novel, Jupiter (I, 175; II, 98), Faust (III, 210), Shakespeare's Proteus, Richard III, Shadwell's Don Juan,5 Satan, and Macheath. Their changing natures confirm that he is essentially a Proteus. To Hobbes the Protean nature of man is self-evident. His philosophy of flux begins in Galileo's theories of motion, and his own notion of physiology. Man, he observes, is naturally restless, and out of his imperative motion comes desire, from desire power, from power war, and from war the obliteration of absolutes and restraint. He concludes that the commonwealth requires a central controlling power, if it is not to collapse into anarchy. In Hobbes's materialistic universe there are no souls, only bodies. Hobbist man is a mechanical apparatus consisting of sense organs, nerves, muscles, imagination, memory, and reason, responsive but also selfmoving because of inbuilt appetites and aversions which maintain motion 4 Antony à Wood, Athenae Oxoniensis 3, 229, cited by Dustin H. Griffin, Satires against Man: The Poems of Rochester (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), p. 15. At the end of his life Rochester was said to have repudiated the philosophy of Hobbes, although Griffin points out that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 327-346
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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