The Problem of Suspense in Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison


This essay examines the pervasive occurrence of suspense in Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison: as a key term that the characters use to articulate pain, as a basic concept within the moral “sentiments” drawn from the text by Richardson, and as a dynamic of the narrative. Richardson allows suspense to create new forms of subjectivity and energies of plot, but he also attempts to contain it by subordinating it to the structure of moral precepts and examples, and incorporating arguments about its basis in short-lived passions. The novel’s ambivalent manifestations of suspense expose deep divisions in Richardson’s thought about how to reconcile exemplary virtue with the forces of desire and romance, in the context of the new, “privatized” marriage centered on individual choice.