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  • “I don’t know where to go for a quiet mind”:A Case Study of Samuel Richardson’s Clementina
  • Hélène Dachez (bio)

His malady settled upon his brain.

—Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle 382

Because Samuel Richardson printed—among other medical texts—The English Malady by George Cheyne, and Robert James’s Medical Dictionary, there is no doubt that he knew what the medical symptoms of mind troubles were and what treatments were offered by the physicians of the period. Besides, especially at the end of his life, the English novelist himself exchanged many letters with Cheyne about his “nervous malady.” He regularly asked for Cheyne’s medical advice about ways to put an end to his physical and nervous disorders. In his diagnosis, Cheyne wrote to Richardson: “all your complaints are vapourish and nervous, of no manner of Danger, but extremely frightful and lowering” (Letters 54). For Cheyne, the disorders that afflict Richardson are the common symptoms of “nervous Hyp,” one of whose main symptoms is a depressive mind (Letters 50). Emphasizing the part bodily and mental disorders play in the plots of his novels, critics sometimes draw the parallel between Richardson’s own impaired state of health and the way he deals with his characters. Raymond Stephanson, for instance, analyses Clarissa as “a projection of Richardson’s own nervous problems as well as a testament to their reality and value,” and he adds that “the destructive pressure of the Protean Lovelace on the harmonious Clarissa is an externalization of that nervous dissonance from which Richardson suffered for so long” (283).

In the 1754 The History of Sir Charles Grandison, it is mainly on the character of the Italian Catholic Clementina della Porretta that Richardson concentrates the representation and expression of mental troubles, dealt with in a manner redolent of a case study, a “narrative matrix” whose characteristics he exploits and rewrites into his novel (Wenger 21).1 He uses various perspectives, which this article aims at analyzing through the notion of case studies, defined as “individual pieces of narrative that provide the foundation for a larger structure of medical knowledge … [that] [End Page 1] relate both to the private and public spheres…, [that] are used to elaborate a scientific reasoning based on the interpretation of symptoms … [and that add] a new element to the corpus of medical knowledge” (Vasset 5–7).2 Exploiting the interplay between inner and outer perspectives adopted and opinions voiced on Clementina’s case, the novelist anchors the representation and expression of the heroine’s mental troubles in the religious and medical discourses of his time, weaves them together, and shows both their influence and their limits in the representation of mental troubles and their treatment. Clementina’s predicament, further analyzed in narrative, stylistic, and linguistic terms, draws attention to the links between mental derangement, language (or languages), and the various geographical and metaphorical spaces derangement comes to occupy in Richardson’s last novel. The author’s treatment of his Italian heroine questions the apparent resolution of conflicts, thereby enhancing the latency of (mental) troubles at the end of Sir Charles Grandison and inviting readers to ponder on their narrative and structural function in the general economy of the novel.

The most obvious reason advocated by Richardson to account for Clementina’s troubled mind is a religious one. Clementina is a devout Catholic, like all the Porrettas, whom Sir Charles defines as “zealous Roman Catholics” (3: XX; 2.128).3 Clementina’s family “has given to the church two cardinals,” and one of her brothers is a bishop (3: XX; 2.119). Seen from the Catholic perspective of the Porrettas, the pious Protestant Sir Charles, who came to know the Italian family because he rescued Jeronymo, Clementina’s brother, from the claws of Brescian bravoes bent on assassinating him because of his libertine misdemeanors, is a “heretic” whom they forbid Clementina to fall in love with—feelings that she cannot allow herself to experience, but also cannot prevent herself from experiencing (3: XXII; 2.154). It is thus first and foremost her resistance to her growing feelings for the hero that causes her troubles. As “a young Lady of exemplary...


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