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Sir Charles Grandison and the Executor's HandLeah Price Richardson's second novel, Clarissa, takes for its heroine a woman who writes her will; his last, Sir Charles Grandison, is named instead after a hero who executes others'. Grandison executes the will of a man who has tried to kill him, the wills of two men whose lives he has saved, and even a will that does not exist. After his father dies intestate , Grandison takes advantage of the semantic overlap between "will" and "intention" to claim that there is something for him to execute: "that intention will I execute with as much exactness, as if he had made a will."1 Sir Hargrave Pollexfen asks Grandison to administer his property in the same breath as he asks a clergyman to care for his soul: "Be my executor. And do you, good Bartlett, put me in the way of repentance " (6:31:143). The desire of women throughout Europe to make Sir Charles their husband is matched only by the wish of men throughout England to make him their executor—requests which, unlike the competing demands of four English and two Italian ladies, he never refuses. Why does Grandison spend so much time executing wills? This essay proposes two answers: executorship serves to displace marriage as the legal transaction which creates families, distributes wealth, and structures the novel; and the executor's peculiarly indirect relation to property that he distributes without owning and the decisions he makes in other people's names resolves conflicts between competing models of literary property and attribution in the epistolary novel itself. 1 Samuel Richardson, The History ofSir Charles Grandison, ed. Jocelyn Harris (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), 2:21:372. References are to volume, letter, and page of this edition. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 8, Number 3, April 1996 330 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION "Relationship remembered against relationshipforgot" Richardson claims in the "Letter to a Lady" appended to Grandison that the "great and decisive event" of a novel can be either "a Death, or a Marriage" (3:471). Readers have disagreed about which constitutes the decisive event in Grandison itself. Lady Bradshaigh tells Richardson that "death, death, death is your darling," but the author of the Critical Remarks on Sir Charles Grandison, Clarissa and Pamela accuses him of making "Love, eternal Love, the subject, the burthen of all your writings."2 The novel itself inscribes this disagreement by making characters wonder whether to interpret Grandison's behaviour as that of a lover or an executor. The trips to Canterbury which Harriet and Grandison 's sisters initially impute to a courtship, even to the point of making "this Canterbury" and "that Canterbury" code-words for love affairs, turn out to have been undertaken for an executorship instead (2:6:290, 291). The brother's definitive account of his journeys as business transactions with a male merchant corrects the sisters' mistaken invocation of romance and their invention of a nonexistent female character: "I thought there was a Lady in the case" (2:28:394). Death replaces marriage at the same time as the masculine truth of business replaces the feminine falsehood of love. In Richardson's earlier novel, Clarissa's executor, Belford, takes the place of her lover, Lovelace. After appropriating the ellipsis Lovelace had used to refer to Clarissa's rape ("I can go no farther") to describe her death ("I can write no more"), Belford goes on to replace Lovelace as the object of the Harlowes' financial and sexual jealousy. "They both, with no little warmth, hinted at their disapprobation of you, sir, for their sister's executor," Morden writes Belford. "They said there was no need of an executor out of their family ... They were surprised that I had given up to you the proceed of her grandfather's estate since his death."3 The Harlowes' suspicion of Belford's presence in Clarissa's lodgings suggests, as Harriet's and the Grandison sisters' mistake confirms, that executors are too easily misread as lovers. Yet the Harlowes' jealousy is 2 Lady Bradshaigh to Richardson, 22 February 1754, quoted in Margaret Anne Doody, "Identity and Character in Sir Charles Grandison," in Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays, ed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 329-342
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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