This article aligns the formal strategies of the eighteenth-century novelist Samuel Richardson with eighteenth-century empirical science. In his mechanical or corpuscular philosophy, the chemist Robert Boyle theorizes the difference between imperceptible particulate materiality and perceptible attributes like colour, later renamed by John Locke the difference between primary and secondary qualities. Primary-secondary difference structures Richardson's formal approach to the problem of masculine desirability as it is broached in his second novel Clarissa and imaginatively resolved in his third novel Sir Charles Grandison. While Lovelace, the protagonist of Clarissa, adheres to an empiricist model of objecthood and its apprehension, Sir Charles Grandison cannot be resolved into primary and secondary qualities, offering a collapse of primary-secondary difference that transforms masculine virtue into immediately perceptible appearance. This article argues that Richardson's engagement with empirical philosophy reflects the importance of the discourse of secondary qualities to the formal development of the eighteenth-century novel.
"Secondary Qualities and Masculine Form in Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison,"
2, Article 4.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol24/iss2/4
Helen Thompson, an associate professor of English at Northwestern University, earned her undergraduate degree in English and chemistry. During the 2011-12 academic year, she is an NEH fellow at the Newberry Library, where she is working on a book entitled "Fictional Matter: Empiricism, Secondary Qualities, and the Novel."