Critical Evaluation

Sir Charles Grandison provides, in a series of 182 familiar letters, the history of a hero who is as different as possible from Lovelace, the villain of Samuel Richardson’s earlier novel, Clarissa: Or, The History of a Young Lady (1747-1748). Lovelace is many things, all of them bad: a libertine, an atheist, and a rapist, for example. He metamorphoses himself into whatever form of evildoer is needed to destroy whatever form of human decency and goodness might be within striking distance. Sir Charles Grandison, on the other hand, is always the same Christian gentleman, whatever he does. The letters in the novel, written by Sir Charles and the other characters in the novel, show him as a champion of right social order, compassionate benefactor of the unfortunate, doer of his duty toward his creator, defender of anyone—even a complete stranger—against injustice. He is especially a protector of women in need of protection.

Unlike Lovelace, who engages in no productive activity of any kind, instead spending his fortune and time entirely on furthering his sinister plans for seducing Clarissa, Sir Charles does work and all of it for good. He is seen on his estates caring for his tenants, repairing his buildings, and inspecting his fields. His good husbandry increases the wealth that makes his many charities possible. He makes friends easily. Instead of manipulating people for his own ends, he serves them by solving their problems or helping them to solve their difficulties by themselves.

Another quality of Sir Charles’s gentlemanliness is his generosity in his relationships with women. He rescues his father’s mistress from certain misery when her keeper dies. He forgives the Lady Olivia, whose unreturned love for him turns into hate, and he forgets the murderous assaults on his person committed by that lady and her accomplices. He assumes the guardianship of little Emily Jervois to preserve her from the bad influence of her immoral mother. He provides dowries for his penniless sisters to enable them to find suitable husbands. His tact helps his younger sister, Charlotte, whose flippancy almost ruins her marriage, to change her behavior so that she becomes a good wife.

His task with Lady Clementina, the delicate, mentally unstable Italian beauty to whom he was affianced, is more difficult. The English physicians he brings with him to Italy to restore her to health cannot deal with her dilemma. Although she loves Sir Charles, she refuses to marry him unless he abandons his Protestant religion—which he cannot do. Therefore, he must extricate himself from a fruitless involvement without causing ill...

(The entire section is 1086 words.)