Secondary qualities and masculine form in Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison

Helen Thompson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-226
Number of pages32
JournalEighteenth-Century Fiction
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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