Chapter

Judging Clarissa's Heart

Hina Nazar

in Enlightened Sentiments

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780823240074
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780823240111 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fordham/9780823240074.003.0004
Judging Clarissa's Heart

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This chapter considers the famous “inward turn” Samuel Richardson's seminal sentimental novel, Clarissa, instantiates at the level of both form and moral theme. The story of a virtuous young woman who finds that virtue can no longer be realized in obedience to her elders, Clarissa locates itself at the heart of the liberal Enlightenment through the importance it attaches to the judgments and feelings of its heroine. But the relationship between judgment and feeling it envisions is an ambiguous one. On the one hand, Richardson's heroine represents her judgments as instinctive responses, the work of her judging heart, which mysteriously reveals God's laws. On the other hand, she understands judgment to entail scrutinizing the heart from a standpoint of relative impartiality. This account is sentimentalist because it takes impartiality to be a contingency of Clarissa's epistolary friendship with Anna Howe, who helps Clarissa gain distance from her heart's promptings by becoming a co-spectator of them. I suggest that the first, broadly religious, paradigm of judgment identifies Clarissa only ambiguously as an independent moral agent: while she is justified by the highest principles to defy worldly authority, she nonetheless remains God's obedient servant. By contrast, the second, broadly secular paradigm mobilizes an at once less transcendental and more compelling understanding of autonomy as moral independence nurtured by friendship and debate.

Keywords: Samuel Richardson; Sentimentalism; Virtue; Judgment; Heart; Religion; Epistolary Novel; Friendship

Chapter.  8691 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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