The Military Man in French and British Fiction, 1740–1789
Chapter 5 : The Justicier in the Eighteenth-Century Domestic Tragedy
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The Justicier in the Eighteenth-Century Domestic Tragedy
He will not go out of England till he has seen justice done you by everybody.1
This final chapter will depart from the previous four by focusing on military men who fight for private causes. My analysis has so far demonstrated the obligation of military men to engage in private combat to maintain their personal honour; the men discussed in this chapter do so in order to achieve justice. In the postscript to his highly influential epistolary novel Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady (1747–48), Samuel Richardson delivered an essay on the subject of ‘poetical justice’, which he was prompted to address by the many letters he had received from readers who desired a ‘happy’ ending for his heroine. Using examples from the Ancients and from British tragedy, Richardson elaborated a theory concerning the role that tragedy plays in culture, describing how virtue and vice – the virtuous and the vicious – are employed in narratives in order to produce an effect on their audience. Richardson hoped to achieve an effect that was both moral and lasting. He queried the beliefs that underpinned the demands for poetical justice, accusing ‘modern criticism’ (for ‘modern’ read secular) of leading readers to expect an ‘equal distribution of rewards and punishments and an impartial execution of poetical justice’ (p. 1495). He reminded his readers that ‘the history, or rather the dramatic narrative of Clarissa, is...
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