Richard Steele’s (do you think people ever called him “Dick”? Dick Steele? Just wondering) 1722 play basically inaugurating sentimental comedy as a self-consciously new major form and backlash against Restoration comedies. Perfectly benevolent characters, sententious dialogue, improbable happy ending (famous reunion between pathetic heroine and father). Kind of a yawn-fest if we’re being real here.
Except for this one guy. Cimberton. He’s Lucinda Sealand’s mother’s cousin (the mother wants Lucinda to marry him–she thinks he’s so intellectual), and basically a pedantic materialist creep who views Lucinda as livestock with a lot of money.
At first he doesn’t notice Lucinda at all, but when he does, he turns into an incredible lecher:
Cimberton: Ay, the vermilion of her lips.
Lucinda: Pray, don’t talk of me thus.
Cimberton: The pretty enough–pant of her bosom.
Lucinda: Sir! Madam [i.e. Mother], don’t you hear him?
Cimberton: Her forward chest.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cimberton: I say, madam, her impatience while we are looking at her throws out all her attractions–her arms–her neck–what a spring in her step!
Lucinda: Don’t you run me over thus, you strange unaccountable!
Cimberton: What an elasticity in her veins and arteries!
Lucinda: I have no veins, no arteries.
Mrs. Sealand: Oh, child, hear him, he talks finely, he’s a scholar, he knows what you have.
FUCK YES that is amazing. “I have no veins, no arteries.” I can only hope one day I get to say something as classic as that.
Cimberton: The speaking invitation of her shape, the gathering of herself up, and the indignation you see in the pretty little thing–now I am considering her on this occasion but as one that is to be pregnant.
Lucinda (aside): The familiar, learned, unseasonable puppy!
Cimberton: And pregnant undoubtedly she will be yearly. I fear I shan’t for many years have discretion enough to give her one fallow season.
I’m sorry if I just made you throw up all over the place. After I read that line for the first time I felt like I needed a long, boiling-hot shower. Seriously, though, I know it goes way beyond “creepy”–it’s deeply rape-y, it’s objectification in the extreme, it makes her an animal, and also, it’s in front of her mother, ew–but it’s also magnificently creepy.
Creep studies—is that a thing? Can that be MY thing? Can I write my dissertation on creeps? You know, it’s moments like this that I remember both why I’m in grad school and why I will ultimately never succeed in grad school.
Anyway, then Cimberton mentions his one concern to Lucinda’s mother (for which she genuinely praises him):
Cimberton: I marry to have an heir to my estate and not to beget a colony or a plantation. This young woman’s beauty and constitution will demand provision for a tenth child at least.
Mrs. Sealand (aside): With all that wit and learning, how considerate! What an economist!