Comparison between English and French women in Richardson´s "Sir Charles Grandison"

Nov 2016
577
Germany
#1
In Samuel Richardson´s last novel "Sir Charles Grandison" (1753), in a letter to a Lady a Mr. Greville describes the mind and the appearance of Miss Harriet Byron, the novel´s female main character. In sum, he presents her as the most perfect lady he ever met, yet with the exception of her bodily shape. He contrasts it with that of French women, concluding that, as to the bodily shape, English women generally aren´t fit to hold a candle to French women. What I find difficult to understand, maybe since I´m no native speaker, is the justification for this assertion. I have underlined the passage below.

Has anyone an idea what that could mean with regard to the shape of the respective women? That French women (in those days) were more corpulent ("French negligence") than the English ones?

Her Stature; shall I begin with her stature? She cannot be said to be tall; but yet is something above the middling. Her Shape But what care I for her shape? I, who hope to love her still more, tho' possession may make me admire her less, when she has not that to boast of? We young fellows who have been abroad, are above regarding English shapes, and prefer to them the French negligence. By the way, I think the foreign ladies in the right, that they aim not at what they cannot attain. Whether we are so much in the right to come into their taste, is another thing. But be this as it will, there is so much ease and dignity in the person, in the dress, and in every air and motion, of Miss Harriet Byron, that fine shapes will ever be in fashion where she is, be either native or foreigner the judge.
 
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