We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

The 1991 film _Clarissa_: a transcription of 3 scenes between Lovelace & Clary · 3 April 09

Anna Howe [Hermione Norris] reading Clarissa’s letter telling Anna of Clarissa’s desperate need for some shelter since her family is ruthlessly, punitively pressuring to marry Mr Solmes (BBC/WBGH Clarissa, 1991)

Dear Friends,

You will find on today’s blog, a transcription of 3 scenes which did not fit into the theme of my 20 minute paper on the 1991 film adaptation of Richardson’s Clarissa, ”’How you all must have laughed. Such a witty masquerade:’ Clarissa 1991, where I limited myself to discussing the uses of 18th century art in the film.

As with the Shakespeare’s tragic play Hamlet, if you go through the film adaptation just watching the scenes between Lovelace (Sean Bean) and Clarissa (Saskia Wickham) you can trace a developing sick relationship brought on by the social arrangments and assumptions they live with or by. I have chosen to transcribe three key moments from the film where we see our protagonists clash directly over core conflicts: in the first Clary asserts her right to a way of life of her own choosing, a right Lovelace fiercely denies on the basis of his passion for her; in the second, he has just tried to coerce her into sexual intercourse through forcing upon her violent petting, and pressures her into promising to forgive him; in the third, he has just raped her and asks for her forgiveness, and she tells him his violation of her and continual use of lying precludes her having any possible relationship with him ever.

The first occurs after the disastrous dinner party where Clarissa is forced to sit and listen to the jeering salacious talk of Lovelace’s friends and the prostitutes, and the next morning (a dream-like improbable sequence) finds the room downstairs where the evidence of her eyes shows her sexual and drinking orgies go on. She flees upstairs, and is intercepted by Lovelace:

On the landing between stairwells near her room, Part 3, Episode 2 (“Entertainment”).

Lovelace. “Madam.”
Clarissa; “What kind of place is this that you have brought me to?”
Lovelace: “What kind?”
Clarissa: “If you do not answser I willthink it is because you dare not.”
Lovelace: “I know as little of the place as you do. It was your choce, not mine [she was manipulated into it]. Has someone here offended you?”
Clarissa: “You offend me, sir.”
Lovelace [bullying her]: “I, how do I offend? [Coming close, menacing tone] I put my life at your disposal. I place my hopes of salvation in your care, and what do I receive in return? Scorn, contempt, accusations. I am a proud man, Madam.
She looks supercilious.
Clarissa: “Is that a confession or a boast?”
Lovelace: “Is this what I deserve?”
Clarissa: “God knows what you deserve? It is not my concern. I shall leave this place tomorrow. Do not try to stop me.”
Lovelace: “And go where?” [aggressive gesture at her, and she backs away]
Clarissa: “That need not trouble you [I love this steely line best of all in the film adaptation] I’ve told you the single life is all I want. You may live as you please.”

Clarissa (Saskia Wickham) tells Lovelace (Sean Bean) she wants him to leave her and it’s no business of his where she goes

“And if I please to live with you.”
She is going into her room and turns on the threshold.
Clarissa: “That cannot be.”
Lovelace: “Oh but it must. [She shuts the door.] We were born for each other. You must be mind even at the cost of my damnation.

The personality projected by these lines reminds me strongly of Anne Bronte’s Helen Graham in her Tenant of Wildfell Hall finally rejected her vicious lout of a husband, and suggests to me the connection between Nokes and Barron’s two film adaptations.
The same strong pride and self-esteem and desire to live on and in her self rather than this distasteful to her death-in-life on offer.

The second occurs after the faked fire incident. We see women looking from one door, Lovelace at the other, Dorcas bringing up fire, and women dousing, fanning, out she flies (face again suffused with distress), and Lovelace pulls her in. Fire letters 224, 231, Folio Society, I, pp. 722-27, 757 (in book it’s not threatened genital sex, using a phallus, but actual literal breast sucking is suggested, his hands on her breasts and in her vulva area). Inside bedroom he leaps on her in bed, “Don’t be afraid,” she conjures him not to, she gets out of his grasp, finds scissors (not so central in text). Words, as he rushes in and mastershot from above of them in bed with single spotlight.

Clarissa’s bedroom, Part 3, Episode 3 (Uncle’s News):

Lovelace: “Don’t be afraid.”
Clary: “Mr Lovelace.”
Lovelace: “I promise you. Tomorrow we shall be married.”
Clary. “Let me go.”
Lovelace: “Dearest.”
Clary: Let me … go … (She wrenches herself out of his grasp, out of the bed and onto the floor of her room)
She grabs scissors, and points it at him opened.
Clary: “Oh you villain.”
He moves over. He lunges and downs her once again to bed. They are on bed again, struggle, he attempting to force her to accede, she with scissors.
Lovelace: “Am I a villain? Am I?”
Clary: “Yes. Let me go and God Almghtly shall have mercy on you.”
He’s now pulling her hair hard and under great strain in his face.
He suddenly stands back.
Lovelace: “Forgive me.” (Looks ashamed)
Thunder heard, rain, she lays there shaking, trembling all over.
She stands.
Clary: “Please go. Just leave me. ” She stands there in smock, great strained self-control
Lovelace emerges from darkness.
Lovelace: “Only if you forgive me.You must tell me that that I am forgiven. That you will see [me?] tomorrow as if nothing has happened. Do you?”
Clary. “Yes, yes I forgive you.”
Lovelace. “Honestly. ”
Clary: “Honestly.”
Lovelace: “Freely.”
Clary: “Please.”
Lovelace: “Upon your honor. Say upon your honor.”

Clary: “Upon my honor.” (We hear rain)
Lovelace takes her face, pulls back to his.
Lovedlace; “I’ll seal my pardon with a kiss.” (He forces a mouth-to-mouth kiss. Then lets her go).

The last occurs when the filmic Clary tells Lovelace she wants a single life, and he tells her she shall never have it if he has anything to do with it.

The third occurs after the rape.

Downstairs in Mrs Sinclair’s brothel, Part 4, Episode 2 (“The Final Act”). Clarissa is brought before Lovelace between Sally and Deborah:

Clarissa: “What further evils are reserved for me?
Women silent.
Clarissa: “I find I am your prisoner”
He signals women to leave. He walks slowly around room and sits down.
Lovelace. “Madam. Clarissa. I am truly truly sorry.” (Puts out hand.)
Clarissa: (Backs away.) “Don’t touch me.” (Revulsed expression.)
Lovelace: “I love you.”
Clarissa: “Some new strategem.”
Lovelace: “Believe me.”
Clarissa: “Again? As I believed Captain Tomlinson? and Lady Betty? How you all must have laughed. Such a witty masquerade.”
Lovelace: “Let me make amends.”
Clarissa: “What? Can you blot out the past week? (Intense strain in her face.) “Am I or am I not at my own liberty now? Or is the pantomime not yet over? Once subdued, always subdued. Is that not one of your maxims? Well? Do you think to make me your whore?”
Lovelace. “No. My wife.”
Clarissa: (Revulsed altogether.) “What?”
Lovelace. “Marry me.”
Clarissa: (Looks down.) “Never.” (Shakes her head.)
Lovelace looks down. He then tries to bully her.
Lovelace: “I warn you do not make me desperate. My patience is not inexhaustible. No other man will have you now.”
Clarissa looks at him with quiet scorn
Lovelace: (Angry.) “Depend upon it, madame, you shall be mine.”
Clarissa: “Yours? My soul is above you, man. Urge me not to tell you how sincerely I know my soul is above you. I would not bind myself in covenant with you for a thousand thousand worlds.”

Lovelace taking in those words


This is an interim entry. I find I am going so slowly nowadays on all projects that I can take but one step at a time. Last night I managed to put up my paper on the 1991 mini-series Clarissa on my website, complete with all the stills (three series of stills substitutes for clips), notes and a transcription of the duelling scene.

Putting the paper there is part of a general updating I’m now working of the 1997 website I created to present “Reading Clarissa in Real Time, a record in the form of postings sent to a list called Clary-l where I and a group of mostly academics read Richadson’s Clarissa in the course of a year following the calendar of the novel.

For my paper defending the film adaptation, I include my original proposal, a detailed comparison of the film and Richardson’s Clarissa, and list of letters in the film (which formed the evidence for my argument that the film makes continual use of filmic epistolarity), and a link to the part of my website which includes numerous essays on epistolarity in the novels of Austen and Anthony Trollope as well as on real women’s letters in the Renaissance.

Mrs Sinclair (Catherine Harrison) tries to peek into Lovelace’s mail

Over the years since I made the site and put up the postings of the one reading and discussion of the novel according to date time in the novel I’ve become aware and been told that mostly students use (read) the site. So I plan to preface the older “real time reading” a brief selected annotated bibliography of Richardson studies (books, collections of essays, individual essays in periodicals) as well as a few good film studies books directed at new and non-professional readers of Richardson’s book as well as students.

Mrs Harlowe [Frances Vener] looking down at her daughter dead in the coffin, the last still of my paper


P.S. Using the above, I’d like to put a blog on the part of my website dedicated to Clarissa, which would enable people to make comments on the site. Alas, this blog is not able to continually allow for comments; so this is another flaw or gap. The Admiral and I are discussing moving this blog onto more modern software. My vote is for Wordpress which, with his help, I think I could understand. He is trying to work out (once again) something more original and plainer (and yet for free). Stay tuned.

P.P.S. I just discovered I missed an essay on the filmic Clarissa that would have been of great interest to me: Lisa Hopkins, “The transference of Clarissa; psychoanalysis and the realm of the feminine,” Cultural Studies, 6:2 (1994):218-25. I knew about her essay on Clarissa as a gothic movie, but not this. When I am able to, I will add it to the website paper.

Posted by: Ellen

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  1. From Judy:

    “Dear Ellen,

    A brief note in return to say that I enjoyed reading your paper very much – to pick on just one point, it had never previously struck me that there are similarities or parallels between Anna and Lovelace in the book, and this is fascinating to think about.

    I wish I could have heard you give the paper – I love all the depth that you go into and am also impressed by the collection of stills you have come up with, which illustrate it brilliantly. As you say, much is also in the notes.
    I’m glad you gave your paper ahead of that other woman!

    You do tempt me very much to read the book again, something I am trying to resist since I don’t really have time. Maybe I will read some of the books you recommend on Richardson instead.:)

    Elinor    Apr 3, 6:35pm    #
  2. Dear Ellen,

    I’ve just read your paper about ‘Clarissa’ again – I have a few more thoughts, a bit scattered.

    One thing that struck me was the way you pick out two scenes which I remember finding arresting when I watched the series last time round, the one where the prostitute imitates Clarissa to Lovelace, saying her line ‘Your soul is above me’, and he reacts with horror (I’d forgotten that his reaction is different in the novel, as you say), and the one where he goes to the real Lady Betty and she rejects him, saying “Impersonate me with your strumpets.”

    Both these scenes seem to be reversals of ones which have gone before, bringing out their meaning or maybe, to use another of your images, turning them another way in the mirror – I suppose the prostitute’s imitation of Clarissa is so shocking/visually arresting because it is a contrast of angel and whore (the two ways Lovelace sees women) and maybe because it brings out the horror and the violent sexuality beneath his own smooth/beautiful surface. I know my response to the series was coloured by the fact that I find Sean Bean attractive and that someone who doesn’t might feel differently… but I feel as if much of the time the programme-makers are showing just how convincing the masquerade could be, the contrast between what Lovelace could have been and what he is. The whores he surrounds himself with, with their rotten teeth (later in another scene you picked out, where he disguises himself as an old man, he momentarily has rotten teeth himself ) bring out what his inner self is like, and also show his hatred for women at heart.

    Thinking about the series, it strikes me that there is no real sympathy for the prostitutes, or any feeling about them as people themselves – which I don’t suppose there is in Richardson either. They are just a demonstration of Lovelace’s evil and his desire for sexual domination. They always want to bring Clarissa down to their levelrather than feeling any longing for the days before they themselves were caught in this way of life.

    Elinor    Apr 5, 10:52pm    #
  3. Thank you for the detailed reply, Judy. First off, no one talked of any details at all who told me they read it, only sent words of praise. And then your comments are cogent and well-taken.

    I did work hard on the paper and comparison. Memory is so treacherous and only going back carefully to the novel where the very source of a scene occurs can tell you if they are different or the same. I startled my students when I showed them how Namesake the book and movie are continually literally different.

    Yes I’d say the prostitutes are not people to Richardson nor in this film. Real women would have so many more motives and memories and would regret their past. Clarissa is also shaped by themes in the book and film which make her into a figure like Helen Graham in Tenant.

    While the production meant to show Lovelace as self-destructive, it also considerably blackened him; I showed that the scene of him thinking how he could have married her is juxtaposed to the prostitutes setting up a trap. This kind of thing is done repeatedly.

    Finally as has happened before, the film has made me see points of view about the book I hitherto rejected do have validity. For example, that Anna is an admirable character. I left the film liking her very much :) She was on Clary’s side truly, for she was experiencing the same coercion which would limit her life; the film did not undermine but rather made this part of her character emphatic.

    Elinor    Apr 5, 11:06pm    #
  4. A little more from me too

    Dear Judy,

    Just a little more on this character. It’s an explanation of why I cannot be attracted to Lovelace nor the kind of actor who would be chosen to play the part. From the very first time I ever read the book, I had strong feelings for the character, Clarissa. I loved her. Early on this time through I did see that I didn’t identify quite as abjectly and that possibly came from my being older and seeing her as a young girl innocent and not recognizing how little she was grasping what Lovelace was.

    But as I read on, the old strong feelings on behalf of her stance towards the world and the perception of experience she stood for as opposed say to Anna was revivified, and when I wrote the paper obviously I was strongly for what she stands for ethically and emotionally. This is part of my usual attitude towards what’s inadequately called “virtuous” heroines: these encompass (for me) Alice Vavasour, Elinor Dashwood, in modern novels the counterparts in Ashima (from Namesake, the mother, and I didn’t like Moushumi at all, her sexual infidelity being part of a pattern of attitudes towards others which is cold and relentless, ruthless in a tenacious way).

    I did say I can like Liam Nelson and others like him who one finds playing “he-men” in these film adaptations and costume dramas. But I think his type includes beyond this element of strong sexual attraction, a vulnerabilty to emotional attachment that trumps the desire to be powerful over whoever is around, and the real willingness, nay even pleasure in being able to inflict cruelty (for what else is Henry Crawford feeling when he sees Maria Bertram hurting over him, and that makes for his sexual appetites growing). He would not be asked to play Lovelace. I can’t find sexually attractive this characteristic of cruelty; it’s alienating (and has been since say my 20s) as it’s this kind of characteristic that makes life so hard and awful for people as it’s one of the root causes of social arrangements. You might say instinct trumps thought, but my instinct is really to want to walk away. Have nothing to do with this. I liked the way Nokes and Barron developed Belford, for they were moving him in the direction of the type Nelson plays, having this emotional and ethical awareness and acting on it (a man of sensibility we could call it, only it’s not sentimental, but filled with self-dislike for Belford); I noted that the actor chosen to play Arthur Huntington in the Tenant is an actor like Nelson, Rupert Graves, he can play sexual appeal but usually does not play cruelty, rather vulnerability, and indeed when he becomes alcoholic sympathy is worked up for his need for Helen.

    I also liked Nokes and Barron’s change of Anna, for they eliminated from her that strong part of Richardson’s heroine’s character where she is dense and cannot react to Clarissa’s needs on the grounds of what Clarissa might really feel and remember in horror, only from the point of view of again power: for she wants the world to admire Clarissa and that means doing what the world wants—as she would want to be admired. Clarissa really wanted to be left alone and no one would give her that unless she went off to a far away place she would be lost in.

    We are reading the book in very modern and woman-centered terms when we do this, for Richardson has an imposed sin and Christian scheme and a novelist like Trollope cares more about the control of the woman’s sexuality as a secondary creature to him and the society made for him (in his gentleman status role).

    Elinor    Apr 6, 8:53am    #
  5. Dear all,

    I’ve now put up on my website, my detailed outline of the 1991 mini-series film, Clarissa:


    I have discovered that it’s fundamental, essential, the thing one cannot do a study of a film without, to literally sit down and write a brief description of each of the changes of scene, for if I don’t I find I am misremembering. I also can’t begin to study what’s there until I know it, and what’s literally there is often literally quite different from the novel though taken from it. Much that passes for descriptions of movies is impressionistic and if the person were to go back and slowly watch the movie, stopping to write a note of each scene and then read over what he or she has, it’s then he or she could begin to say something genuinely there and for real about the film’s characterizations, themes, juxtaposition and so on. I’ve written an outline just like this for a number of the Austen films. I’ve also written much longer fuller ones (probably too long and full but I feared I would forget what I had seen by the time I got to the end) for the Palliser films and these put on my blog.

    I hope anyone who comes upon this will find it useful. I would love for someone to make suggestions about nomenclature: what should I call a sequence of images in one places, because movies cut back and forth so it’s not a literal scene in the way a play is and doesn’t work the same way aesthetically.

    Elinor    Apr 8, 9:46am    #

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