Anna's letter of July 25th, Tuesday, shows Richardson's
great power & energy when it comes to the fully-
realized dramatic scene. Lovelace holds
his own against all comers with a flare that is amusing;
in a way it's a parallel of Clarissa against the whores
at the Rowlands; her irony is quieter, but she holds
her own too; but this is one that we enjoy, we revel
in his use of the comeuppance, his showing others
up for what they are while he appears untouched:
Miss D'Oily, upon his complimenting her among knot
of ladies, asked him in their hearing, how Miss Clarissa Harlowe did?
He heard, he said, you were not so well as he wished you
to be, and as you deserved to be.
Oh Mr Lovelace, said she, what have you to answer for
on that young lady's account if all be true that I have heard?
I have a great deal to answer for, said the unblushing
villain: but that dear lady has so many excellencies, and so much
delicacy, that little sins are great ones in her eye.
Little sins! replied the lady: Mr Lovelace's character
is so well known that nobody believes he can commit little
You are very good to me, Miss D'Oily.
Indeed I am not.
Then I am the only person to whom you are not
very good: and so I the less obliged to you (Tuesday, July
25, Letter 367, Ross Penguin p 1134).
So often Richardson seems to mistake "gaiety" for rudeness
or roughness to people who don't deserve it; Miss D'Oily
deserves it; Lovelace's first sentence is serious and grave;
it is Miss D'Oily who insults Clarissa by asking him how
Clarissa does; she who compliments him on his sexual
prowess while pretending virtue. It is she who is indelicate,
Everyone, of course, remembers this intently
visualized moment (a hot spot, if ever there was
How kind this is! said the wretch; and, ready
to follow me, opened the door for me.
I turned back upon this, and not knowing what
I did, snapped my fan just in his face as she turned short
upon me; and the powder flew from his wig (Ibid,
Ross Penguin p 1136).
So much for him; and it's all the better since Anna did
not mean it. I believe this is one Ian Watt discusses.
Of course, Richardson here makes Lovelace so alluring
in his wit, self-possession that the reader is naturally
(human nature being what it is) drawn back
and Belford seems so very dull, if sometimes
absolutely correct (as in his analysis of the woman
who says how sorry she is
for Clary, but is willing to take her clothes for half-
price, a vignette of the marketplace in little). We
think, alas, only Clary could keep up with this, but
what a kill-joy she was. And of course Richardson
consciously at least doesn't want this at all. And yet
who would be without it? It's the brilliance of this
I thought I'd end on a criticism of _Clarissa_ by
Jane Austen in which she takes issue with the
kind of alluring brilliance Richardson gives Lovelace
from the moral point of view. A foolish vain
male character, a Sir Edward Denham,
in the unfinished Sanditon says
he approves of the following kinds of novels:
such as display human nature with grandeur--such
as show her in the sublimities of intense feeling--such as
exhibit the progress of strong passion from the first germ
of incipient susceptibility to the utmost energies of reason
half-dethroned,--where we see the strong spark of woman's
captivations elicit such fire in the soul of man as leads him--(though
at the risk of some aberration from the strict line of primitive
obligation)--to hazard all, dare all, achieve all, to obtain her.--
Such are the works which I persue with delight, and ...
amelioration. They hold for the most splendid portratitures of
high conceptions, unbounded views, illimitable ardour...
T'were pseudo-philosophy to assert that we do not feel more
enwrapped by the briliancy of his career, than by the tranquil
and morbid virutes of any opposing character (1974 Penguin,
Sanditon ed. M. Drabble, Ch 8, p 190).
We know this is Lovelace because in the next paragraph the
narrator comes in to tell us Sir Edward had been reading
too much Richardson & novels written in "his footsteps:"
His fancy had been early caught by all the impassioned,
and most exceptionable parts of Richardson...
so far as man's determiend pursuit of woman in defiance of every
feeling and convenience is concerned, had since occupied
the greater part of his literary hours... With a perversity
of judgement, which must be attributed to his not
having by nature a very strong head, the graces, the
spirit, the sagacity, nd perserverance, of the villain
of the story outweighed all his absurdities and
atrocities with Sir Edward.--With him, such conduct
was genius, fire and feeling.--It interested and inflamed
him... (Penguin pp 190-1)
It's interesting though that Austen gives him
the language of saying that fair reciprocation of
emotion and support in a sexual/love relationship
is "a primitive obligation." It's not a moral rule,
but something primal which Sir Edward dismisses
as "primitive." The editor of the Penguin Sanditon ,
Margaret Drabble, then quotes the same quotation by
Austen's nephew everyone quotes when they are
trying to demonstrate how much Austen admired
Richardson, forgetting she didn't say it; it was
her brother said it first, and now the nephew, both in pieces
in which they are determined to show she was an impeccable
pious Christian; I find her much much more ambivalent
in her own references to Richardson (i.e,, there's a funny
dialogue on Grandison in Northanger Abbey in which
it's suggested a lot of people find Grandison unreadable
and the heroine's mother reads on because she's got
nothing else). Drabble then (as if she had Austen nailed down)
disagrees with what she takes to be Austen's view&
says she can't "entirely blame Sir Edward, arguing
that many many people "have drawn the wrong moral conclusions"
from Richardson's 1st two novels and not got the third
exactly "right" either; and for herself concludes "Clarissa's
piety, though respected by some admirable critics, I find
I admire some of Margaret Drabble's novels, her book on
Arnold Bennett and on Landscape in Literature; I wish she
had told us why she finds Clary's "piety morally repulsive."
To this John Dussinger replied:
Subject: Re: A Spirited Letter
Margaret Drabble's response to the implicit Christian martyrdom of
Richardson's heroine is surely no interpretive problem, is it?
Ellen, you're mischievous in baiting us here! I like it! Guilt and
punishment are the headline news these days in this hemisphere, with
multi-millionare-dollar lawyers doing their utmost to prove that a
cultural hero has been framed and with numerous equally horrendous
cases of mothers or fathers slaughtering their own children for one
reason or another. Predictably, the liberal stress will be towards
explaining away the individual's moral responsibility as the result
of huge cultural forces that almost made such horrendous acts
inevitable. The conservative religious take, of course, will stress
that individuals must be held responsible for their actions and pay
the consequences. So if Margaret Drabble finds Richardson's
repressive ethics for the woman repugnant, no matter how orthodox
Christian they may be, and if Jane Austen may have found them ALMOST
equally repugnant, I'd say Amen. Both women writers have their axes
to grind and should certainly be given the room to do so. But in the
end we have to admit that any of the more usual representations of
self abnegation during the early period of the Western Christian
period would have to be even more repugnant than Clarissa's way of
the cross in her remaining days on this earth. But let's bear in
mind, however, if things are hopeless for Clarissa, they're surely no
better for Lovelace. That was Murray's point in his inquiry, not so?
The whole ambiguity of what Lovelace's end, as well, of course, as
Clarissa's, finally means in this novel. Future rewards? Sure. No
doubt about it, Clary leaves this world in much better shape than
Lovelace or the rest of his circle. But the exact terms of these
future rewards (or punishments) seem deliberately to be vague.
A small rejoinder: I like Prof. Dussinger's reply but mine was
not a rhetorical question.