With regard to Clarissa's astuteness in grasping the nature of the people Lovelace has "sheltered" her with, and the oddity or incongruity we are expected to believe, i.e., that she cannot see the corruption of the women she is surrounded by but reacts against the same quality when she finds it in men, in Letters 161-2, Monday night, May 1st (Ross Penguin, pp 542-7), Clarissa offers us four penetrating and persuasive portraits of Lovelace's four friends sort of confirms what I was partly suggesting when I queried the verisimilitude of Clarissa's not recognizing who these women are and their relationship to Lovelace; that is, that Richardson must make her dense because if she recognized the women she would have to flee, and there would go his story.
In letter 162 after an astute and saturnine depiction which makes one wish Richardson had had the temperament, the ability to distance himself which satire demands, she concludes "His companions are shocking creatures." Possibly because her suspicions have been aroused and she has been made uncomfortable and therefore more self-aware and alert than usual, she is disturbed more than the occasion warrants (so Anna says) when Mrs Sinclair attempts to get Miss Partington into her bed. She also remarks that "Miss Partington herself is not so bashful a lady as she was represented to me to be. " This too was her original or first reaction to "Miss Martin" and "Miss Horton," and it may be that she avers in Letter 163, Tuesday, May 2 (Ross Penguin, pp 547-8) that they are after all respectable women partly to reassure Anna as well as herself.
But compare the relatively vague, obtuse, and _short_ portraits of the women in Mrs. Sinclair's house with the finesse, trains of inference, and length of the truly brilliant "characters" Richardson lets her give us of Belton, Mowbray, Tourville, and Belford" (Letter 161, Ross, Penguin, pp 542-4). I was especially interested to see Clarissa could infer from Belton's appearance that he was a hard drinker. How can she be so Sherlock-Holmes-like here and not with the women? She says Mowbray's servants' behavior showed he was a cruel master. I delighted in so can't resist quoting her unusually comic moment on Tourville which I can't resist quoting:
Indeed, he seldom brings any of them to a conclusion [his stories]; for, if his company have patience to hear him out, he breaks in upon himself by so many parenthetical intrusions, as one may call them, and has so many incidents springing in upon him, that he frequently drops his own thread, and somtimes sits down satisfied half-way; or, if at other times he would resume it, he applies to his company to help him in again, with a Devil fetch him if he remembers what he was driving at ..."
I find it curious that the name Tourville is closely sounded like that of Madame de Tourvel in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. But I digress.
Now what I don't know about the class and type of woman who became a prostitute could fill volumes, but drinking had become just as much a real solace for women of the lower classes in mid-century England as men. Think of Hogarth's famous print. Mrs Sinclair's women would have drunk as hard as the men; they would have played cards, and in their skin color and manners should have revealed to the above percipient Clarissa their profession and histories.
I don't know that this is an important point. I think it shows the difficulty of setting up a consistently persuasive plot in an archetypal romance.
I will also remark that this modern reader was reminded of the complaint Coleridge (among others) made that Richardson had a dirty mind when among the first things Clarissa thinks about when Tourville sings is whether his lyrics "were decent" or not. Whose mind is in the sewer here? She is also curiously humiliated when it is pointed out by Belford that "Lovelace is a happy man;" she takes this as an insult to her because this, she says, "exalts him." This is the sort of guarded pride & game-playing that grates on me. She never gives an inch. Life is a war in which all action can be seen as a series of attempts to triumph over one another; thus "moral" behavior becomes a being on the alert to prevent others from gaining the least height, however metaphoric it might be. I'm glad I don't live in such a world in my mind and find repellent those who do and force this view upon me by their ever so slightly triumphant behavior when such an interpretation upon an event was the last thing on my mind.