We now have a group of letters which seem more to be marking time than anything else:
Friday, July 28, Let 370: Lovelace speaks up for himself; "I am _comparatively_ an innocent man." Richardson seems to want us to see what he sees as moral problems in Aeneid, and it's interesting how Richardson uses literature to comment on moral problems directly. It's also interesting how Richardson can hold many attitudes in his mind at once: he can both empathize and be sentimental, and at the same time mock the sentimentality. In his letters he condemns the bully-boy mentality of epic; here is another amusing assessment of Aeneas' love for Dido, and piety. Is his hero not equal to Virgil's:
"I am in a humour to play the fool with my pen: briefly then, from ancient story first--Dost thou not htnk that I am as much entitled to forgiveness on Miss Harlowe's account, as Virgil's hero was on Queen Dido's day? From what an ungrateful varlet was that vagabond to the hospitable princess, who had willingly conferred upon him the last favour?--Stealing away (whence, I suppose, the ironical phrase of trusty Trojan to this day) like a thief; pretendedly indeed at the command of the gods; but could that be, when the errand he went upon was to rob other princes, not only of their dominions, but of their lives?--Yet this felow is at every word the pius Aeneas with the immortal bard who celebrates him" (p. 1142).
I enjoy the robustness of this, and the spirit which reminds me of Sidney in The Arcadia where he asks if people go about to make war, kill, and grab land just to say they have done so. So too does Johnson have no sympathy for the great "heroes" of the world who have murdered and destroyed everything in their path. This is part of the redefinition of maleness going on. But I don't care for the salacious way of looking at sex; often it leaves me feeling dirty.
At any rate, Lovelace, most un-Aeneas like I suppose is the point, threatens a visit which I think Richardson has persuaded this reader at least would shatter Clarissa; she could not take it; Lovelace is trauma to her; at one point it seemed to me Richardson has identified Belford with himself ("Thou thyself art an adept in the pretended science of reading of men"); at another Mowbray seems to be likened to one of Milton's Satans devils.
Let 371 (in continuation, without saying so): Of interest is Lovelace's hope that Clarissa is pregnant; I wondered when on Sunday, July 10, Letter 376 Mrs Harlowe repeated the same idea, we are to see in this both Lovelace's and and the Harlowe's refusal to think that Clarissa did not in some sense enjoy the encounter, by which I mean, does Richardson here allude to the common idea that to give a woman an orgasm is to make a pregnancy more likely? Here he brings back the idea that Clary seeks death as a means of revenge, and it's not something we can dismiss because of the psychological astuteness Richardson's own narrative, despite our editor's determined notes to the contrary ("Mr Lovelace could not know the lady was so thoroughly sensible...."&c).
Friday night, July 28, Sat. July 29, Lets 372-3: Miss Howe accepts Clarissa's decision not to marry Lovelace and sends on Clary's letters to Lovelace's relatives; here Anna's indignation at the Harlowes strikes the reader as right, and I suggest Richardson meant to stand for both views; on the one hand he wouldn't dream of arguing against the family's ownership (he wouldn't use this word of course) of their child, so Clary argues firmly they are right because they had the right to expect her to behave a certain way, and look at all they did (and so on, tirelessly I might add); on the other, Clarissa never mentions Solmes, this is forgotten, but we don't forget it, and Mrs Harlowe's letter reminds us how really implacable and uncharitable and to blame the Harlowes themselves were.
Friday, July 28 enclosing Thursday July 27, Lets 374-8: Enter the Harlowes once again. I of course found Mrs Norton's wishing Clarissa had died at 9 appalling, and then was not a little startled by her flattery of the Harlowe's greed to manipulate them; such a prious lady to claim Clary's not marrying because then she knows the property will be disputed, now doesn't she get something for this, is the implied argument. I had not thought the old lady so cunning.
There is a touching tone though, and an attempt to make the Harlowes grieve. Of all the letters in this three day period Mrs Harlowe's is to me the most interesting in many ways. Richardson is doing many things at once as well as recreating this presence once again. We have discussed poor Charlotte and her self-pity and avoidance of responsibility earlier; she too has touching moments: "And is she really ill?--so very ill?" One might say here that gratitude, and obligation and all the rest of it are not wrong feelings at all; in fact they have their place in relationships of all kinds; are part of the groundwork upon which people build the common kindnesses of everyday life; but not to these Harlowes, not to these abusers of other people for their materialistic & false ends. Mrs Harlowe says how could Clary abandon me; well, Mrs Harlowe abandoned Clary. Of Arabella's letter is it not less harsh than one might have thought?
Sunday, July 30, Let 379: Clary's interesting suggestion of making Belford her executor emerges. Indeed, who else can she easily turn to? And he can act without fearing Lovelace will necessarily get angry, though I don't think we are to see her as protecting Lovelace from violence. Her letter is irritating because of her abasement of herself before people who don't merit her love; if she doesn't merit theirs, why can't she see that not just a lack of merit on their part but their downright real abuse of her frees her? She can't forgive Lovelace; he's done the irretrievable; I suggested Margaret Drabble was avoiding offending conventional morality when she said she finds Clarissa's "piety is repugnant." I don't know therefore know why she finds Clary repugnant, and can't guess. Clay's words in this letter are repugnant to me because the Harlowes have done things to Clary which I deem not forgiveable, not forgettable, irretrievable. To beg their blessing is to bow before evil. One does not kiss the whip. One does not pretend evil is not evil. That is to reinforce its already large license to operate.