The group canvassed this subject again and again. One of the more stimulating series of postings was written by Caroline Breashears.
Of Letter 26 dated Thursd. morn. Mar. 9 (Ross Penguin, pp 126-7), Caroline wrote as follows:
"He cannot come at these intelligences fairly." If Lovelace is a sneak, as she admits, then why can she ever put any trust in him at all? Because, maybe, she WANTS to trust him, has motives that she herself does not recognize toward him?
This letter brings out sharply, I believe, another of her dilemmas: her loyalty to her own family in defending it against Lovelace's and his family's contempt of the Harlowes. In a society where children are murdering their parents and vice- versa, Clarissa's tribal bond must seem hopelessly out of date! She's also painfully aware that her reputation has been on a decline as the public look on her as "falling in love" with her family's worst enemy. So she has to bend over backwards to prove somehow that she still values her immediate family more than any other social group and of course continues to deny any romantic interest whatever in the rake. It's only CURIOSITY, she insists, that keeps her corresponding with Lovelace, a motive that Anna picks up on ironically in the next letter. By the way, despite the fact that Richardson repeatedly denied that Clarissa was "in love" with him, a number of his first readers believed otherwise, much to his dismay. A good case for trusting the tale rather than the teller!
What are we to make of Clary's statement that she is going By the way, apart from all his physical and sexual repulsiveness, note Anna's disgust that Solmes could be so depraved as to cut off his own family from any future inheritances as the price he was willing to pay for having Clary as a plaything: "the cutting off all reversions from his own family!" The economic basis of moral judgments in this novel is always there, isn't it?
Then of Letter 27 dated Thursday night, March 9 (Ross Penguin, pp 128-34), Caroline Breashears wrote:
Readers who like Anna's view of the story will surely welcome this contribution. It opens with basically the same question that David Evans raised previously about why Clary doesn't simply demand her inheritance from her uncle-trustees and move to her other house, a freedom her grandfather had made possible in the first place. Surely Anna's common sense suits our own times even better than it did Richardson's, and rather than low self-esteem as we would have it, Clarissa's self-abnegation at this point impressed at least her first male readers as testimony to her religious devotion. Instead of thinking of Charlotte Harlowe as a battered wife, Anna blames her for having "long behaved unworthy of her birth and fine qualities, in yeidling to encroaching spirits" (133). Of course, Charlotte's father, a Viscount, was stupid in giving his only daughter away to someone like James Harlowe.
Like a crescendo in music, Anna's feelings rise hence to a complete contempt for all men. Is there any word in our language to suggest the other side of misogyny? Misanthropy won't do, will it? Well before the current feminist movement, I've always been struck by Anna's daydream: "How charmingly might you and I live together and despite them all!" I even suggested in print that it seems like a lesbian dream. Those of us interested in sexual implications, perverse or otherwise, have a basis here surely. Perhaps Richardson even intends a subtle contrast between the two: in the best of all possible worlds, Clary would prefer to live alone; and Anna would prefer to live together with Clary in her Dairy House!
Anna remarks of Hickman that he is a man her mother would have preferred "twenty years ago" (132): "Hickman appears to be a man of that antiquated cut, as to his mind I mean: a great deal too much upon the formal, you must needs think him to be, yourself." Heavens! Even Clary would find Hickman a stuffed shirt! Frankly, I like to imagine that Richardson saw himself much like Hickman, too decent a guy (especially when in his fifties and suffering nervous disorders) to arouse anything improper in a young woman. In other words, Anna is being coerced by her mother into marrying an "old man," not as extreme as Clary's situation but not very pretty either.
What makes this novel so powerful today, in my reading of it, is that already while English capitalistic culture was producing the marriage and the nuclear family as the centerpiece of economic stability for a society that was far more affluent than in earlier periods, the very promoters of this world order could show in such vivid detail how enslavement of the woman was essential. Richardson might push all sorts of buttons from the history of Christian literature, but his narrative took too many risks to prevent the exposure of the ugly economic and human exploitation that social harmony required--and maybe continues to require. Can't we persuade Marcia Clark to join our list after the trial is over?