Who Do We Sympathize With and More on Editions

Partly as a result of the free-wheeling discussion of epistolary narrative and partly in response to Michael Newman's argument that we should be reading the third edition, very early in the year there also erupted a frank discussion over who we really sympathize with in this novel. Some of the following led to Cody Brady's suggestion that we really read the novel in real time, and were posted onto C18-L; some were posted to Clary-L. It began with Judith Carter, to whom Murray Brown replied. At the close of this thread the reader will find Corey Brady's original proposal:

Subject: Richardson's Revenge et al

On Thu, 12 Jan 1995, Wendy Judith Carter wrote:

"As a modern reader of Clarissa, I have trouble supporting from my store of evidence Michael Newman's assumption that: In Clarissa, for instance, the modern reader tends to sympathize with Lovelace, blaming Clarissa for being a coquette.

Isn't the dominant experience of the novel exquisite, agonized sympathy for Clarissa? What do others out there think about this?"

I don't think Michael meant to generalize as broadly as he did, and while I will leave him to his own defense, I will point out that Richardson scholars went through a big flap on this very issue when William Beatty Warner's book, READING CLARISSA (Yale, 1979) made similar arguments. Michael is right that Richardson did fear and know that Lovelace was an attractive fellow to some readers and his post facto glosses are evidence of his attempt to point out to his readers just how reprehensible Lovelace is intended to be. I have always thought, however, (and I have an article forthcoming in Studies in the Novel arguing this) that although owing to his narrative distance (relative to a third-person narrative voice) Richardson cannot involve himself in the overt condemnation of Lovelace or anyone else, he tries nearly every method he can think of to work his will in other ways. My article argues how Richardson uses emblematics to this effect. I wrote a similar piece on Pamela (also in SN) in 93. Richardson, it seems, acts as a kind of self-appointed narrative god, one who pulls all the strings and then makes it incumbent upon the reader to sense the operation of his INVISIBLE HAND. Jerry Beasley remarked several years ago (I believe in an essay on Smollett) that after Richardson had written Grandison, he proposed--in seeming seriousness--that he assign several of his friends various roles and personas and that he direct and order them as an omnipresent organizing force. I can't get over the sense that as kind and benevolent a person as Richardson is reported to have been, he acted out of vindictiveness when he plotted Clarissa. It seems as though he was exacting revenge on what he considered subversive readings of Pamela--it's as though he dares Fielding to make merry of this if you can! Modern readers demand much more latitude than Richardson was willing to give and while I do trust him (with some qualification) to be just. There is quite a bit of Father Harlowe in old Sam. Distant. Severe. Absolute. Unforgiving. And so he sacrifices his virtuous daughter to attone for our disobedience.

Murray Brown

Then Laura Kennelly wrote:

Only because you ask, Wendy, do I say (I've been holding back since I've been so chatty here lately)--I loved reading *Clarissa* but she's the type of heroine I just love to hate. Passive-agressive. She was so obsessed with having "control" that she chose to die because she could control that. No--Anna Howe was all right, but Clarissa was an immature girl who, if she'd lived longer, might have had quite a happy and fulfilled life.

Well, you asked.


Laura B. Kennelly University of North Texas Department of English

Denton, TX 76203 fa40@jove.acs.unt.edu (817) 565-2126

To which Michael Newman wrote:

In an earlier posting, I stated my impression that many (if not most) modern readers tend to side with Lovelace and consider Clarissa a coquette. I refer to conversations with numerous colleagues on the subject for my impression--not that I share the impression, to be sure.

However, one documentable piece of evidence exists in the 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to English Literature:

"Clarissa . . . is wooed by Lovelace, an attractive and versatile but unscrupulous man of fashion. Clarissa's family oppose the match because of his doubtful reputation, and Clarissa for a time resists his advances. But she is secretly fascinated by him, and he succeeds in carrying her off. Clarissa dies of shame. . . "

Compare this to the version presented in the 5th edition, which asserts that "She unwaveringly resists his advances," and that "the climax of her tragedy comes when Lovelace, abetted by the women of the house, drugs and rapes her."

Notice the total omission of a reference to rape in the first passage!

Clearly, there ARE those who admire Lovelace and detest Clarissa. The issue of which camp holds the majority is, most likely, impossible to settle; however, from what I hear in the teachers' lounges and hotel bars, Clarissa is NOT the favorite.

Defensively yours,

Michael Newman

I then wrote:

Re: Defending Clary First, if you root for Lovelace what do you do with Volume IV of the novel? Throw it out?

Second, on the notion that the camp which detests Clarissa is in the majority, the BBC movie made Clarissa a heroine who was too decent, had too much integrity and kindness to live in a money-hungry, sexually vicious world. The last scene was a long lingering look on her grave. The idea: look what we have done. See what we have lost. And the mood of the moment sympathized with Clarissa's choice. I was very moved by the movie and went to the considerable trouble--for me--of taping it the next time it played on PBS, even if it seemed too strongly influenced by the movie of Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Third, the interesting idea that Richardson in a sense plotted Clarissa vindictively. Prof Murray Brown says he argues that Richardson wanted to punish the heroine because in himself in a way he identifies with Father Harlowe. I have sometimes thought lots of novelists or playwrights are acting out various kinds of violence for various reasons. Flannery O'Connor leaps to mind (even if she's not 18th century) as a cruel author; so too Marlowe; what glee to go around "poisoning wells and kicking cripples under walls." Ambrose Bierce is another. I should think it would take a lot of argument to demonstrate that Richardson is writing in this spirit, because there's a lot of evidence for the alternate approach; Mr Harlowe is really an ogre; I mean she kneels to him in front of a door and it is slammed on her while she is crying. The scenes with Mrs Harlowe show the mother genuinely wanting to somehow reach her daughter and not simply sell her to the highest bidder. Epistolary fiction creates such a multiplicity of perspectives; even emblematic threads move in both directions, for and against Clarissa (by which term I am supposing Prof Brown refers to all those pictorial and literary allusions which liken Lovelace for example to Satan, and Clarissa to various heroines in the 17th-18th century drama &c-- Margaret Doody's book is all about this really brilliant artistic theatrical strain in Clarissa).

Generally speaking: Those authors who do write in this cruel sort of hard way are usually far more satiric in spirit; the narrative has a hard distanced quality; the characters are cut off with great carelessness and ease; it is a kind of jokey feel: wham! so much for him. A glee lurks beneath the surface as the character goes under. I know Lovelace is gleeful, especially about sex, but not necessarily about sex with Clarissa where he seems a bit in awe, but I don't think the death of Clarissa is told in this manner. Such a great fuss about all kinds of little cruelties in the novel too suggest a very different kind of artist from say Marlowe.

Specific objectors and objections: 1) Mark Kinkead- Weekes' long chapter on Clarissa demonstrates well that Lovelace destroys true sex; Clarissa had it in her to be fecund and happy; Lovelace will not allow a true relationship to evolve between the two of them. 2) Richardson argued against the idea that he was inhumane in a series of letters to Lady Bradshaigh and in a way shows a complex attitude towards Clarissa (the character) when he says:

The case therefore is not what we should like to bear, but what (such is the Common Lot) we must bear, like it or not ...

I suppose though one must finally fall back on this is a matter of sympathy or taste: does one identify? I do. Here she is: "Gentleness of heart, surely is not despicable in a man" ( Clarissa Everyman Edition, ed J. Butt II, 73). The one which goes on about "My peace is destroyed. My intellects are touched ... " (III, 321-2) The one where she says she's done nothing wrong yet is "in my own opinion, a poor lost creature ... " talks of an "ignis fatuus" which plays round and round her until she is sort of mad (II, 262-3).

One could argue that Richardson gets a kick out of Lovelace's swift death, but even there the spirit in Richardson is moved. The novel is also about the terrors & horrors of death; it's an emotional nervous book.

Ellen Moody

When Murray Brown then wrote that the BBC movie of Clarissa is for the Clarissa aficionado very faulty, I wrote again:

Defending Clary, as follows:

1) I agree with Prof Brown that the swift ending sequence and the substitution of Morden w/Belford is very bad. By lengthening out the death of Lovelace and making it happen almost by chance it becomes much more believable. I thought the BBC movie made the end come swiftly and through Bedford in order to give a sense of shapely meaning to the narrative which implies a kind of optimism or poetic justice which would appeal to the average viewer. Richardson does have something of the serendipity of life, and poetic justice in this book depends on a belief in the beyond. I did feel the Harlowes were presented very well, the mother especially, but again all was too foreshortened. BBC "did"Brideshead Revisited in 12 episodes and it's a mere 250+ page book; they could filmed Clarissa/em> in 12; the Palliser books were done long ago with about 12 episodes; I read they were thinking of doing Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time in 12's (so to speak), so why not 12?

2) I also thought the film was wrong in the way it presented Lovelace; the actor showed he had been influenced by John Malkowicz (I am not sure I am spelling his name right) in Les Liaisons Dangereuses; I wondered if the idea of the film was not itself at least hastened by the success of this play and movie. While I was writing my dissertation I did read large swatches of Prevost's translations of Richardson's Clarissa and Grandison; they are interesting, but more to the point it was probably Prevost and not Richardson that Diderot praised so (Prevost is less religious, and he shortens Richardson a lot & as a consequence Lovelace becomes more dominant in the book); and I have wondered if LaClos read Prevost and not Richardson so Les Liaisons Dangereuses is not a new variation on Richardson but on Prevost. If the film meant us to see Clary as a La President de Tourvel it's all wrong; to find Clarissa a coquet is to see her as a Cecile Volanges; perhaps that's the way LaClos felt about Clarissa from Prevost's translation; Clarissa is far closer to Madame de LaFayette's decent strong-minded, and intelligent if far too candid Princess de Cleves which was available in an English translation early in the 18th century, though I doubt anyone could prove Richardson read it.

3) On the other hand, the BBC people represent, if too graphically in their medium, the important sense Clarissa has and remembers with most pain that Lovelace raped her in such a way as to make sure the other women would see and she would know that they saw; it seems to be necessary to his pleasure to triumph over her in front of other people. But it is a film and thus external and lacks all the inward depth of epistolary narrative so you cannot get the sense of humiliation he inflicts on her or the sense that it was so unnecessary.

I love Clarissa best when she is called Clary and when she responds to this nickname, but generally speaking even if she can be irritating and proud (precious little good it does her in her world) I find her beautiful and noble, if, in her own way and in the very different world of the novel, as absurd as her alterego--Sir Charles. I don't agonize with sympathy though, I get angry-- at the stonewall tyrannical father; detest the envious sister, loathe the brutal brother; feel frustration and at last fury at the cowardly mother who is living a miserable life because she is such a coward; I can see her at a Nuremburg trial saying as how she was following orders. I get very angry at Lovelace for throwing Clarissa away.

To me the heroine is most Clary-like when she tries to refuse to play games with people; Johnson said "there is always something she prefers to the truth;" it is her idea to be sincere; to confide wholly and utterly in someone else without considering or better refusing to consider how self-interested must be their approach; hence, in this world she's got to end up a loser.....Lovelace insists though on total games, nothing else. Vicious games too which are pointed up by the sharp emblematic or pictorial narrative of himself as the rooster with all these hens.

One thing this novel does do is show people's attitudes towards sexual antagonism and love and what is happiness. It's a kind of litmus test. Richardson's epistolary narrative whether he liked this or not leaves each reader free to react without the controlling omniscient narrator (I am thinking particularly of his rival, Henry Fielding). I for one cherish what Clarissa stands for when she says no not so much to Lovelace as sexual partner, but to Lovelace and her family and friends as standing in for the world's demands that she be their instrument for aggrandizement.

Ellen Moody

To this Murray Brown then replied (in part):

The most interesting aspect about the BBC production was that Belford is allowed to kill Lovelace--something he should have done long before if Richardson had allowed him to be the heroine's proctector and had not assigned that duty/role to the absent Morden. Richardson, again I sigh, seems to invite/require our frustration at Belford's inaction--so great is it that the BBC folks couldn't resist rewriting the script. I can't forgive that. Not enough time to include Morden? Nonsense. If PRIDE AND PREJUDICE takes five parts to convey, how did the BBC think Clarissa could be done in three? It should have taken a full year (I'm joking, I think) so that the suffering we readers must bide--as part of the process, would come across on film. Perhaps this is why Ellen Moody objects to how Clarissa is characterized--it takes much time to immure that image

Then Michael Newman

Subject: More on Clary

One important addendum to my previous posting: Many of the colleagues that I've spoken to who have read only the Sherburne abridgement of Clarissa tend to admire Lovelace and condemn Clarissa, while those of us who've struggled through the million-word version have reversed sympathies. Someone, I don't remember who, wrote an article on this subject. I do remember that one of the author's main points was that we professors, out of pity on our students, assign the short version (if we assign the novel at all), even though most of us have never read it.

Peggy Thompson and Jennifer Garlen presented a very good paper on the subject of Clarissa as Christ at the 1991 (?) SEASECS conference. My own true feelings on the matter are that, while I wouldn;t want to spend a Sunday afternoon with her, Clarissa is a true paragon. I respect the BBC's (rather short) version of the novel, even as I dislike the rather heavy-handed attempt at poetic justice at the end.

And that's my last word on this topic--unless I think of something else to say.

Mike Newman


Anne Catherine Shirley took up another aspect of this thread.

Subject: Re: Sympathetic Characters?

In response to Noel Chevalier's recent post asking whether Richardson changed Lovelace's character for the third edition of Clarissa (making him do everthing but kick dogs) because he "feared" that readers would find Lovelace too sympathetic a character as originally written: fear and the possibility of future readers are wrong ideas here--Richardson made changes because he knew that readers of the earlier editions had already been inclined to consider L. a very attractive character. Readers from Richardson's day to our own (see other posts in this thread) make the same judgement, perhaps feeling that if reformed rakes rakes don't make the best husbands, all the same unreformed rakes would make good lovers.

I don't have the citation here with me, but there is a good bibliography of Richardson's works that also includes quotes from contemporary critics (public and private). Most of these show that Richardson didn't always succeed in guiding his readers in the right direction, even after revisions.

Now I'll stop.


(Happy MLK Day!)

Then Laura Kennelly wrote on "Sympathetic Characters?:"

It is this that intrigues me about this discussion--doesn't anyone else think that Richardson wasn't really guiding anyone in the "right" direction? I've really learned a lot (wish you had all been in grad school when I was!), but I'm still left with an uneasy feeling about Clarissa's validity as a role model or as an example of right conduct. Isn't she buying into the status and rules of her society in a rather thoughtless way? Or is she, perhaps, just a bit dumb? Compare her to, say, Moll Flanders or even Molly in TJ--Clarissa is a young lady who refuses to marry the loathsome suitor, runs away, is abused by her seducer and then accepts her society's definition of her and her life as, consequently, worthless. If she had been a more thoughtful Christian wouldn't she have just assumed that there must be another way than just pining away and dying when she was no longer viable on the marriage market? Did she die of hurt pride? (After the rape) or because she couldn't make a good marriage?

I can see why Fielding, a man we are told found happiness with his cook, thought Richardson's works annoying. Richardson's Clarissa seems motivated by a sort of spiritual one-upmanship that seems to have little of forgiveness or acceptance of God's will for her (shocking as it may have been). The lesson he is trying to teach is just one more example of warning women why they should stay in their place and offers, IMHO, a false choice between honor and death. It is this contrived quality that bothers me--a feeling not motivated by a lack of "sympathy" for suffering characters but rather by a resistance to Richardson's ideas.

--Laura Kennelly

To which Nathaniel Paradise replied:

If you read *Clarissa* (and *Pamela* too for that matter) as being primarily about the value of a woman's honour, than yes, you have to agree with Fielding that Richardson wrote some pretty irritating and ultimately morally trivial stuff. But "Honour" has always been an ideological vehicle for larger issues, and it's a mistake to get distracted by the vehicle. In Richardson's case I think he uses it to explore notions of individual identity and volition in a society where status is being redefined. Clarissa shows her willingness to challenge society's rules when she leaves her parents (and in fact the rule her father was trying to enforce was already up for grabs anyway), but what she learns is that the ideal she posits in opposition to society--that she has an inviolable identity that is internally constructed rather than socially determined--this ideal she learns cannot survive "society's" machinations. Clarissa doesn't accept society's definition of herself as worthless; rather, she comes to the Christian conclusion that society is worthless. From her Christian perspective, she is not giving up her life, but only this life.

Nathaniel Paradise


But Jody DeRitter objected to the above, and reiterated Laura Kennelly's position:

I share Laura's impatience with the idea that Clarissa is a good or useful role model, and I think that Nathaniel's suggestion that readers should ignore the "vehicle" Richardson uses for exploring his notion of honor is roughly analogous to the argument that Swift's scatological poems aren't misogynist because they're about pride and ways of seeing rather than brocade, (used) tissues, and shit. In other words, the fact that the poems are about the former doesn't mean that they aren't also about the latter, and the fact that Richardson's novel promotes a certain kind of individualism doesn't mean that it doesn't also promote the idea that non-marriageable female bodies are worthless. Also, I think it's misguided to suggest that Clarissa is rebelling against her parents by leaving their house, because Richardson is at such pains to make sure that she regrets the decision and refuses to move any further until it's much too late. Clarissa wants to get back to her father's house, and she wants her gravestone to list the day of her leaving Harlowe place as her death date; as a dying gesture, she also throws Anna Howe into the arms of the boring Hickman without so much as a by-your-leave. Give me the "inn-frequenting Sophy Western," or better yet, Jenny Jones, any day.

Jody DeRitter

Nathaniel Paradise answered Jody:

Jody DeRitter has a good point that Clarissa's "rebellion" is qualified in all sorts of important ways. But is she suggesting that the novel in the end endorses Papa Harlowe and all he stands for? Richardson's qualifications and backpedaling in both *Pamela* and *Clarissa* are part of what makes him so interesting to me. Here's a guy, conservative (if I may be anachronistic) in so many ways, who writes novels with unquestionably radical/subversive social implications that he later tries to regain control of. Scratch "later." Even as he writes he seems to vaguely grasp some of the implications and tries to keep the lid on it, but it's like he can't help himself....

And now, two questions: 1) I don't see Clarissa as a Useful Role Model either, and I'm not sure in what senses she is meant to be one. To what extent were contemporary discussions of her character framed in those terms? 2) Isn't it an open question whether Clarissa necessarily would have been considered a "non-marriageable female"?

Nathaniel Paradise


Then Kevin P. Mulcahy came into the discussion

Re: Sympathetic Characters?

Being intensely sympathetic to Clarissa, as I am, is not the same as seeing her as a role model for all women. A couple of things to keep in mind. Clarissa is the victim of a rape, and while all rape is brutal and vicious, Clarissa's is especially so. She's raped by a man whom she loves (though she can hardly ever admit this, even to herself) and who betrays her trust in every conceivable way. She is raped in public, after being drugged. The very little I've read on the trauma suffered by rape victims suggests that Clarissa's behavior is hardly inexplicable. What socially acceptable model can she use to reconstruct herself? Today, at least some women will have limited access to counseling, to peer groups who can understand and assist her in dealing with the violence done to her. All that really is available to Clarissa, as has been suggested, is Christian martyrdom. Thankfully, that is not all that's available today.

Another way to look at the end of the novel, of course, is that it is Clarissa's sustained revenge against Lovelace and her family. Richardson certainly buys into this on some level--witness the protracted guilt and suffering that is visited upon the Harlowes. Clarissa is aggressive by her very passivity. We do not want to take her as a role model in this, but she wins a stunningly complete victory. Unable to win by their rules, she changes the game, and wipes off the board. A role model, no. Understandable and sympathetic, yes.

Kevin Mulcahy

Alexander Library

Rutgers University

Then we had had:

From: David Samuel Mazella

Subject: Re: Clarissa as a Role Model

I have been fascinated by the way that Clarissa has provoked a debate on the moral valences of sympathy among listmembers. Undoubtedly, this sort of discussion is precisely the effect that Richardson wished to provoke, though I believe that his didactic ambitions would not have been satisfied with a debate that did not lead to his own conclusions. A few comments, however:

1. Ellen Moody cites Grandison to show the problems of a *straight* didactic reading of Richardson's fiction. As she suggests, such a reading would have to take Grandison's moral dilemmas as seriously as Clarissa's, and uphold both protagonists as *role models* for readers to imitate in their own lives. As she suggests, many modern readers, and in particular many of the feminists responsible for making Richardson an important novelist again would probably have serious reservations about an orthodox, unironized reading of Clarissa-as-role-model (or conduct book). But doesn't bracketing his Christian, didactic intentions have the effect of rendering him all too assimilable to our own perspective? One of the biggest dangers of sympathy is to assume that others agree with you.

2. Role Models. The didactic assumption that fictional models have moral effects on their readers cannot be dismissed as easily as Moody seems to here. Otherwise, why bother to *defend* Clarissa, a fictional character, or justify one's reactions to her (wholly imagined) sufferings and death? Here I believe we all need a more subtle model of identification and readerly imitation; as those in film theory and cultural studies have found, without more complex accounts of reception, we are stuck in a lame for-or-against argument about *positive* or *negative* images and their effects on *naive readers.*

My own feeling is that the issues of didacticism, identification, and imitation are too important to be restricted to sub-literary works. Otherwise, why discuss Richardson at such length?

David Mazella dsm@columbia.edu

Finally from Murray L. Brown

Subject: Read to yourselves

As the unfortunate who suggested that it was impossible to produce Clarissa in three episodes on the BBC and as the same fellow who suggested (jokingly) that it would take a full year to accurately represent the heroine's situation, I feel somewhat responsible for all the talk of marathon readings. Although I do feel that setting up a temporary list for a real-time reading of the novel is a good idea--eight days and nights of reading would surely drive all participants to distraction. After all, the world only took six days--and even God had to rest for the seventh. I suggest that any marathon be taken up by our Democratic friends in the House and the Senate--as filabustering fodder for the NEA/NHE/NPR/NPTV debate this Thursday. What price virtue?

Hartshorn in Hand

Murray Brown


Then Corey Brady wrote:

Is there any interest from the c18 list in a forum for a real-time reading of Clarissa? I have always wondered why Richardson contrived to have the letters unfold over the course of (almost exactly) a year--did he imagine that Clarissa might be read annually as a strange kind of novel/conduct-book experience? Anyway, I think that there might be something added to the novel by this kind of approach to it. The epistolary form seems to encourage a positioning of the reader as voyeur or gossip, and a real-time reading would heighten this.

Anna Howe's first letter is dated Jan 10, so we would be only a week behind if we began today. There are, of course, letters out of date-sequence, but they don't seem to me to pose a serious problem to the project.

Anna Howe's first letter is dated Jan 10, so we would be only a week behind if we began today. There are, of course, letters out of date-sequence, but they don't seem to me to pose a serious problem to the project.

In any case, I am going to do this, and if there are others who would like to join me, perhaps we could form an e-mail group for occasional discussion. Let me know if you are interested.

--Corey Brady


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