A Parody of Clarissa

During the real-time group read of this book I also was a faithful contributor to Austen-L, and was led to read Austen's Juvenilia. I just couldn't take any more of Clarissa. I should say here I also wrote one-third of my 800+ page dissertation, Richardson, Romance, and Reverie , on this stark raving mad book, 1/3 on dear Sir Charles. On Clary-L people had persistently been arguing that Clarissa should have gone to court. Why did she not litigate to obtain control of her property? Why did she not prosecute Lovelace for rape. Well I had been thinking about what's Austenesque and something possessed me to try to get too much Clarissa out of my system the Austen way. Perhaps the reader ought to know the O. J. Simpson trial was at the time dominating much of the U.S. media.

I can see it all now. The following February from that fatal Monday night in mid-June.

Seated far on the one side is the accused, Robert Lovelace, Esq,; though normally to be seen gazing up at the air,in front of him is his usual legal pad and pencil. He is most elegantly attired. The plea: not guilty.

His team has gathered many many documents (as various generous settlements, a proper license) in which Mr Lovelace was clearly following Miss Harlowe's wishes as they went forward with their marriage; also a witness Mr Belford will testify to the continual proposals Mr Lovelace made; he has been officially declared to be hostile to the defense, and his testimony is sure to be listened to carefully. Mr Lovelace's lead attorney at the head of the table is Ms. Marcia Clark; next to her Mr Chaffanbrass, not exactly a household name out there in TV land, but to those who know the Old Bailey, in the words of one Anthony Trollope someone "than whom no barrister living or dead ever rescued more culprits from the law." Next to Mr Chaffanbrass is Mr Johnnie Cochran. They are salivating.

The prosecution has submitted a set of enormous portfolios on behalf of the state, much of it the matter to be disputed. An envelope which contains an empty foul-smelling vial has also been put into evidence. So too some locks. The charges: one count of aggravated assault, one count of rape.

Wreathed in black, the victim sits behind the railing, Miss Clarissa Harlowe (who insists on her name being cited in order to continue her role as an model to womankind), two over from her, also in black, the loyal Mrs Anna Hickman, then Mrs Norton; inbetween Mrs Hickman and Miss Harlowe on the other side, holding tightly to Miss Harlowe's hand, Miss Hannah C--. (Mr Hickman has been such a help with a seat; so obliging--if there's a draft he sits in it; cannot do too much for one; not appreciated by Mrs Hickman I hear, not at all.) There is a space left for Mrs Charlotte Harlowe who will not attend all sessions, lest she collapse (she will probably be a hostile witness for the accused as she knew and approved of the attempt of the accused to marry the victim and make full restitution; she is not looking forward to this--but who does not know what she has been through?).

The prosecution team includes: Elizabeth Holzman, ex-Brooklyn DA, grim as ever; next to her Rudolf Giuliani, who has taken off time from sitting under his favorite picture (of Fiorello LaGuardia), and who is of the belief that no criminal ever escaped him. Mr William Kunstler has been called in in a special advisory capacity; although he is not usually associated with agents of the state, this case in which a rape will be prosecuted, with all its implications of fighting an established utterly unfair consensus against women was to him irresistible. He is unfortunately no longer well, but between him and Miss Harlowe the sympathy was, as I may say, instantaneous; she confides in him; another "father" she has been heard to say, bringing tears to the eyes of all around them.

On the side behind the prosecution near the back door sit a diminished phalanx of Harlowes. The father had a heart attack the first day and was swiftly put in the ground despite the frozen conditions. It is said that two axes broke before they managed a hole, and that it was a judgement, as his brother Anthony was heard to say, "Mind that," with what relevance is anyone's guess. But all this is calumny. It was that the wealthy widow was pushed into a burial huggermugger to save funds for an as yet hoped-for marriage of the victim, & these words were part of the well-meant if reiterated advice of her brother-in-law. So too is the oldest son not to be seen. On another day an as yet unexplained scuffle occurred between James Harlowe and Mr Morden; thus the police magistrate has taken it upon himself to forbid that young male Harlowe to come to court; unhappily too the judge often has had to admonish or throw out a Miss Arabella Harlowe when she "flames out," as her sister used to say, erupts is this reporter's verb; Mr Morden surprized those who didn't know him better by his courteous behavior towards Lord M who reciprocated in kind, though the old man, of course, sits on the other side of the room, very glum over his cane.

Witnesses for the prosecution are not yet known (Ms Holzman as everyone knows always keeps her cards close to her trussed-up chest under her rimless glasses hanging from the usual gold chain), but today in court was seen-- much to Mr Lovelace's visible agitation--Patrick McDonald who is said to have turned state's evidence--but as Mr Chaffanbrass will surely let the jury know, Mr McDonald is one of those who can never be bought, he's only for rent. He is today's episode.

Two rows in front of Lord M are Ms Clark's crew, a group of women said to be witnesses for the defense; they will swear that Miss Harlowe passed as Mrs Lovelace and answered to the name; that she and Mr Lovelace lived in the house of Mrs Sinclair for some weeks; now they were told Mr Lovelace was under some "vow" not to consummate, but as they were not with Mr and Mrs Lovelace all the time, they cannot swear Mrs Lovelace was not bedded by Mr, and they can say that the two were many times like turtledoves, & that Mr Lovelace could deny her nothing; indeed, he was several times overcome by his affection for her in their presence. Rumor hath it that on the day they will come before the jury a "hired gun," one Prof Lawrence Stone will also be in court; this microscopically-learned student of 18th century customs and law cases will bolster the defense's contention that the couple looked upon themselves as married. Here it should also be said that the defense attornies are divided on the wisdom of this--Clark & Cochran for; the great Chaffanbrass against--he fears lest the calling of these women will give the prosecution an opportunity to call certain pathetic homeless women & keeps near him two solicitors, Slow and Bideawhile; but the play remains to be played out; just the presence of these women though clearly distresses Lord M, as it does the young woman who sits faithfully by his side, & helps him in & out every day despite his occasionally irascible remarks (he has a way of shaking her off), we refer of course to Miss Charlotte Montague who very like Mr Morden has crossed the aisle; she nods to the ladies swathed in black who courteously nod back as we look on.

The Judge is Lance Ito, well known for his ability to sit there for hours on end. The members of the jury file in.

Outside the room stands a man with a made book and he is taking private bets, the odds are in favor of the defendant getting off on both counts; one can of course go to any government shop, but the money is better here. This man is a curious fellow: short, plump, five foot five, a fair wig, in black otherwise, he leans on a cane, he's always looking at the ladies; some people think he's silly, but he's a "sly sinner, creeping along, the very edge of the [courtroom], getting behind the benches: one hand in his bosom, the other held up to his chin, as if to keep it in place." He carries an air of the awesome, & has a tendency to scold, but your intrepid reporter went right up to him, and told him she would take a long shot and bet on the prosecution winning on the counts of aggravated assault and rape. He was pleased. ---------------------------------------------------------------------

All words are made up but the quoted ones which are Richardson's, a description of himself in a letter. Elizabeth Holzman is a great and good woman who I voted for every time, but alas she lost every time but one--some people may remember her from the Judiciary Committee which voted to impeach Nixon (in effect) but she was "drowned out" by the electrifying Barbara "My faith in the constitution is whole, complete, entire...."

Ellen Moody
who dreamed of naming a daughter Clarissa but never did.

Other posts under this date in the novel:
             Conclusion and Postscript

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