I have only just read the first 3 letters (Jan 10, Jan 13, and Jan 13, 14) and was uncertain whether I was to try to read them as real letters, but the remarks made thus far have "emboldened" me, as Clary might say, to treat this novel as a novel, even if in letters.
I am of a practical tendency and what struck me this first time reading just the first letter and waiting one night at least until the next, was how it read like a sort of prospectus. Richardson sets up several situations and leaves them all hanging. The first sentences talks in ominous tones of disturbances. What can have happened? Then there is Mr Wyerley who drinks tea with Anna and was treated badly. Why are the young men coming to swords? The word "violence" is repeated many times. Talk of "wading through blood," sisters quarrelling over the apparently courteous decent man who tries to help his clumsy fierce adversary ; in this first letters Lovelace comes off very well indeed (Lovelace is continually commended in these first 3 letters; he can write great letters--Arabella finds his "remarks were curious, and showed him to be a person of reading, judgment, and taste"--only Clary and her father seem to be wary; we are led to dismiss the brother as a bully almost from the beginning); well, what will happen to poor Clary? Will she tell us all? One can see this letter in a column in a 19th century periodical magazine dependent upon serial fiction for its continuance.
In letters II (Jan 13) and III (Jan 13, 14) I thought the curious distancing effect of the letters which does give the effect of royal alliances and makes Clary an obedient daughter who waits on the family is partly a result of style. How about the idea that Richardson is slowly creating the presence or character of Clarissa through a deliberate articulation of a somewhat artificial slow style which is grave but can descend to absolute cattiness.
Which gets me to my last point. What a cat, is Miss Clary. Richardson sets her up for us so she can brilliantly visualize for us the scenes and movement of her sister and Lovelace (who is, as Murray says, very skillful in his manipulation of Arabella in these scenes, skill which does not go unnoticed by Clarissa); Richardson loves to characterize through a play of hands and facial expressions; this I remember thinking was something one could find in tracts on how to act; there was one by his friend Aaron Hill. But while Richardson wants his girl to be our sharply observant narrator, her observation of her sister's nastiness, and the interplay between them shows us she could give as good as she gets, but that she has learned to hold back in this family. The erotic interplay has a gleam to it.
The father seems not that bad in these early scenes; the period was patriarchical; he's very believable as he worries about this "spendthrift," and says well, we'll wait and see, fully assured of his power in this family; Richardson seems to throw off all sorts of characters: the simple Aunt Hervey whom Lovelace comes to because she is essentially simple and good-natured; Uncle Anthony, ever the snoop, sycophantic, wary; Lord M with his dignified negotiating .
And not to go on too long there's a careful setting up of money matter of all sorts which will affect what is to come...
Anyway here's a writer in the fullness of his powers setting up a novel. Ellen Moody
To this Murray Brown replied:
I have only a couple things to say here in the preliminary going. First of all, I had forgotten how quickly divisions are made, animosities and personalities established. That Brother (I use the term loosely) James is a bounder and so clearly usurps paternal authority so early on is really quite interesting in that we are made to hate him from the very beginning--shallow, over-indulged, selfish, violent, vindictive and cruel--all in about twenty pages! Just as our sympathy for Clarissa is established as a consequence of James and Bella's coalition, we are also led to empathize with Anna because her dislike for James is already established when the story begins. We are made to trust her judgement--something that might get us into trouble later on. I am also rather interested in why the family allows Clary to go visit Anna knowing that Lovelace will make an attempt to see her there--one wonders if it is not a conscious effort--a kind of entrapment--to get Clary to commit to a relationship that the family can condemn. Her property and her potential independence might play a role here, I suppose. It's also noteworthy, I think that Lovelace behaves very slyly with Bella. I don't think that Clarissa is even at home--perhaps he hasn't even see her yet (we learn later, however, that there is portrait done in the Vandyke taste (a half-length? full length?) so he may or may not be planning to dump Bella for her younger sister; but I laughed to discover that he intentionally irks Bella and, clearly knowing her ill-humor, chooses that particular moment to advance his suit. He wants it to fail, of course, but we have here a very early indication of his ability to manipulate response. Bella's easy. Because he does this to the frustration of cruel Bella, we are (I will at some point stop using the collective pronoun) attracted to him because we are of a mind. Note that Clarissa's family are the first to employ disgruntled servants as spies and informants--Harlowe can you go? Sorry.
Georgia S U