Anna's Spirited Letter

Anna's letter of July 25th, Tuesday, shows Richardson's great power & energy when it comes to the fully- realized dramatic scene. Lovelace holds his own against all comers with a flare that is amusing; in a way it's a parallel of Clarissa against the whores at the Rowlands; her irony is quieter, but she holds her own too; but this is one that we enjoy, we revel in his use of the comeuppance, his showing others up for what they are while he appears untouched:

Miss D'Oily, upon his complimenting her among knot of ladies, asked him in their hearing, how Miss Clarissa Harlowe did?
He heard, he said, you were not so well as he wished you to be, and as you deserved to be.
Oh Mr Lovelace, said she, what have you to answer for on that young lady's account if all be true that I have heard?
I have a great deal to answer for, said the unblushing villain: but that dear lady has so many excellencies, and so much delicacy, that little sins are great ones in her eye.
Little sins! replied the lady: Mr Lovelace's character is so well known that nobody believes he can commit little sins.
You are very good to me, Miss D'Oily.
Indeed I am not.
Then I am the only person to whom you are not very good: and so I the less obliged to you (Tuesday, July 25, Letter 367, Ross Penguin p 1134).

So often Richardson seems to mistake "gaiety" for rudeness or roughness to people who don't deserve it; Miss D'Oily deserves it; Lovelace's first sentence is serious and grave; it is Miss D'Oily who insults Clarissa by asking him how Clarissa does; she who compliments him on his sexual prowess while pretending virtue. It is she who is indelicate, not he.

Everyone, of course, remembers this intently visualized moment (a hot spot, if ever there was one):

How kind this is! said the wretch; and, ready to follow me, opened the door for me.
I turned back upon this, and not knowing what I did, snapped my fan just in his face as she turned short upon me; and the powder flew from his wig (Ibid, Ross Penguin p 1136).

So much for him; and it's all the better since Anna did not mean it. I believe this is one Ian Watt discusses.

Of course, Richardson here makes Lovelace so alluring in his wit, self-possession that the reader is naturally (human nature being what it is) drawn back and Belford seems so very dull, if sometimes absolutely correct (as in his analysis of the woman who says how sorry she is for Clary, but is willing to take her clothes for half- price, a vignette of the marketplace in little). We think, alas, only Clary could keep up with this, but what a kill-joy she was. And of course Richardson consciously at least doesn't want this at all. And yet who would be without it? It's the brilliance of this book.

I thought I'd end on a criticism of _Clarissa_ by Jane Austen in which she takes issue with the kind of alluring brilliance Richardson gives Lovelace from the moral point of view. A foolish vain male character, a Sir Edward Denham, in the unfinished Sanditon says he approves of the following kinds of novels:

such as display human nature with grandeur--such as show her in the sublimities of intense feeling--such as exhibit the progress of strong passion from the first germ of incipient susceptibility to the utmost energies of reason half-dethroned,--where we see the strong spark of woman's captivations elicit such fire in the soul of man as leads him--(though at the risk of some aberration from the strict line of primitive obligation)--to hazard all, dare all, achieve all, to obtain her.-- Such are the works which I persue with delight, and ... amelioration. They hold for the most splendid portratitures of high conceptions, unbounded views, illimitable ardour... T'were pseudo-philosophy to assert that we do not feel more enwrapped by the briliancy of his career, than by the tranquil and morbid virutes of any opposing character (1974 Penguin, Sanditon ed. M. Drabble, Ch 8, p 190).

We know this is Lovelace because in the next paragraph the narrator comes in to tell us Sir Edward had been reading too much Richardson & novels written in "his footsteps:"

His fancy had been early caught by all the impassioned, and most exceptionable parts of Richardson... so far as man's determiend pursuit of woman in defiance of every feeling and convenience is concerned, had since occupied the greater part of his literary hours... With a perversity of judgement, which must be attributed to his not having by nature a very strong head, the graces, the spirit, the sagacity, nd perserverance, of the villain of the story outweighed all his absurdities and atrocities with Sir Edward.--With him, such conduct was genius, fire and feeling.--It interested and inflamed him... (Penguin pp 190-1)

It's interesting though that Austen gives him the language of saying that fair reciprocation of emotion and support in a sexual/love relationship is "a primitive obligation." It's not a moral rule, but something primal which Sir Edward dismisses as "primitive." The editor of the Penguin Sanditon , Margaret Drabble, then quotes the same quotation by Austen's nephew everyone quotes when they are trying to demonstrate how much Austen admired Richardson, forgetting she didn't say it; it was her brother said it first, and now the nephew, both in pieces in which they are determined to show she was an impeccable pious Christian; I find her much much more ambivalent in her own references to Richardson (i.e,, there's a funny dialogue on Grandison in Northanger Abbey in which it's suggested a lot of people find Grandison unreadable and the heroine's mother reads on because she's got nothing else). Drabble then (as if she had Austen nailed down) disagrees with what she takes to be Austen's view& says she can't "entirely blame Sir Edward, arguing that many many people "have drawn the wrong moral conclusions" from Richardson's 1st two novels and not got the third exactly "right" either; and for herself concludes "Clarissa's piety, though respected by some admirable critics, I find morally repulsive."

I admire some of Margaret Drabble's novels, her book on Arnold Bennett and on Landscape in Literature; I wish she had told us why she finds Clary's "piety morally repulsive."


To this John Dussinger replied:

Subject: Re: A Spirited Letter

Margaret Drabble's response to the implicit Christian martyrdom of Richardson's heroine is surely no interpretive problem, is it? Ellen, you're mischievous in baiting us here! I like it! Guilt and punishment are the headline news these days in this hemisphere, with multi-millionare-dollar lawyers doing their utmost to prove that a cultural hero has been framed and with numerous equally horrendous cases of mothers or fathers slaughtering their own children for one reason or another. Predictably, the liberal stress will be towards explaining away the individual's moral responsibility as the result of huge cultural forces that almost made such horrendous acts inevitable. The conservative religious take, of course, will stress that individuals must be held responsible for their actions and pay the consequences. So if Margaret Drabble finds Richardson's repressive ethics for the woman repugnant, no matter how orthodox Christian they may be, and if Jane Austen may have found them ALMOST equally repugnant, I'd say Amen. Both women writers have their axes to grind and should certainly be given the room to do so. But in the end we have to admit that any of the more usual representations of self abnegation during the early period of the Western Christian period would have to be even more repugnant than Clarissa's way of the cross in her remaining days on this earth. But let's bear in mind, however, if things are hopeless for Clarissa, they're surely no better for Lovelace. That was Murray's point in his inquiry, not so? The whole ambiguity of what Lovelace's end, as well, of course, as Clarissa's, finally means in this novel. Future rewards? Sure. No doubt about it, Clary leaves this world in much better shape than Lovelace or the rest of his circle. But the exact terms of these future rewards (or punishments) seem deliberately to be vague.

John Dussinger

A small rejoinder: I like Prof. Dussinger's reply but mine was not a rhetorical question.

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