Clarissa Regaining Strength Among Friends, Belford's Voice & More on Epistolary Technique

I suggest the letters dated Wednesday July 26, and Thursday, July 27 (Nos 365-6, Ross Penguin, pp 1126-32) are meant to be read as a pair. These letters are like sonnets which are also written in pairs (called "Companion Sonnets). Anna says she finds Clarissa's letters to her "very affecting" (Nos 359-60, Sunday July 23, Ross Penguin, pp 1114-1120). They are as religious meditation. They also prepare a groundwork of sympathy for these (to me) more effective spare dramatic narratives of Hickman's visit to Clarissa and Belford's coming in upon them. I think Belford's "pen" or voice is not sufficiently paid attention to. He is an effective writer because he is restrained and impersonal. He also, as we have said, has a convincing unidealized personality of his own.

In the first letter, July 26, Belford's voice provides Richardson with the perspective of someone who has not seen her in a long time, and we get: "He was visibly shocked to see how ill she looked" (Ross Penguin p. 1128). I suggest that in this letter & in some others in which Belford describes his interviews with Clary, Richardson is at pains to show us that Clary is not a prude, prig, or necessarily anti-sexual. Even before he saw the responses to his novel, he instinctively knew he had this response to deal with.

Hickman is of course a "brother" to Clarissa, as she insists on seeing the older men as "fathers," but she is perfectly comfortable with physical contact and the closing scene is touching. She is glad to hold his hand; she flies to see him:

"She was overjoyed; and bid the maid desire the gentleman to walk up.
I would have withdrawn; but I suppose she thought it was likely I should have met upon upon the stairs, and so she forbid it.
She shot to the head-stairs to receive him, and taking his hand, asked half a dozen questions (without waiting for any answer) in relation to Miss Howe's health; acknowledging, in high terms, her goodness in sending him to see her before she set out on her little journey.
He gave her a letter from that young lady; which she put into her bosom, saying she would read it by and by" (Ross Penguin p 1128)

I suggest Richardson wants us to think that had not Lovelace roused every instinct against him because he wanted to use her, Clary would not have been so guarded. She is here not at all uncomfortable about her body, not at all self-conscious where she trusts. I found Mr Hickman's parting from her done tactfully and tastefully (well, for the most part, maybe a bit overdone at the end) and it was touching.

I also find the prelude to the above, Clarissa's letters to Anna--again the epistolary technique is doing its work, we read them first and are prepared as is Anna to read of how Clarissa met Hickman in Belford's compnay. To me in these Clarissa seems noble, dignified, yet not pompous or repugnant (to use Drabble's word). Her use of the churches calls to mind to me the lovely set of sonnets by Longfellow on going into churches in Italy; she has peace and rest there. They are sanctuary.

I have to say thought that Richardson presents Anna and her mother in such a way that perhaps he wants us to suspect that Clarissa is better off away from them. Anna would be at her to marry Lovelace or do something. Also Clarissa's complete disregard for the world's view of her contrasts nicely with Anna's distress at Colonel Ambrose, for, after all, what distresses Anna is "everyone's eyes are upon us;" Anna judges herself as the world judges her. Clarissa's letter to the relatives here too sound the same note of finality, no hesitations, no hints of later relenting, no sycophancy even of the slightest, no sense that she owes them anything because of who they are beyond that they have tried to help her. Also Clary picks up the tiny hint in Lovelace he's planning another visit, and knows Belford will probably not be able to stop him, so she writes to stop this. Again we see how quick she is; it's also a sign of some health regained now that she's left in peace because of her clarity (which her name testifies to) and firmness.


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