Clary and her Mother

Two letters of mostly dramatic narrative (16 & 17, Thurs, Mar 2, and Fri, Mar 3) introduce us to Mrs Charlotte Harlowe, Clary's mother, a fascinating portrait of a badly bullied woman who tries emotionally to blackmail her daughter into reliving the life she has led.

As I read I wondered if Richardson means us to compare and contrast: see how alike they are, but see how different, and insofar as Clary is different so far is she capable of living a life of joy and integrity. I take it from this letter that Mr Harlowe never had to descend to physical punishment with Mrs Harlowe; unpleasantness, rudeness, harshness of aspect was enough to cow her. Do not underestimate these things in daily life. I was struck by her:

Condition thus with your father [see where this gets you]. Will _he_ bear, do you think, to be thus dialogued with? Have I not conjured you, as you value my peace-- what is it that _I_ do not give up? ... And will _you_ give up nothing?

Many women do force their daughters to repeat their lives out of jealousy, resentment, envy. Ordinary lives are ruined by the inability to take confrontation of any kind. It is actually scary to realize that these are realistic scenes, and Richardson is lifting a curtain so we can see what went on in private life then, and, much more muted and subtle, may still happen in middle class homes today (replace the chosen husband with the college the parents insist the child go to, and the major they insist the child will take--after all are they not paying just as Mr Harlowe paid).

Clarissa in this scene is showing she can hold out; as the dramatic pictures progress she is winning her mother over; we are lead to agree with Clary that her mother is no argument for marriage (after all, Clary says at one point, she married for love, my father, and part of the implication, is see what it got her, and she wants me to marry without it in the first place).

Clary gets her mother to admit the mercenary motives and viciousness of them:

Ah! my love! But what shall we do about the terms Mr Solmes offers? Those are the inducements with everybody ...

It's at this moment we know Clary has won momentarily; so too does she begin to hope: "My heart is a little at ease, on the hopes that my mother will be able to procure favor for me, and a deliverance ..."

Interesting too is that the mother is allowed to read Clary's letters with Lovelace. (I feel left out; it's not fair.) I agree Lovelace's letter-writing ability is a plus for him, as his kindness to his tenants, and other generosities the avaricious Harlowes are incapable of. These letters though show Lovelace is threatening Clary with a proposed duel, while the pieces from the letters we are permitted to see suggest that if Clary did marry him she might allow herself to be bullied by her husband as her mother before her.

Ellen Moody

Other posts under this date in the novel:
             The Deepening Struggle Between the Mother and Daughter

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