Death or Morden's Cold Rage Set in Context of Life's Ongoingness and Serendipity

This posting covers Letters 534-535.1, letters double-dated old and new style, so the date of Lovelace's letter to Belford is Nov 11 Old Style and Nov 22 New Style, while Morden's letter to Lovelace is Nov 22 Old Style and Dec 2 New Style (Ross, Penguin, pp 1478-80).

These brief missives reveal Lovelace as not much changed; he does not seem passionate at all now that Clarissa is dead. He acts because he believes the eyes of the world count. He is presented as a fellow with both good and not-so-good impulses. His letter to Morden is not insulting; it's clear from his letter to Belford and then to Morden, Lovelace would prefer not to meet, but meets because he feels the eyes of others require this of him. His tone is open and frank to Belford. It is that of the ordinary gentleman. I find this interesting because the case is therefore not unique.

It seems to me that Morden it is who is actuated by a rage which has increased rather than diminished with time, one which by having been cut off from the reality of the people concerned has turned deadly, what we can call cold rage. We can see the terms of the resentment in a sentence like:

I knew not but that the politeness of this court might have engaged, beyond his intention, a gentleman who has only his pleasures to pursue (Ross Penguin, p 1480).

The envy here derives from Morden's sense that Lovelace is carrying on as if Clarissa had never existed, and he Morden cannot. But Morden is wrong here. Although Lovelace is what he is, his beginning a journey of empty wandering shows he's been strongly affected by Clarissa. (An interesting sidelight here is that this kind of behavior looks forward to the Byronic hero.)

As in the opening of the book, a month or so of nothing much happening, or at least nothing reported is allowed to ensue. We can suppose the month is allowed to elapse so we come close to the end of the single year, but it also provides a symmetry and a sense of reality that Lovelace's death was not inevitable quite, an element of apparent serendipity is kept up which is consistent with the book's commitment to a convincing psychological and diurnal verisimilitude. This is deliberate artistry on Richardson's, an erringly right instinct, and ought not to go unnoticed.

Ellen Moody

To this John Dussinger replied:

Subject: Re: Morden's cold rage

Like most novels, the ending of CLARISSA seems to bring up the whole matter of closing the story without shutting off all further thoughts about what the main body had generated in the process. It's a bit like the sad experience of finding out that one's car battery is almost gone, isn't it? Suddenly one has to confront the awful thought that the damned thing won't help us anymore in the movement of life.

There's so little, in my opinion, to keep our sympathy going for Lovelace at this point that maybe it's the very real feeling that he does not want to live after Clarissa's death that makes him almost forgiving. Col. Morden, "Morte," is perhaps no more than the executioner that will send off the hero to his future life (?). I always remember the confused expression in an undergraduate at Princeton who wrote an honors thesis on CLARISSA back in the 1960s, when I told him my opinion that Lovelace was DAMNED! Yes, damned beyond all hope, even though forgiven by Clarissa in her final moments of consciousness. Such an idea did not suit the mood of the Beatles and Rolling Stones and the rest of the social liberating forces that I personally "enjoyed" in my dismay.

Fire and brimstone for this rake? Not on Richardson's agenda, is it? No, Lovelace is really too much of Richardson's own psyche that such facile solutions to the story were not even broached in his discussions with his readers. In fact, I really think that his silence on the proper punishment for Lovelace may be the most intriguing question unanswered in this painfully edited production of a "work of tragic species."

Finally, I hope that "we"--the Clary List--can find the means of publishing this year's commentary on CLARISSA. Despite the disappointment of not having more sustained exchanges, Ellen Moody's own tireless work is enough to justify a handsome hard copy of this novel, written in a calendar year that matches 1995 perfectly. Of course, we're all a bit shaky in cyberspace netiquette, and all that, but let's try to collect our resources and find a way of commemorating this extremely important year--in my opinion at least--in reading CLARISSA.

John Dussinger

Home Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 10 January 2003