Going Public as Raped: Clary Ahead of Our Time

Of interest in these letters to the individual interested in changes in the use of public roles is Clarissa's immediate confession of the rape. On Monday July 3rd she tells Lady Betty Lawrence: "why should I seek to conceal that disgrace from others which I cannot hide from myself?" (Ross Penguin Let 306, p 985). On Sunday July 2nd she tells Mrs Judith Norton: here she cannot help mentioning Lovelace was able to rape her because everyone else in her family abandoned her: "But had I not been rejected by every friend, this low-hearted man had not dared, nor would have had opportunity to treat me as he has treated me" (Ross Penguin Let 307, p 986); again she asks why she should tell falsehoods about what happened? And then between Wednesday July 5th when Anna sends her letter with knives in it, and Clarissa responds by a plain story as she experienced it between Thursday July 6th and Saturday July 8th (Ross Penguin Lets 311-15, pp 993-1013, she tells how it happened.

This is of real interest I suggest. Last year the venerable NYTImes was criticized for publishing the name of the woman Mr William Kennedy Smith was accused of having raped. On the TV I believe her face was blotted out; only after he was acquitted did she come forth to present herself and her name. To keep such a thing silent is in effect to subscribe to the convention that the woman has been shamed somehow. Here we are in the very late 20th century and this is still being done; in fact, several commentators said the name of this woman should have been disseminated because it was not fair to him that her name should not be publicized. Clarissa is refusing to allow herself to be manipulated into in effect protecting Lovelace. One can speculate that the mindset behind Clarissa's open avowal comes from her sense that because a thing is done in private it is no less important. No-one need see one do something--an idea which goes contrary to the way a lot of people think. A great line in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons_ occurs when Bolt's More urges Richard Rich to be a teacher, and Rich refuses, asking, who would know, and is told: "You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that ... " (New York: Vintage Random 1990, p 9). What we are in our own eyes is what matters. What we really do is what matters not what people think or see.

In Mrs Judith Norton's reply we have Richardson attempting suspense. We also have a natural urge of the old woman who was after all a real mother to Clary: is she sure she's safe, "out of his reach" (Ross Penguin Let 308, Monday night, July 3, p 989)? On Thursday July 6th (Let 309), no she's not sure: "I am in hourly dread that I shall want protection" (p 992). It is brave from just about every point of view one can think of for Clarissa to go public as raped.


Other posts under this date in the novel:
             The Unspeakable: Raped Before Others After a Public Supplication

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