How the Mind Slips Away Under the Impetus of Unrelieved Pressure

With the kind encouragement of Murray, Bob, and Laura I'll carry on with what fascinates me most in the letters for June 10 through 11, Nos 241-51 (Ross Penguin, pp 816-59). Richardson is studying how the mind can slip away, bewildered, confused, traumatized by its own inability to act because there seems nothing out there to depend upon, nothing out there which makes sense, no good choices. The pressure here is the direct violence of Lovelace, his lying to the point that the world becomes a nightmare masquerade. I see Lovelace's behavior in this phase as analogous to that of the Harlowes; the difference is only in the relative moderation of the Harlowes.

They are a stunning pair, he with his intent determination to have her, all on fire, she with her mind going to the point that she can't walk straight, can't make out the path.

Here is his half-crazed violence, love slipping into the desire to destroy:

My brain seemed on fire. What would I have given to have had her alone with me!--I traversed the room; my clenched fist to my forehead. Oh that I had anybody here, thought I, that, Hercules-like, when flaming in the tortures of Deianiera's poisoned shirt, I could tear in pieces? (Sat. night June 10, Letter 243, Ross Penguin p 822);

I could hardly bear the thought that any man breathing should have the power, which I had lost ... Had the captain been a young fellow, and of rank, and fortune his throat could have been in danger ... (Ibid.,Ross Penguin 824);

I came forward. Traversed the room--was indeed in a bloody passion--I have no patience, madam!--and again I bit my unpersuasive lip .. . (Letter 244, Ross Penguin, p 834)

Then her mind slipping, confused, the stress of concrete particulars, too strong, letting go:

She had thrown herself into a chair; her eyes cast down; she was motionless in a profound study ... She mused--she was greatly perplexed--at last, God direct me said, she! I know not what to do--a young unfriended creature, whom have I to advise with?--Let me retire, if I can retire... (Letter 243, Ross Penguin, pp 830-1).

Then, under this pressure, she publicly acknowledges she has been sexually aroused by him, and this it is that is humiliating her:

What has my conduct been, that an insult of such a nature should be offered to me, as it would be a weakness to forgive? I am sunk in my own eyes! (Letter 244, Ross Penguin, p 835);


when I found myself so unhappily over-reached and cheated, as I may say, out of myself---When I oufound I could not be and do, what I wished to be, and to do. (Sunday morning [June 11], Letter 248, Ross Penguin, p 852)

One wishes that not only modern women but Richardson himself in his Sir Charles Grandison could get beyond their pride to acknowledge it takes two to have sex, two to be seduced, that complicity is what happens in the first phases of any sexual encounter.

Towards the end of this time together at Hampstead, we find her moving back into their old mode. He says he would marry if she says the word, she refuses (what "clear path" is she talking about? she herself muddied it, threw obstacles in the way):

However I will frankly own, that I am determined to think no more of you, that you might ... have made an interest... And do you believe that this next course has not cost me some pain, to be obliged to ... [run from him?],

When before her, he says he would marry were she to reach out to him (though how they are to do it when surrounded by women he has seduced and masquerading figures he supplies it is hard to say):

The red-hot iron she refuses to strike--Oh why will she suffer the yielding wax to harden? (Letter 238, Ross Penguin, p 853).

Probably the fairest assessment of him at this juncture is, as he says, he is on the point of "matrimony or a rape" (Ross Penguin, pp 849-50). We also know that if she yield within five minutes out of being of her sight and he'd be exulting. All this is simply true to life--as Richardson's dark view of human nature has it.

Ellen Moody

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