In Defense of Anna

Several people had been talking about Anna's letters, and Caroline Brashears summed up what had been said and responded as follows:

Several recent letters have discussed Anna Howe. It seems that readers have always reacted strongly to her character. In 1752, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu comments,

Miss How, who is call'd a young Lady of sense and Honor, is not only extreme silly, but a more vicious character than Sally Martin, whose Crimes are owing at first to Seduction and afterwards to necessity, while this virtuous Damsel, without any reason insults her mother at home and ridicules her abroad, abuses the man she marrys, and is impertinent and Impudent with great applause. (Letter to Lady Bute, 1 March)

Despite Lady Mary's dislike, Anna did gain great applause, enough for Richardson to resurrect her in his next novel as Charlotte Grandison (another character Lady Mary despised, and thought should have had "her Coats flung over her Head and her Bum whipp'd").

My reaction is no less moderate: I adore Anna. She's creative, fiesty, and loyal. And I agree with Mari Schindele's assessment of her marriage:

I have always thought that the Anna-Hickman alliance was one of the more chilling parts of an already chilling book--a spirited, bright, lively girl brought through much harrassment (by even her best friend) to marry a dull, staid man she does not love. (Posting written Wed., 22 March)

The harrassment of Anna is less violent than that of Clarissa, yet it's still harrassment. Hickman, Mrs. Howe, Clarissa--and later half the cast of this novel--join in pressuring Anna to have a man she does not love. Anna must marry, must submit; Richardson's agenda insists on it. I find that chilling.

Ellen Moody suggests that Anna's attitude towards Hickman is also chilling:

Anna seems to dislike him because he is kind, gentle, and moral. I would agree it's probably not enough to make someone fall in love with you, but that is should be a demerit is chilling in its implications. (Posting written Fri., 24 March)

If that is Anna's attitude, it is disturbing and significant. I wonder, however, whether we might attribute Anna's dislike to youthful ideas of a lover rather than to Hickman's virtues. What teenager finds a humorless, clumsy, starched suitor attractive? Yet she approves his "tolerably genteel person," his honesty and family, his benevolence and sobriety (Letter 46 [Wed Mar 22]). Perhaps she resists not so much because Hickman is good, but because she values her freedom too much to give it to someone she only approves.

I agree, however, with Ellen Moody's interpretation of Anna's comment that Clarissa "found [her] out". I, too, had assumed that Anna had earlier lovers--perhaps a rake.

Caroline Brashears In response I wrote: I'd just like to mention that Letter 56 for Wednesday Night, March 22 is one of Anna's more delightful ones, and also contains the caricatures of the three heroes (or anti-heroes), Lovelace, Hickman, and Solmes as children where their prominent characteristics are writ large and become the stuff of picturesque detail. We ought also to remember that it does not appear in the first edition of Clarissa , but only in the third. Thus it is an addition, an afterthought of light saturnine delicacy.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Updated 10 January 2003