Is the Rape actionable?

Since we have so frequently discussed whether Clarissa ought to have gone to court to protect her access to her grandfather's property, I have begun to wonder if a jury would have convicted Lovelace of rape.

For example,once it is clear that the Harlowes will not take Clarissa back, and she becomes so devastated by their rejection (once again--I find her continual desire for reconciliation scarcely believable, especially when one considers that of all those we have met in her family only her mother has shown any real affection for her), it is Clarissa who is intensely loathe to marry, to name the day, and Lovelace knows this so he can urge and urge her and use all his documents and prove how sincere he is. As for example, today:

...when, when, was it to be?
I would hasten again to the Commons; and would not return without the licence.
The Lawn I proposed to retire to, as soon as the happy ceremony was over. This day and that I proposed... (Monday, June 5, Let 220, Ross Penguin705)

Take Letter 207, written by Lovelace to Belford, Thursday May 25 (Ross Penguin, pp 667-71). I find it pathetic (in all senses) that Clarissa seems so lost, so alone, so desperate and clings to Lovelace: "THOU seest, Belford, how we drive before the wind--The dear creature now comes almost at the first word, whenever I desire the honour of her company" (Ross Penguin, p 667). He was at times here also in earnest. She touches his heart; he feels for her when confronted by her acute suffering. She need only grab the reins, he holds them out to her: "I do assure thee, Beford, I was in earnest in all this. My whole estate is nothing to me..." (Ross Penguin, p 668). And again, "why, why did she refuse my sincere address to tie the knot before we came to this house..." (Ross Penguin, p 669). The women egg him on, jealous of this so-called special creature; at times it's clear he does love her intensely and wants her to reciprocate ("I would be the subject of her dreams, as well as of her waking thoughts..."); earlier on someone commented how they are both egotists, caught in their own perceptions, thus he's urging her to name the day, to marry him (Ross Penguin p 700), and she says only "Soon, and then on she goes to say as how if Uncle Harlowe could be there, she'd be happy, "She won't forbear, Jack...").

Although it has been quoted too often in the literature on Clarissa, it's so significant a revelation that I quote the well-known give-away:

I hope my reason will gather strength enough from his imperfections... to enable me to keep my passions under... I never was in such an odd frame of mind..." (Saturday May 27, Let 212, Ross Penguin 679).

It is a testimony to Richardson's integrity that he came back just to add footnotes and scold us into his view, and left his text for us to read, for his original conception is valid, for consider how had she agreed to charge rape, and if we could imagine a strong defense attorney, would he not have made mince-meat of Miss Harlowe.

But for the drugging and the holding down, would the whole situation to a jury be not ambiguous even today?

For now I'll return to an earlier posting on rape which I'll state more forcefully (if only to incite someone to argue with me, for without interlocutors this is not a list) this time my conviction that we communicate by far more than words. No-one in any deep relationship ignores past history; my example earlier was parents and children because it's so clear there and no politics to get in the way, but now I'll turn to the reality that all relationships (boss & employee, student & teacher, man and woman, or sex between man & man or woman & woman) depend upon an expectation that yesterday leads to today. Reciprocity is also part of a relationship. To a certain extent we take good with bad, and expect our partner to take our good with our bad. All relationships are an unspoken contract of sorts. No child expects to renegotiate his right to breakfast every morning; no lover or husband expects to have to renegotiate the assumption of an on-going sexual relationship each night. Life could not carry on between people were they to regard one another as eternally bestowing favors on one another in return for favors or "on condition of good behavior."

Thus, to take a recent famous case, when Mrs Bobbitt goes up to the bed she shares with Mr Bobbitt, a bed in which they made love 2 nights ago, and goes to sleep, she carries on a relationship. If she had left the home, gone to live elsewhere, that would have been a clear break in continuity; even better for a jury had she filed papers for separation, gone to the police. I would on jury been able to find "guilty" had they accused Mr Bobbitt of severe violence on her person, and cited the various incidents, but rape, no, I think I would have acquitted him. In the case of Mr William K. Smith, the girl took off her panties, and lay down; she needn't say anything. The jury was correct to say not guilty to rape; yes, he was a cad, a bore, but not a rapist.

So now not only did Clarissa come to live with Lovelace in London, see his friends, stay with him in an outwardly complacent manner, which I suppose the prosecuting attorney could explain away as the result of being duped, but now Lovelace has taken out settlements, begged her to name the day, gone for for a license. She lives there with him, she sits by him; she is willing to speak softly with a "Be quiet" only when he is too obvious. I couldn't help but wonder, What were the innocent liberties she permitted. Kissing I suppose.

The prosecution would have had to go heavy on the business of the drugs and holding down and tried to tell the jury of all the lies she was told and convince them of these lies, notoriously difficult lies, since in a courtroom everyone lies about all sorts of things.

In fact, he just about wants to marry her at moments, at others he wants revenge or to show the world how he has triumphed over her; she never really wants to marry him, yet she flees not. The defense could argue there was no clear break.

I should say here I am playing devil's advocate, but sometimes I feel it was pride that prevented Clarissa from telling the women at Hampstead all that occurred, and it's clear the glittering prize of becoming one in a family of aristocrats also tempted our Eve to return.


To which Caroline Breashears replied:

Subject: Criminals

Again, I want to agree with Ellen Moody's assessment of yesterday's letter. Lovelace does show his moral side, as Ellen notes:

he's not a criminal; Sinclair is, and Clarissa is in danger from her as she senses from her fear of Dorcas's ferocity when she (Clary) refuses to eat.

I find this aspect of the novel distressing. Richardson constantly deflects blame from Lovelace--first by having the whores administer the drug, and then by emphasizing the whores' moral insensibility. Belford's summary of the rape illustrates the extent of the distortion:

Poor, poor lady! . . . Such an adorer of virtue to be sacrificed to the vilest of her sex; and thou their implement in the devil's hands for a purpose so base, so ungenerous, so inhuman! (Letter 258)

Suddenly the master plotter, the rake who corrupted women then persuaded them to help destroy another, the man with the power to raise or to lower: suddenly this man becomes the "implement" of whores. They are the real agents of the devil. It they who perpetrate the greatest evils of society, and it is their house that contains evil like some magic realm, influencing all who come within its bounds. There Lovelace can say and write things he admits he cannot say or write elsewhere (Letter 253). So it is there that he takes Clarissa, and it is there that, through Lovelace, the whores violate her.

Belford's attitude thus absolves Lovelace of part of the responsibility. It also implies that a man's sense of power is false: a bad woman can, at any time, use him while appearing to be used. Bad women victimize men as well as other women. What criminals! And what an imagination Richardson had!


Then Nathanael Christopher Crawford wrote:

Subject: criminals

I'm interested in Ellen's suggestion that Lovelace is not a criminal, but I need a bit more clarification on why. I'm not convinced that he's not a criminal because he fears her, or because he is not a bully. Nor do I buy the argument that LL merely fulfilled the role he was assigned by nature (like the bear in Clarissa's Mad Papers), whereas Sinclair violated some sort of female code by aiding LL in the rape of Clarissa. Despite rumours to the contrary, LL has engineered much of this little escapade: isolating Cl from any outside help, drugging her, and raping her, to put it quite bluntly. Perhaps one could argue that Sinclair and the other women goaded him into it--but I often think that LL portrays himself as being goaded into doing things that he actually _wants_ to pull off. Just a little puzzled; I'd appreciate some claryfication.


A little later he added:

I was composing a resonse to Caroline's note about Belford when I managed to something that killed the message. So now I have to type this one all over again. Caroline raises a good issue: "Does Richardson want us to see how we delude ourselves, or does he want us to believe that Lovelace would be a better man without the whores around." I think that part of the answer to this question is couched in the letter that Belford writes to Lovelace immediately after the rape. As Caroline points out, he seems to suggest that lovelace is not at fault for his actions; rather, the whores are to blame:

"Such an adorer of virtue to be sacrificed to the vilest of her sex; and thou their implement in the devil's hands for a purppose so base, so ungenerous, so inhuman!"

However, if Belford is suggesting here that lovelace is not to blame for the rape, his tone differs very much from other places in the letter:

"Oh thou savage-hearted monster! What work has thou made in oneguilty hour, for a whole age of repentence."

"That thou couldst behold her frenzy on this occasion, and her half-speechless, half-fainting prostration at thy feet, and yet retain thy evil purposes, will hardly be thought credible"

I think that we should read the very first passage with a tinge of irony; belford is mocking Lovelace's attempt to put the blame onto others. As further evidence that Belford thinks Lovelace himself is to blame:

"Poor, poor lady! With such noble qualities as would have adorned the most exalted married life, to fall into the hands of the only man inthe world who could have treated her as thou hast treated her!--And to let loose the old dragon, as thou properly callest her, upon the before-affrighted innocent, what a barbarity was that! What a poor piece of barbarity! in order to obtain by terror, what thou despairedst to do by love, though supported by strategems the most insidious."

If the "old dragon" is Sinclair, then belford suggests that Lovelace himself had control of her the whole time, and turned her loose upon Clarisa when all else failed. The thrust of the letter is to humiliate Lovelace for the failure of the rape, but also to force Lovelace to admit that he himself was the cause, not the whores. Belford also suggests that he knows Lovelace colours events to suit his best interests, and that he must constantly work to cut through the surfaces that Lovelace paints on events to get at the truth:

"And yet I have but one other motive to ask thy excuse; and that is, becasue I owe to thy own communicative pen the knowledge I have of they barbarous villainty; since thou mightest, if thou wouldst, have passed it upon me for a common seduction."

In response to Caroline's question, I think that Richardson wants us to think, not only about how we delude ourselves, but about how society deludes itself about the reality of rape.


To this Caroline replied:

I agree that Belford thinks Lovelace a cad for raping Clarissa; Nathanael amply supports this point. I think, however, that Belford believes Lovelace only partly responsible for this act, that Belford dreads the women's influence on Lovelace as well as what they might do to Clarissa.

Belford does mock Lovelace, who pretends to be all-powerful, by saying he has been the whores' "implement." He's serious too, though, a point supported by Belford's numerous condemnations of the whores. "Hardened as thou art," he writes before the rape, "I know that they are the abandoned people in the house who keep thee up to a resolution against her" (Letter 222). Again and again he begs Lovelace, "let not the specious devils thou hast brought her among, be suffered to triumph over her" (Letter 173); not "to give her, no not for one hour . . . into the power of that villainous woman, who has, if possible, less remorse than thyself; and whose _trade_ it is to break the resisting spirit" (Letter 222). Finally, he threatens a duel "if thou sacrificest her to the accursed women" (Letter 259). The worst that could happen to Clarissa is not to be raped by Lovelace, but to be broken by the women.

That does not mean Lovelace is innocent--far from it. What I'm suggesting is that Richardson distances Lovelace from both resisting spirit" (Letter 222). Finally, he threatens a duel "if thou sacrificest her to the accursed women" (Letter 259). The worst that could happen to Clarissa is not to be raped by Lovelace, but to be broken by the women.

That does not mean Lovelace is innocent--far from it. What I'm suggesting is that Richardson distances Lovelace from both the fallen and the chaste, from both "the devils" of the sex and the "angel" of it. In so doing, he palliates Lovelace's guilt. It is as if Richardson says, "Yes, my rake is bad, but he could be much worse: just look at those sluts!"

Richardson bases this view on the theory Lovelace presents, that "the best things corrupted become the worst" (Letter 261). Richardson thus mythologizes woman, insists that she is "all soul" like a Clarissa, or irretrievably devilish like a Sinclair. Yet this stance places responsibility and blame on the very beings that Richardson shows have the least power. The only women--the Clarissas--who can "save" the corrupt are too good to survive in this world; those women who survive seduction--the Sallys and Pollys--become the scapegoats for much of the evils. Richardson blames these victims for ruining other women, for instigating men to rape others, for draining the fortunes of men, for destroying whole families through treachery and disease. Bad men at least have consciences, as the rakes' letter to Lovelace shows; bad women have none.

That's a long-winded response to Nathanael. Perhaps it's a minor point. Yet, as many seem to think Richardson is a feminist, I thought it might provoke some comments.


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