Lovelace as a Literary Concoction: 'The Affair of Miss Betterton'

In answer to Nat Crawford, I did indeed mean that it often seems to me that at times Richardson seems to "believe in the posturing of the cavalier poets," much as many modern people reading the sexual surveys take the attitudes, posturings, hypocrisies, and simple lies the interviewees tell to the learned interviewer as real data of what these people do. This doesn't mean that Richardson likes the stereotype of the rake; he may also mean to expose the hollowness of the stereotype; it does mean that I was bold enough to suggest Richardson is somewhat naive in actually believing in the stereotype and that in some of the letters by Lovelace and some of the scenes between Lovelace and Clarissa or Lovelace and Anna, the whole thing is unconvincing as a piece of mimetic realism. Several of Lovelace's meditative letters strike me as absurd when they are peppered with phrases like: "this proud beauty," "my charmer;" in some letters I can almost see Lovelace smoothing his wicked mustache. There is an element of caricature in Lovelace. And in some of the dialogue between Lovelace and Anna (as recounted by Anna) or even Lovelace and Clary at times, you would think you were at a school in which someone was reciting a catechism of morality. Real life will not tolerate such stuff. I do think this element of caricature is not as strong in Richardson's females; there he does seem to write from "nature" more consistently. I don't think Richardson is exploding the "popular types found in books;" he is warning young girls not to run off with such types. Now to the extent to which such types are coterminus with real people (that is that the posturing and attitudinizing is the surface manifestation of the something real underneath), to that extent is Richardson onto something. I think Richardson is dealing with archetypes and dreams rather than the diurnal reality he seems at times to think he is presenting. None of this is to say that Richardson's book is the less interesting, but that although for shorthand it's easier to talk about these characters as if they were imitations of life (and I know I do it all the time, otherwise I will end up writing in the tiresome dense abstractions that so pester academic prose), in fact they are only imitations of life insofar as Richardson wants to present an argument or dream in his own head, none all of which correspond to anything "out there."

To take one example of an argument which comes first to Richardson's head and then is embodied in the "mimetic dramatic narrative," the barely adumbrated story of Miss Betterton is there to bring up, as Richardson might say, the moral point of what is rape and what is not, and to blacken the hero-villain. If Richardson really wanted to convince us of Miss Betterton he wouldn't have her also die in child-bed (violins please). In fact the "editor's" (I am fascinated by the idea of writing about the "editor" of these letters) retelling of Lovelace's view of the Betterton case in Letters 139-140 (Ross Penguin, pp 494-7) is a fascinating little vignette which could lead to all sorts of debates, and it is these debates that Richardson often has in mind as perhaps a prime purpose of his fictions (at least as the conscious moral purpose).

Not all the time of course. The man is very complicated and so is his book. So I also firmly agree with Prof John Dussinger that at times Lovelace is a convincing presence, and it won't do just to blame him, and that, as John says, "Among all the good points that Richardson was at pains to stress about Lovelace's character, the most redeeming is surely is utter worship of Clarissa as the ultimate object of desire." It is, to me at least, there are times when Lovelace's response to Clarissa's real distress is touching and real, and that he is, at any rate and however you define this word, in love with her, and responds spontaneously to this emotion of his at times, despite himself so to speak. Also "Clarissa" as presented is at fault. We could say, using the shorthand, she's not looking inside herself because the attraction and fear are too strong for her and she's not got the language to talk about it anyway. As John said, "Frankly, I cannot recall at the moment anything like the soul-searching you'd expect at this stage. It's easier to blame everything on L.'s treachery, isn't it, rather than to see how you may have inadvertently sent the wrong signals to L. in the first place?" The nonsense that language is all we communicate by ("no" means "no") I have often nowadays heard asserted as truth. But looking at the characters as creations for debate and from dreams, we could also see Richardson as not wanting his heroine to look inside, and giving all these moral lectures on Anna and her mother to fill up the space. As I have argued earlier in his first edition Richardson did present all his characters at times in disinterested ways, and it is only later that he came back to deny this in footnotes & his letters to friends.

John also remarks: "we can see that he's scared silly of getting married to ANYBODY and feeling the loss of desire in how many years the marriage counselors today comment as typical?--five years or so after the wedding" How about three months for initial euphoria?

Ellen Moody

Other posts under this date in the novel:
             In the Throes of Genuine Epistolarity: Quietude in Calendar vs Psychological Time
             On Lovelace as a Literary Concoction Rather than Believable Character

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