Miss Partington: Does Clarissa shy away from all physical contact?

In response to Marilyn Samuels, I would hazard that if it is her self-image that prevents Clary from seeing the women clearly, why can she see through the men? Are you implying that she senses in herself an identification with the women? I would deny this in view of Clary's upper middle class image of herself which, speaking generally, makes her see the lower class women in the novel as other from her; it is only after the rape that she sees that she has lived a parallel trajectory to theirs, and this makes her abhor herself. Why should her pride & high standards equally not prevent her from not seeing the men? Are they not even more closely identified with Lovelace, at least from what he has told her, than the women? If she were to marry him, her husband's close friends would be the people at her dinner table, not the landlady (& family) of a lodging she and Mr Lovelace happened to stay at for a time.

I didn't mention the scene in which Miss Partington tries to get into Clarissa's bed because I suspect an earlier attitude towards bed-mates comes between a 20th century individual like me and a fictionalized 18th century female character. I still remember asking a professor once about just this scene if people generally went to bed with one another before the 20th century without as much fuss as we do today because this was a way to keep warm, or there were not as many beds around as they are today--I am using the phrase, "go to bed" to mean get into a comfortable place to lay down to go to sleep. Wealthy people in the Renaissance and 17th century who had good beds took them on trips because they knew they would find nothing as good (and there's nothing like a good night's sleep and all that). In other earlier novellas and novels there are pairs of women sleeping together (a woman and her companion maid); characters at inns seem to hop in without too much delicacy. The professor had not much of an answer, but I wondered if this were so because it would explain why Clarissa is not _alarmed_ at Miss Partington's request and persistence. She is merely "out of humor," irritated, and Anna says, "Pity you could not have admitted her" (Ross Penguin Let 164, Wed. May 3, p 549) This may be another instance of Anna's misjudgement, but when she adds "Watchful as you are, what couldhave happened?" (p 549). I thought, well, when one falls asleep, one is not watchful. I will get frank and say I wonder who was to attack: was it to be Miss Partington? and are we to think of some sexually ambiguous encounter between the women? or was Miss Partington to help Lovelace in? I do believe, even if it was not unusual for people to share beds (I seem to remember Fielding's Mrs Jervis and his Shamela laying on either side of poor Booby), for the reader Richardson may have meant this scene to be alarming. They're closing in on her. And it's all the more alarming because with regard to the women Clarissa seems not to see what is in front of her.

I guess I'm being stubborn when I say Richardson kept her dense about these women in order to keep his heroine in the whorehouse, and that it fits into an interpretation which sees her as sexually innocent and physically fearful of men; there I'll go along with the idea she cannot see the women as having been taken already for that would threaten her directly. The dissoluteness of Lovelace's men friends would not threaten her in the same direct way. Maybe she does not allow Miss Partington into her bed because of the same kind of physical timidity; she says of her reasons the sort of abstract phrase she is so capable of when she wants to be vague: "To consent may possibly, if not probably, be attended with inconveniences." (p 546) Is she referring to her desire to write late into the night? Miss Partington might want to sleep? Are we to imagine a bed without curtains? I suppose that Clarissa is thinking of something physical in the bed. She doesn't want anyone physically about her. So I come back to 18th century manners and modes? Did people snuggle up as a matter of course? But Clarissa does not because she withdraws from physical touching "instinctively" (that is from something guarded within her own nature)? It may well be that as an upper class woman Clarissa looks down on anyone who wants to get into bed with her who is not of her own class, but the history of sleeping customs tells us upper class people slept with their servants as a matter of course and for warmth--and perhaps company too.

Ellen Moody

Other posts under this date in the novel:
             Clary's Response to the Men as opposed to the Women in the Brothel

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