'ONCE more have I escaped--'

Although Richardson phrases Clarissa's first letter in a very long time--the last time she wrote was Thursday evening, June 8 (Letter 230) so we have been without her voice for 65 letters straight--in such a way as to keep up the suspense (will Lovelace find her out again? and then what?); nonetheless, there is an abiding tone of safety, security, relief, and we are made to feel Clarissa has at long last found a hiding place, a safe spot and is making her first attempts to build a life based on full truth once again.

It doesn't take her long, though she has again some bad emotional pain to endure at the pens of Mrs Howe and her daughter. This whole small turn takes us from Wednesday night, June 28 to Sunday evening, July 3, Letters 295-307, Ross Penguin, pp 974-89.

One problem for this reader which I am glad I can openly mention, again very frankly taking advantage of this not being an academic journal in which impersonality and a pretense of objectivity is ever the convention, is the overt Christianity of the whole of the fourth and last phase of Clarissa's "history." I don't believe in any God myself, nor in any afterlife or "rewards," and have always wondered why people who do believe in a God do not find downright offensive the idea that God punishes people to make examples of them for others. I have great problems with Mrs Norton's solacing letter( Saturday, July 1, Letter 301 Ross Penguin pp 979-81). It irritates where it is meant to soothe or justify. This kind of drumbeat may be allegorized away as meaning this or that, but Richardson means it literally.

On the other hand it is a relief to hear Clarissa's "voice" once again. For what seems a very long time Lovelace's "voice" has dominated the narrative just about completely; we see and hear her through him. Her voice in response to Mrs Howe's cold cruelty, her barbs, is all that is dignified, upright, and just. The complicated sentence structure, the kinds of astute distinctions, the willingness to efface herself and see it from the other person's point of view brings Clary back into focus (Saturday, July 1, Letter 297, Ross Penguin, p 979). Clarissa does not just lie down and take it. She still asserts her humanity against all the animal and calculating standards by which Mrs Howe judges her. She can still dish it out and turn this humanity into the nastiness of the world's mindset as sharply as the nastiness has earned:

"When distressed the human mind is apt to turn itself to everyone in whom it imagines or wished an interest, for pity and consolation--or, to express myself better and more concisely, in your own words, misfortune makes people plaintive... (Ross Penguin, p 978).

There is also a kind of interest in 18th century London and its reality. Now Clary can't retreat to her family or to a great house in the country. She's got to write her uncle's mistress, Mrs Hodges. (It would appear Uncle John is not so determined to remain chaste and just to what he may be said to owe others himself.) The real world.

She's in London. People are not at all surprized to find themselves among whorehouses or sponging houses, not at all surprized to come across other people living on their own. There's a Trollope novel where the heroine tries to call from a window (_John Caldigate_), and manages to free herself by doing so; Mrs Sinclair just puts down the shades. I sometimes have thought how much more interesting had Richardson been able to write his novel with the real world in the forefront of his mind instead of religion and examples.

This last thought is prompted because I just laid my hands (at long last) on a book mentioned more than once on this list, Samuel Richardson: Tercentary Essays (/em>, edd Margaret Anne Doody and Peter Sabor and have been fascinated by Edward Copeland's "Remapping London: Clarissa and the woman at the window." The pictures, the maps, I love this kind of thing; it really adds to one's appreciation and understanding of the novel.


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