On Role Playing and Refusing to Marry: Just Prior to London

I have a pet theory or two about Lovelace's writing as much as he does as well as his style. I am currently working on an article on the subject but just to show how trustworthy I know you all are--Lovelace, I argue, must have audience. He doesn't know we are around so his sole reader is Belford and by reportage, his college of rakes. He consistantly employs all kinds of genre to this end--one of the most obvious, I think, is his encounter with Rosebud and Johnny at the White Hart. This is a kind of pastoral dream that he controls as author--and he goes to great lengths to keep all manner of interlopers out of the plot. He prefers to present an entertainment in the same way he brings Clarissa before the College of Rakes. His task is to entertain Belford, to convince him for a certainty that all this is merely play--he needs audience--not interference. So he writes, he threatens, he cajoles, he reassures, he assumes roles, he puts others in roles. He takes rather great delight in pressing Capt. Singleton into his service--a "reformed" criminal taken directly it seems from the pages of Defoe--Clarissa believes. The Hamptonsire episode is a theatric tour de force. Ellen Moody's observation is right on the mark, I think, Lovelace is shallow--he merely appropriates forms--one after another--unwilling (as Margaret Doody observes) that this whole business will turn out to be other than comedy.


To which I wrote in reply:

In a sense this series of letters is also another pivotal point; the fact is the two people fail to marry, and this sets off the next phase of the fiction, Lovelace's attempt to turn Clarissa into another one of his whores, and her attempt to wrest out of this mess her own freedom from contingency, from the awful people around her, from some of the values she insists she has been adhering to. So I would add to the theatrical quality of these letters and the characters as playing roles instead of acting as if their decisions are part of real life, something one cannot avoid and so must be serious about--like pregnancy. They both are children. Lovelace's fear of marriage is an aspect of his fear of becoming a boy instead of a mischievous boy; Clarissa fears going to bed with him and marriage because she fears what womanhood will bring from within her and force her to have to deal with.

So I read this sequence as about a profound "failure" in both Lovelace and Clarissa. One might say the essential humanity of the conception has been obscured because Richardson himself came back and heightened and thus simplified the text. He originally meant us to feel for both characters. For example, the letters after the two arrive at St. Albans and before they move to London move very slowly. There are veins and veins of dramatic narrative, scenes and scenes, and we are invited to study the two characters interacting.

As to the movements within them, we see Lovelace jump from scheme to scheme, sometimes in front of Clarissa (which schemes sometimes include marriage) and Clarissa hesitate to act. She doesn't think or doesn't want to bring Lovelace out from behind his mask, and frankly speak about what he's doing anyhow, what he means; when he's alone all he does is role-play (as Murray says), and these roles seem realer to him than the people around him. I think that's interesting, and true to human nature. Our roles are often realer to us than other people. As to Lovelace, he's in touch with these roles more than his own emotions. Clarissa's in touch with her sense of herself as the role model, the exemplary Clarissa. In a sense both are caught up in their own skin and cannot look beyond themselves to see what is happening out there. Clarissa can't bring herself to look; Lovelace can't see anything but himself mirrored everywhere. There are more motives in each of them for their behaviors in these scenes than a another book the length of one of Richardson's original volumes can cover.

Again I believe originally Richardson meant us partly to blame Clarissa's conduct a bit in this pre-London sequence, but when his readers began to side with Lovelace and lost sight of the glaring fact that Lovelace simply is not marrying Clarissa when the option is clearly his to do so, is not really forthcoming in any way (as she is in a sense), and is all the while planning to take her to a whorehouse and make her another whore, Richardson lost sight of the subtlety of his original fiction and began to harden and coarsen his own narrative.

Finally I'd like to throw out this idea: perhaps some of us have a hard time believing Clarissa wants to return to her family (for this is what it is in part) is that most people think that when the child doesn't leave the parent it is a tragedy. We don't feel that one can live an independent life of one's own until one has separated oneself decisively from one's parents. Many may feel Clarissa must naturally prefer a life of her own with a man of her own to remaining her family's child. That she does not suggests John Dussinger's early remark that she fears becoming a woman. But then why so? Why do we still demand that people marry and set up families as an index of adulthood or seriousness?


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