On Solmes as a Substitute Way of Raping Clarissa

The whole of this long sequence we have been reading focuses on two men, and I submit that as far as a perspective on the sexual encounter, goes two two men are not to be differentiated. In both cases, Clary will be raped, taken against her will. In fact the driving force of this part of the narrative derives from her refusal to opt for either. On the one side we have the family wanting to sell her off, and Solmes threatening her with punishments she can't imagine if she doesn't give in graciously, punishments she is already having more than a small inkling of at the hands (quite literally) of her family; on the other, there is Lovelace lurking in the darkness of the still night, pressing his presence and desire upon her.

The early part of Clarissa we are now reading moves between Clarissa's as yet undeveloped erotic entanglement with Lovelace (though the argument is broached fairly by Anna) and Clarissa's strong sexual repulsion in the presence of Solmes and her refusal to sell herself to him aggrandize her family or herself. The insults about her attraction to Lovelace which her brother keeps flinging at her & also the mother's remarks are clearly intended to shame her into marrying Solmes; they keep harping at her that she has said she has not a preference. The point here is that if Clarissa admits to any sexual longing, she is implicitly accused of being a whore.

A comparison I made earlier with Middleton's heroine, Brancha, in his Women Beware Women and her progeny in Restoraton drama as seen in Otway's vulnerable heroines is illuminating though because Clarissa is not & never becomes for sale; as Lovelace learns, she's never even for rent. It is also illuminating because erotically speaking Solmes is going to be no fun at all--at least for Clarissa. She physically loathes him; he's physically loathesome.

One might say here that Richardson doesn't play fair in a sense; he makes it too easy or clear for Clarissa to choose (maybe this is why Laura Kennelly finds the book dull or too obvious or too simple); if Solmes were not simply loathesome & stupid & avaricious, but, as for example in some of Trollope's villain-heroes (I am thinking of George Vavasour if anyone knows Can You Forgive Her?), an attractively ugly "wild man" or simply a handsome one whom Clarissa still did not love we could see clearly that a principle is at stake. But as presented the text can also be read as the primal animal women in Clarissa just refusing something that is not to her appetite. Only Lovelace is attractive; and he doesn't hiss. Richardson's text is of course more powerful because he does not present his story in a clear-cut or reduced and didactic way. But the argument for freedom is lost--if Richardson did want to make such an argument, which he doesn't. Freedom for women is too dangerous.

One could read the following series of letters as a group of cards or threads which have been worked into the narrative as focusing just on the Solmes versus Lovelace theme as no choice at all: Letter 21, Sat, Mar 4, pp 113-16; Letters 33.1-2, Wed-Thurs, Mar 15-16; Letters 50-52, Wed-Thurs, Mar 22-23; Letters 55-57, Fri-Sun, Mar 24-26.

Ellen Moody

To this and specifically in response to Anna's Letter, No 56, dated Sat, Mar 25, Caroline Brashears replied:

Like Anna, I've been fantasizing about dispatching Solmes with glares or at least thoughts. He's hideous. Even more, however, I've been thinking about how skillfully Richardson manipulates our emotions. Just when I'd forgotten Solmes, up he pops again, more loathsome than ever, and the anger rises. If Richardson ever mirrors Lovelace, this is it: he pulls the reader's strings just as Lovelace pulls the Harlowes'.

Anna's advice to Clarissa echoes earlier comments. Anna cannot advise her to flee because Clarissa represents more than herself:

But such a noble character to suffer from a (supposed) rashness and indiscretion of such a nature would be a wound to the sex, as I have heretofore observed.

Her observation raises several questions. Does Clarissa view herself as representing her sex? If so, how does that position influence our view of her character and behavior? We might keep these questions in mind throughout our reading.


To this I wrote:

Further on the parallel suggested by Caroline between the family forcing Solmes on Clarissa and Lovelace's use of his whores to subdue further her spirit by public humiliation, it seems to me Richardson is at times conscious of this, as in today's crisis letter which closes:

Perhaps I shall not be able to write again one while. Perhaps not, till I am the miserable property of that Solmes! But that shall never, never be while I have my senses.

Would the family have drugged her too? I thought Murray's quotations from Johnson precisely apt for the Harlowes; it's no wonder the century was so moved by the book. They believed it perhaps because they had seen "similar cases" as the 18th century reader would say.


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