'Psychological Dream-like Subjectivity:' A Characteristic of Letter-Novels & Romance

In reading yesterday's installment which comes after a series (interrupted by Lovelace's making his entrance), in which Clarissa and her brother repeatedly & throughout, then Clary & mother, then with mother and father, then again the brother & sister, are all fitted into larger letters to Anna, and now we have yet another series of letters in which uncles are scribbling furiously at a their niece from their respective rooms, with yet more to come to the suitor and from the brother, I am struck by the importance of Prof Dussinger's descriptive phrase for the riveting basic mood of Richardson's fictions. It is only if this mood doesn't work for the particular reader (and it's interesting who it works for and who it doesn't work for) or if the mood takes hold, after one puts Richardson's books down, that they seem inherently absurd and become susceptible of hilarious parody. I am thinking, for example, of Fielding's Shamela where he struck at Pamela from the perspective of the improbability of moment-by-moment reportage. I can't resist an entertaining quotation from Shamela:

Thursday Night, Twelve O'Clock Mrs Jervis and I are just in bed, and the door unlocked; if my master should come--Odsbobs! I hear him just coming in at the door. You see I write in the present tense. Well, he is in bed between us, we both shamming a sleep; he steals his hand into my bosom, which I, as if in my sleep, press close to me with mine, and then pretend to awake--I no sooner see him, but I scream out ... After having made a pretty free use of my fingers, without any great regard to the parts I attacked, I counterfeit a swoon. Mrs Jervis then cries out, O sir, what have you done! ...

I don't know if there are any other parodies as good as this.)

But I think this sharp response not only to what Fielding apparently looked upon as a species of meretricious realism, but what he thought, at least in Pamela, was hypocritical pornography, comes later (it is a common charge by anti-Richardsonians, and there is such a species of reader, that he has a dirty mind). What Fielding does very cleverly is explode the dream-like subjective mood by clever interpolations and salacious puns.

But is it a mood we find in fairy tales or only in fairy tales? Certainly fairy tales are paradigms in which children's fears and other deeper feelings are expressed, and one can say well, here is a young girl afraid of the passage to wifehood--except that it's not an unjustified fear, a prejudice, based an apprehension based partly on this "fun state" as she has seen in her mother, and partly on the character of the man whom her relatives are determined to see her too (& power and authority and the determination to triumph over her are part of the Harlowe's family's motivations)

We could generalize the archetype slightly differently to a knd of female character (sometimes the heroine, sometimes not) one finds in romances aimed at a female audience, adult romances, the kind which begins with Chretien de Troyes which are often written out of the same dream-like subjective mood, and in which we are also not supposed to ask certain kinds of questions as we read, for if we do (and mostly we are led not to) the whole thing crashes or shatters to the ground. It is the mood of parts of Sidney's Old Arcadia_ one of whose heroines was a Pamela, &, since this book was issued in a rewritten 18th century abridged form in the early part of the century, Richardson could have gotten the name from this earlier romance, It is also the mood characteristic of the later 17th century romances, the best of which (for my money) is Madame de LaFayette's Princesse de Cleves which for those who haven't read it is a little masterpiece & has a similar central heroine who rejects the sordid world and ambition but is attracted to a roue who looks forward to Anna Karenina's Vronsky; Madame de LaFayette's book includes many other kinds of motifs & themes that recall Richardson's, and some different and some similar techniques which lead to the dream state--such as for example, the slowing down of the narrative which I think essential to the creation of the mood, which I have always supposed was another reason for Richardson's choice of epistolary narration. (Fielding, in comparison, moves swiftly over a given narrative segment.) The subjective mood postively floods Rousseau's La Nouvelle Heloise which he modelled on Richardson's book. The subjective dream, not a specific primal genre necessarily, is at the heart of the book. I suggest Jung's archetypes, particularly the anima & animus yield fascinating analyses of Richardson's presentations of how men and women behave. This kind of romance is of course still with us in great numbers (as is the romance lady name come to think of it), and I hope I will not offend anyone if I say Rhett Butler & Max de Winter are great-great-great &s-grandsons to Lovelace, though for Clarissa definitely not the unnamed masochistic narrator of Rebecca, and I'm not sure Margaret Mitchell's Pansy Hamilton, the original name on the manuscript of the story of the woman we today call Scarlett O'Hara (whose first name the editor knew audiences would prefer as more "fitting," more decorous) will do for Clary Harlowe. Probably people will violently disagree with me when I say I don't think these later books "debased" versions of Richardson at all. Recently ASByatt made a smash hit with Possession and therein used the same archetypes (with her heroine a Christabel), in which not only do we find an inset deeply erotic entanglement and 19th century novella, but lo and behold, at the center, a series of slow-moving clandestine letters.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Updated 10 January 2003