Punctilio, Love, and Brothers

Again as I read Clarissa's letter to Anna for Wednesday, April 12 (Ross Penguin, pp 387-98) the most dominant sense I have is that regardless of Lovelace's behavior, which is less guarded than Clarissa's because he makes several offers she could have taken him up on (let's go to M's, let's go to Lady Betty's as Lady Sarah is "a melancholy woman), I am persuaded this is not a woman or girl who is in love, and that Richardson meant us not to see her as at all in love. Not even a little bit. The one thing she responds passionately to is his reference to her family's "ungenerous and base oppression," and then because it's an "in" to fight with him. All she wants is to be left alone:

All I that I desire of you now is to leave it to myself to seek for some private abode ...

While I find this touching, it comes from an instinct in her so deep that no-one but herself mentions it.

She is pleased by the praises of Lovelace she hears from those surrounding him; but this is to judge of him as the world sees him. Insofar as the world approves, she does. Not a woman in love at all. I know she goes on and on about her punctilio, but to me this reads as so much rationalization of an impulse to retreat, to avoid, and the lack of any attraction in her to Lovelace. The punctilio is the world's construction of a deeper rooted behavior in Clarissa that few in this book seem to share with her.

His letter part of which is dated on the same day (No 99, Tuesday, Wed. Apr. 11,12) is nervous, jumpy; he may do anything or other next. It's full of extravagant imagery, and more echoes of Othello, but it seems had she acted she might have gotten him to marry:

That I did not intend it [to seduce & not marry] is certain. That I do intend it I cannot (my heart, my reverence for her, will not let me) say ...

It is, as seen in this early squabble, that it's improbably they could ever have had a companionate marriage of affection and trust. Lovelace complains she shows no trust; but then he has not acted honorably; the "mutual confidence" he feels lacking is lacking in him equally. But finally, it seems to me Richardson can write all the footnotes he wants to (3rd edition: Clarissa has been censured as having ... with too much reserve ...&c), and that because she is proud and haughty; to me it seems she's simply not emotionally involved with this man at all. She does not begin to know or care to know him. whether they would have been happy is doubtful. Does this suggest a harsh view of marriage and the relationship between the sexes in Richardson himself? That is, he really does not himself believe in companionate marriage. It's only a truce to set up a bargain with which to live conventionally in society.

I thought Anna's second letter (No 111, Ross Penguin, pp 431-3) redeemed her at first; she is now loyal (within limits) once again. Interestingly though she is ever, as was said by Marilyn Samuels (I believe) the voice of the world: "Run away with him, my dear, is so--no matter to whom--or marry him, if you cannot." This moral denseness reminds me of Pandarus in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde who says to Troilus, well, she's gone, so now we must decided: which is it: "procure" another or abduct her? Two totally opposed views which are only understandable if the individual is living wholly within the self-interested perspective of society's eyes, and as society (always crass lowest denominator) understands it. When I was young, babies outside "wedlock" (yes, that was the term) were a gigantic NO-NO; so if you got pregnant, you had 2 choices (as my mother said): get an abortion (and, of course, never see him again, or marry him (& stick there for the rest of your hopeless life). The same mindless opposition at work. Perhaps today there is some substitute mindless opposition of which I'm unaware. But I suggest Clary does not love him, so running away is wholly out, and marrying only a highly reluctant compromise.

Would someone like to disagree? Is it wholly sexual attraction on her part which is hidden to or denied by her? If so, still my sense of a complete lack of what I would call the basis of a permanent real love could still be argued for. Perhaps it is at this turn of the action that many readers who were rooting for Clary against her horrible relatives, begin to move away.

Ellen To which Caroline Brashears replied in a posting labelled PUNCTILIO AND BROTHERS:

Like Ellen Moody, I find the proposal scene fascinating. I, also, think Clarissa sticks to punctilio partly from pride: that quality dominates this week's letters by both Clarissa and Lovelace. "He looked a fool"; "she looked a fool." It's like a running scorecard.

On the other hand, I think Clarissa sticks to punctilio partly from self-defense. At this point, nothing else is left to her. She senses that Lovelace, as one of the "encroaching" sex, will take every lapse in punctilio as an invitation to still greater freedoms until, finally, he takes the greatest freedom of all. Clarissa's delicacy and sense of consistency also demand more: were she to act any differently, she would act out of character.

Character is another preoccupation in these letters. Clarissa and Lovelace write long, dense letters detailing their attempts to understand--and shield themselves from--one another. Ironically, those scenes they describe occupy far less time than that spent writing them. Experience is reduced to hard, brilliant, finite scenes in which the two "read" one another without ever connecting. Only when closeted with pen and ink do they ponder that reading: they then write each other's characters, construct them, puzzle over them.

In the endeavor to portray and construct characters, Lovelace has the advantage of experience. The master of disguise, he first amuses himself--and disturbs Clarissa--by playing "brother." He enjoys the irony of pretending to rescue his "sister" from a bad marriage, enjoys acting James's part. He writes Belford:

Ovid was not a greater master of metamorphoses than thy friend. To the mistress of the house I instantly changed her into a sister, brought off by surprise from a near relation's . . . to prevent her marrying a confounded rake . . . whom her father and mother, her elder sister and all her loving uncles, aunts, and cousins abhorred. (Letter 103)

What's immediately striking about this passage is not Lovelace's own transformation and skill in lying, but his insistence on his power to transform others. He "changed her." Changing Clarissa is his greatest fantasy, soon to become his greatest scheme, and all he believes necessary to effect that change is for him to invent roles.

Lovelace's decision to play brother points to another theme: his conflict with James. Lovelace invents the abduction tale to pacify the innkeepers, but Anna reports (in a few days) that James unwittingly plans to actualize it, reabducting Clarissa so that she may be forced to marry Solmes. As Anna observes, she is "the tennis-ball of two violent spirits" (Letter 132).

The two are violent, and they share many other qualities and experiences. They're the same age; they attended the same college; they have been spoiled as their families' heirs, unused to control in any form; they both aspire to a title.

Yet these similarities seem designed only to point up the differences between the two, the contrast in abilities, address, and expectations. Charming Lovelace will ever overshadow nasty James; the former's self-possession will ever disguise what the latter cannot. Upper-class Lovelace, with aristocratic relatives, may expect what James can only fantasize. The real plotter pulls the pretender's strings from afar. In every contest, the aristocrat wins.

It is only when pitted against the middle-class paragon of virtue, the Clarissa, that Lovelace meets his match. It is here--not in raising a family--that her kind surpass their "betters." And it is at this point that the real contest begins.


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