Sinclair's House

On April 26, Caroline D. Breashears wrote:

"Today's letters at last bring us to London and introduce us to a host of new characters: the widow "Mrs. Sinclair," her "nieces" Sarah Martin and Mary Horton, and the "servant" Dorcas Wykes. Among these characters we might also rank the house.

Upon arrival at the house, Lovelace immediately notes a shift in his resolutions, a renewed determination to try Clarissa: "Things already appear with a very different face now I have got her here" (Letter 154 [Wed, Apr 26]). The inhabitants of the house largely hold Lovelace to his purpose, exclaiming, "You owe us such a lady!" Yet the house itself exerts some influence. It is a place of wicked, secret acts, a place in itself a secret to Clarissa, who in discovering its "identity" nearly loses her own. It is a monumental temptation to Lovelace, who finds that here, in the midst of London, one is paradoxically more "private" than any place in the kingdom: here he has the space to say anything, to do anything, to be anything.

"Indeed, the architecture of the house inspires secrets and schemes. It is, as Letter 130 [Thurs, April 20] says, the inner house of two, looking not into the street (the open world) but into a garden (a place acquiring sexual connotations since Clarissa's last rendezvous at Harlowe Place). And it is, as a place where lodgings are let, a space inviting persons, events, plot. Lovelace takes advantage of this situation to intimate that Clarissa's enemies may infiltrate the haven, renting the available rooms; therefore, he lets them all himself. Under pretense of sheltering Clarissa, he isolates her. The fortress becomes a prison.

Richardson emphasizes the irony of Clarissa's situation by allowing her to dwell on the house in her own letter. She indeed seeks privacy, retreating to her apartment as soon as she arrives, and informing Lovelace that she considers it her "retirement" and will be "as little broke in upon as possible" (Letter 155 [Wed. p.m. Apr 26]). By controlling space, she hopes to determine her future. By preventing Lovelace from "breaking in," she tries to preserve the integrity of all her spaces--her room, her chastity, her will.

What Clarissa does not realize is that she has already forfeited her own space by entering the house. She can no more prevent the final "break in" than she can "break out" when she chooses. She finds security in the "very good fastenings" on "the doors, the windows, the wainscot, the dark closet as well as the light one"; she does not discover that the secured is really herself. All she knows is that she is too unwell to debate Lovelace's "encroaching ways."


Then on Apr 27, Caroline wrote, still on the theme of "Sinclair's House:"

Today's letters [157] focus on the interaction between Lovelace's "angel" and his "fallen women." Clarissa notices oddities in their behavior--too much respect, a too-dry handkerchief, sly looks--yet remains too inexperienced to discover their characters. She cannot imagine that Lovelace has brought her to a whorehouse, cannot suspect that he has surrounded her with whores of his own making. She does not know the women play assigned parts.

What's odd, though, is not that Clarissa fails to recognize the whores, but that Lovelace himself finds them so repellent. Having written the script, having cast his whores, Lovelace suddenly recoils at the set: "They will make me, as I tell them, hate their house. . . . I begin to repent already that I have brought her hither." Suddenly, they are the villains; they are the instigators: "How do these creatures endeavour to stimulate me!"

Indeed, Lovelace attempts to raise his own character by sinking theirs.

A fallen woman, Jack, is a worse devil than even a profligate man. The former is above all remorse: that am not I--nor ever shall they prevail upon me, though aided by all the powers of darkness, to treat this admirable creature with indignity--So far, I mean, as indignity can be separated from the trials which will prove her to be either woman or angel.

Not only are these women more wicked than he; they are the representatives of evil itself, "the powers of darkness." He stands, a buffer, between devils and angel. He imagines himself struggling against them even as he manipulates them, sees himself protecting Clarissa from them even as he ruins her with them. Lovelace reassures himself of his humanity by distancing himself from the whores. He would never be cruel--except, of course, in "the trials."

Lovelace conveniently forgets that the whores are cruel precisely because they've already failed their own trials. Now they see the same test, the same stakes--though not the same qualities. Sally upbraids him for ruining her, much to his surprise. "What a rout do these women make about nothing at all!" he exclaims, amazed that the incident had any impact. Lovelace, like Frankenstein, refuses to acknowledge the "devils" he has created.

This attitude complicates his character and succeeding events. Lovelace wants to be better than the whores, and he shifts blame to them, ignoring his own part in their ruin even as he suggests they make him worse than he otherwise would be. His blindness is obvious. What's unclear is to what extent Richardson expected the reader to believe Lovelace is morally superior to the whores. Is Richardson again allowing Lovelace to expose himself, or is he making Lovelace more attractive by adding these qualms, by insisting that the women are far worse? He had whitened Lovelace's predecessor, Mr. B., by adding the nasty Mrs. Jewkes to _Pamela_. Is he doing the same thing here? Could Richardson really not bear to make his villain the lowest of the low? If so, I think Richardson as shady as his rake.

In any case, the emphasis on the whores' depravity impresses the reader with a sense of distance between them and Clarissa. They're "devils," she's an "angel"; they fake modesty, she embodies it; they attempt civility, but she cannot like them. The groups occupy opposite ends of the moral and social spectrum, with Clarissa "more than woman" and the whores less than human. The very setup excludes any ordinary woman, any middle ground: one "falls" all the way. Only Lovelace stands between, testing, regulating. Implicitly, the reader joins him.

Suddenly, I feel a bit shady myself.


To which I replied:

I have been very interested by all Caroline Brashears' meditations on Sinclair's House. I thought I might remark also just on her comment that Clarissa "cannot imagine that Lovelace has brought her to a whorehouse." Caroline explains it by saying that Clarissa is "too inexperienced to discover their characters," and "cannot suspect that he has surrounded her with whores of his own making." This time round I found this innocence a bit strange in a way, or, if not impossible to credit, at least another bit of evidence that we are to suppose Clarissa a very young and particulary in the area of sex, naive girl. This then would preclude any notion of her half- teasing or encouraging Lovelace's advances even partly unconsciously. One of Richardson's aims is mimetic realism, and here are women Lovelace has himself seduced, and is perhaps still physically involved with; Sally hates Clarissa with a jealousy that includes class envy as well grief and resentment over her own lost prospects. While romance often strains credibility (think of all the coincidences we often accept), Clarissa seems awfully dense not to infer anything from her own observations on the watchful stealth of Mrs Sinclair's behavior, as when she notes with some asperity:

I should have been apt to think that the young gentlewomen and Mr Lovelace were of longer acquaintance than yesterday. For he, by stealth as it were, cast glances at them, which they returned ...

At other times she persistently investigates such incongruities, and she's pretty good at picking up all sorts of hints during the family quarrels and in other scenes with Lovelace.


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