The Aftermath of Rape

This week's letters (Sunday, June 25th to Saturday, July 1st, Letters 283-298) continue Richardson's exploration of the aftermath of the rape. One aspect which hits anyone who is reading the book in calendar time is that suddenly the day's reading shortens. Right before the rape 40 and more pages were attributed to a single day (with interwoved letters dated as from previous days, mostly forged letters by Lovelace), now we get a two half pages per day. A snap.

The events: Lovelace is forced to remove himself, she persists in trying to get away and finally succeeds. Preceding the rape it was for me impossible for keep up; I divided some sections into so many pages a night over several nights so I would end on Wednesday after the rape when the letters I could see began to shorten; in other words I ignored the calendar; Richardson seemed in a kind of "white heat;" it just poured out. I couldn't keep up. Now it's as if Richardson is thinking about what to do next.

The predominating emotion: an unreal callowness on the part of Lovelace; he cannot accept that he has done something irretrievable, that acts count; for Clarissa a ravaging self-flagellation and anguish which reaches a "height" in the her painful letter to Mrs Howe. Mrs Howe is the world's everywoman; she would never have felt anything as deeply as Clary; how can she understand how she can hurt another one she can't be hurt in this way herself. We also see Clarissa can act out of desperation; this reminds me of Lear; bring her down to the bottom, and she will do what she has to and stop dithering about scruples in order to free herself of the nightmare--which has become her life.

Thus a note which has been sounded before, but which will begin to overtake the work is Clarissa's comment to Mabel that she will not live long; but this she has hinted at before as the fate most acceptable to her--death. It is also an element in the plot: she is getting Mabel out of the room and her hands on Mabel's clothes. (In her getaway Richardson makes the servants easy to trick. Clarissa's ruse would not have fooled Lovelace, and it would not have taken him anytime to figure out what happened.)

One wholly new note struck in this section perhaps is important: Belford refuses to become Lovelace's active instrument. This heralds a new movement in the book; hitherto the forces of the "world" (of this book) have seemed to conspire to fulfill Lovelace's will. But even here it is clear Belford had hoped for a letter in which Lovelace would promise to adhere to his word, for he tells the story of Clarissa's getaway, so I am not sure that Richardson had as yet made up his mind that he was going to make Belford Clarissa's good friend--which is what he becomes, make Belford into the virtuous man which if one has the strength and integrity (and money and maleness) the world does allow to survive.

Richardson too never forgets to be the novelist and fill us with expectation of what will happen next? There is something new for us to worry over, a new suspense. what will she do now? where will she go? she's got no money, only the clothes on her back. Her family will not take her in; she's lost the consciousness of rectitude and the strength which comes from this in having been raped. Belford's letter, Thursday, June 29, No 293 (Ross Penguin, pp 968-9) brings out this element of "what will happen to our heroine now?"

It also brings out something else. Richardson as Belford writes a striking postscript which is italicized: "Mabel's clothes were thrown into the passage this morning; nobody knows by whom" (Ross, Penguin p 969) Why? because it has the absolute inexplicableness and serendipity of life which is ever casual and ever throwing off unexplained, unexplainable events. Alas, silly Mrs Radcliffe who thought she had to explain everything.


Other posts under this date in the novel:
             Epistolarity: Thematic and Psychological Juxtaposition of letters using Calendared Time

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