The Assault Begins Again, and this time it's Clary versus her sister

The quiet moment of Clarissa's meditation upon her encounter with Lovelace ends, and we return to the assaults. There is a direct parallel between the rape of Clarissa by Lovelace later and the assault by first one and then another member of her family. As Richardson becomes excited, he always places letters within letters, and the epistolary narratives intertwine as voices talk at one another, and bodies are thrust in afterwards. We have here the mother & father to Clary; then the mother a disguised ultimatum: here's the clothes, in 2 weeks, my dear, nothing to be done; then Clary to brother in a desperate hard-to-read letter because she fawn upon him; triumphant leering brother back), but this time the dominant pair is Clary versus Bella. It's as if Richardson turns to relative after relative to explore and present each in these encounters.

Since most of us are reading this book in the first edition, we should note there is a letter in the third (printed by John Butt in the first volume of his 4 volume Everyman) which does not appear in the first, and which just cackles with bitchery between the two girls. At moments Clary gives as good as she gets; primally speaking Clary has the upper hand because she's prettier and the man Arabella wanted, Lovelace, wants Clary.

This long series of dramatic narratives between the two sisters has great energy and is very entertaining; it's not enough though to congratulate Clary, for after all she does not speak out anywhere often enough, Why is it Bella who always threatens to slap Clary and never _vice versa_ that's what I want to know. One should see how in this family the women equally conspire to destroy Clarissa, to sell her because they have been sold; this kind of behavior may be seen everywhere today I'd suggest, most notoriously in that horrible operation of removing the woman's clitoris, which is performed in Africa by women upon women ("women beware women" says Middleton); in 18th century English terms Bella of course is much worse than Mrs Harlowe, for she "makes love to the employment;" she's angry that Clary may get a higher bidder (the noble Lovelace has much more prestige than Solmes, more "presentable" too); Bella hisses with hatred and Richardson really gives us a sense of years of grating repressed envy in whispered uncontrolled lines like:

That I half-betwitched people by my insinuating address: that nobody could be valued or respected, but must stand like cyphers wherever I came.

One can imagine the two little girls in their fancy dresses, and everyone oohing and aahing over the younger as the older stands with only a polite attention paid. Now at last Bella has her revenge.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Updated 10 January 2003