The Corpse Is Brought Home

We are come to Clarissa's death and the return of her corpse to Harlowe Place. The two other striking events to record over these days (September 6-10, Wednesday through Sunday, Letters 474-501, Ross Penguin, pp 1350-1402) are: the arrival of Colonel Morden just before she dies, and Lovelace's half-deranged utterly undignified behavior.

Caroline Breashears is right first to observe that the Harlowes have no intention of listening to Clarissa even in death; Lovelace is even worse; he demands her body now, here; to me interestingly Richardson hits what I'll call the Byronic note hit here & there in Lovelace's ravings, e.g.,

Surely nobody will dispute my right to her--Whose was she living? Whose is she dead, but mine?

Some of the descriptions of him in corners recall Clarissa hiding out in corners, and they all would do very well in Emily Bronte's novel.

Belford is right to call Mowbray's letter (No 496, Uxbirdge, Sunday monr. 9 o'clock, Ross Penguin, p 1382) "an inimitable performance." It is persuasively realistic; this is how an individual like him would respond, and his half- incredulous description as a funnel through which we see Lovelace tones the descriptions of Lovelace down sufficiently so we believe them too. This also is like the Bronte novel where Nellie or the traveller tells a good deal of the most extravagant details.

For Sunday evening we have a juxtaposition of Mrs Sinclair's death with the arrival home of Clarissa's corpse, Letters 499-500 (Penguin Ross, pp 1386-1399). I have no patience with the presentation of Mrs Sinclair's death; although I've never read all of it, I've seen bits, and I think Eric, or Little by Little preferable to this (to me) offensive blatant didacticism. Had at least an attempt been made to imitate the delirium tremens of the alcoholic in the last phases, but as with Clarissa's own death, this is not realistic in the sense that we are not given any information to understand why the individual is actually dying. (I have wondered at times if we are to take Clarissa as consumptive because she wastes away, but were she to be seen in this light by this time I believe the hectic fevers were recorded as significant--somehow people in this period did not think spitting up blood significant.)

Is it significant that Richardson uses the word corpse. A corpse is a thing; it's presence feels uncanny. It makes me feel not-at-home with it around. To see Clarissa as a corpse does suggest some tremors of disbelief in the afterlife going on here. The word is also not vague, cloudy or pretty. I found the presentation of the mother's grief very effective and convincing. It is, together with Lovelace's madness (which we are not shown) the most genuinely direct response to Clarissa as a corpse that we are given. Here is the thing in itself and in the case of these two characters we are spared sentimentalizations.

I have read Watt's still great piece on Clarissa and agree that what we are reading fits in very well with the whole "graveyard" school of thought in the 18th century; in the realistic use of the word "corpse" (thought the sense of an uncanny feel is not there) this is a real scene. This time through I found myself wondering if 18th century people who experienced death so frequently and nearly (meaning close relatives and at home, young children, everyone really) would identify closely and weep out of remembrance. When I was younger I had never been to a funeral of a close relative; as I read this time I remembered a funeral I had been to of a close relative and it made a difference.

Again Caroline is so right to quote the comment that the slow movement is realistic. Life sometimes seems to be an endless waiting around.

Perhaps one should record here that Clarissa died at 6:40 on September 7th, and the letter written by Belford to Lovelace to tell of how she went opens with a line that echoes Lovelace's famous brief letter conveying the fact of the rape. "Clarissa lives" has become "The lady is still alive." Just.


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