The Crisis of Clarissa's Fate: The Irretrievable 'Escape'

Letters 92-97 which begin with Clarissa writing to Anna from "St Albans, Tuesday morn, past one, April 11th and conclude with Lovelace writing to Belford the evening before, "St Albans, Monday night," April 10 (Ross Penguin, pp 370-87 may be called the crisis of Clarissa's fate in the sense that something happens which locks the central action between the two main protagonists into place. Clarissa takes a step which Anna and the world regard as irretrievable. Clarissa speaks in awed tones because at first she too sees her leaving her father's house in Lovelace's "protection" as liminal, in Christian terms equivalent to Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden because they have sinned. Anna says the only thing left is to marry & without delay. Contemporary readers agreed, and some are recorded as faulting Clarissa for not decisively acting to marry at this point. They had "no patience with her" even after reading Lovelace's letter to Leman and Leman's back (Ross Penguin Nos 95-6, Saturday, Apr 8 into Sunday morning, April 9, pp383-6)

Letter 94 contains the key scene as narrated by Clarissa, as she saw and understood it while it was happening (a Tuesday night, pp 372-83). Richardson does blacken Lovelace by making it clear that Clarissa was tricked through the letters passed between Leman and Lovelace, but Richardson lets us know there was a contrivance, a manipulation which first roused Clarissa into a deep dread, and then pushed her over the edge into terror and made her run, but we learn this after the letter not before. This way we are as uncertain as Clarissa; this way we experience time as she did. I submit he did so because originally he did not want us to focus on the trick but on the preceding dialogue. Richardson originally wanted his fiction to capture the deep ambiguity of human experience and weigh and judge for ourselves how far each character acted rightly or wrongly and how far each was driven.

This dialogue is interesting. Again Clarissa is awed by the physical presence of the man: "and there he was, all impatience, waiting for me." Granted Lovelace sounds like Grade B Villain, "dearest creature" and so on; still, he is clearly real enough in his measured responses to Clarissa. One interesting element is how Clarissa seems to talk of the two of them as a unit, "Wednesday next ... is ot intended ot be the day we had both so much dread ... let me go back, that it may not be worse for both ..." It makes one wonder about that month of February when Lovelace visited Clarissa at Anna's house; how close had they become? Are we to assume she's manipulating him? or is she revealing something about the way she feels about him? she also promises marriage and then to flee with him: "I will then contrive some way to meet you with Miss, Howe, who is not your enemy; and when the solemnity has passed, I shall think that step a duty which, till then will be criminal to take ..."

I have a vague memory of my first reading of this novel and that I felt unsympathetic towards Clarissa because she was so distrustful throughout. How can she expect to be loved and valued if she will not give of herself too? I know this is said to be a modern sentimental approach, but if we remember that many of Richardson's readers did not at first sympathize with Clarissa and only really came down on her side after Richardson had Lovelace so graphically and unambiguously rape Clarissa by first drugging her, we may wonder if this is some "constructed" historical attitude or something within us. Instinctively we do seem to find a whole-hearted trust appealing and strong.

Well here is Clarissa meeting a man in the garden whom she never seems to believe him, or feel any sense of genuine friendship. After she is driven or "tricked" as she says into running away, she calls Lovelace a "vile encroacher," but after all she's not sure it was a trick. She never reads Leman's letter or Lovelace's response. I am still struck by this. Why run away with a man whom you regard as a sort of enemy? When he comes up to see her, he is "this interrupting man." This is curious. It is however true to nature that we seek daring adventures because of the thrill of a near encounter with death. The thrill of the roller coaster ride is bathetic in this context; but the rooted psychology is the same.

On another level of meditation--that of the depiction of a girl attracted to a handsome attractive witty man, there seems to be no surge of affection at all at any time. Lovelace's continual stage-y or downright phony language (to her sudden proposal of marriage he exclaims "charming hope," not let's do it) makes one feel that any openness on her part would not necessarily have been met by an equal openness on his. But one is permitted to doubt; at this point when she says she has not the "power" to marry, it's not that he's pretending to wait around for her hints, but that she says to marry immediately would be to sanction his methods; she must first be "angry" to show she doesn't approve and doesn't like to agree to having been compelled despite herself. They're at an impasse, but it's hard not to say she should have made a first move to see what his response might be; she's willing to make first moves (with the except of agreeing to Solmes) to her shark-like family. And now here Lovelace's brief letter to Bedford which closes the sequence suggests Clarissa's distrust has angered him. Richardson alludes to Shakespeare's Othello : "For, let me tell thee, dearly as I love her, if I thought there was but the shadow of a doubt in her mind whether she preferred me to any man living, I would show her no mercy." Again we need not turn to any superfluous or Occam's razor ideas of constructed resentment or jealousy. People have ever hated those whom they love and who despise them, show it, but are willing to use them. For Clarissa did use Lovelace. It's true, as she said, his presence drove her family to become more obdurate, more frantic, but who doubts they would have driven her into the arms of Solmes just the same--without any Lovelace at the door. The money was good.


Other posts under this date in the novel:
             'The Wonderful Variety of Sounds:' Interlace in Clarissa
             Clarissa's family's malices and her curious contradictory responses to Lovelace

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