The Emotional Temperature of Clarissa

Consider, here we have a portrait of a woman who returns to a man she considers as having abused, tortured, deceived her; there's nothing much to gain, for she says she doesn't love him, and she doesn't, at least her mind does if her body likes him; in her clearer moments she also knows very well he has no intention to marry her, or he would have done so long since, even if she was putting it off for fear of him as a lover; and I think all is done as far as Richardson can to enter sympathetically into the state of mind which leads the woman to return, and to try, this in 18th century terms, to make us see how this trajectory of behavior emerges.

In this first long sequence which begins June 8, Thursday with Lovelace's tricking of Clarissa into his room and provoking from her a sexual response to him through her flight (from herself as much as anything else) to the sequence at Hampstead and the beginning of a reconciliation between the lovers at Mrs Moore's (before Lovelace resorts to his masquerade, that is Sunday morning, June 11, Letters 255-47, Ross Penguin pp 722-850 Richardson sets a groundwork for the return. What I would like to point out is another aspect of Lovelace's success in getting Clarissa to return to his lair is her emotional temperature. Had she not been aroused from deep within herself not mentally but physically as well I don't think Lovelace could have succeeded.

This emotional temperature is conveyed to us mostly through Lovelace's descriptions of her behavior and records of her words: she has been deeply unnerved by her arousal when he touched her (probably her breasts were bared, as Dorothy Van Ghent pointed out long ago); she is disturbed, is very nervous. I have pointed out in another post how her mind slips again and again, and out of control. But we should also take it she really is ill, she really is shaking, it's not theatrical on her part: her heart is not "quiet," her finger "tremble." Another thing is she's undecided. When she first comes to Hampshire, she walks back and forth on the hill, not knowing what to do or where to turn. She is ever looking for advice, waiting for Miss Howe's epistles; she does not throw off the women in Mrs Moore's house. She is uncertain of herself; has never been taught how to manage for herself in a way. This is very typical conduct of 20th century women who can't leave the man they are living with; they're afraid they'll get lost. That's how they articulate it. Where is the shelter? What bus do I take to go this office? I don't know how to get there; what to say, &c.

He is of course tricking her with his false letters, but he's got to her where she lives, and the letters would not have the effect they have had he not achieved this.

I would like here to bring up the modern parallel. The depiction of Clarissa, even through the eyes of Lovelace--for it is he after all who wields "the pen" during this narrative of narratives--brings us into the realm of emotion which seems to puzzle people when they talk about "abused" women, wives or otherwise. Again and again, from all sides, whether patriarchal or feminist, people ask, why did the woman hang in there? Or why did she return after she was abused and ran terrified somewhere else? I think (maybe some on this list will disagree) these questions are often posed in such as way as to blame or suggest contempt for the woman. This was particularly evident in the case of Mrs Bobbitt. Indeed, the scuttlebut underlying feminist talk was nonsence about how she was "some kind of moron, no?" or the dismaying comment, as Katha Pollitt put it sarcastically, that her acquittal was seen as a "defeat for feminism" which ought to be for "strength and competence." This verdict "infantilizes women," said one New York writer. Aside from the fact that it is magical thinking to approach an individual trial's as if she or he stood for some group, and this runs absoutely counter to the whole tradition of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence based on whether this individual did it or or not, no-one claimed (again I quote Katha Pollitt) that the acquittal of "William Smith infantilized all men." You don't hear this about Mrs Simpson because Mr was so rich and she had so much to lose,and all understand her marriage was a career move; but you hear it about lower middle class women all the time. I find in this class prejudice of the worst sort, which again to me is what basically upper class middle impressing on others of "role models" is all about. More deeply it shows a fundamental lack of humanity, of compassion and understanding for helplessness, a denial it can be. Perhaps we cannot bear to put ourselves in such a place, our imagination will not go so far. Well Richardson asks us to in his Clary


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