The Incompatibility of Pleasure with Tragedy, Realism, & Christian Didacticism

This week (Letters 500-511, Sunday night, Sept. 10 to Monday, Sept. 18, Ross Penguin, pp 1394-1430), we had the funeral, the will, the attempts of James Harlowe to thwart the will, Belford's calm stance supported by Colonel Morden's and Mrs Harlowe's activity to see the will carried out, and the pieces of various letters by Belford to various beneficiaries, all concluded by a return to the voice of Lovelace on Thursday, Friday, "SATURDAY, Sunday, nothing done. Incapable of anything..."

Before launching into some of the strains in the presentation of action and thought in this section, I'd like to comment that in style, dramatic narrative, lexical complexity, psychological detail Richardon's novel is at this point as good as any other part, and if one can enter into the spirit of it, take it on face value. The narrative is dignified and consistent with all that has gone before--not only in the portrayal of the Harlowes who would not have carried out the will, as Morden says, but in Clarissa's will and last letter to Lovelace which are only fully charitable to the Harlowes if you measure things by money alone; she has her triumph over them as well as Lovelace.

Still there is a real conflict here between the idea of "a work of the tragic species" and the realistic mode which Richardson is determined to use for Christian didactic purposes. The will after all is a sort of religious document as much as anything; it's part of the "good death," by which the individual rounds off his or her life, leaving nothing undone or unmoralized. Those who make a will and the insistence that one make one derive from this sense that life mustn't just end--as if we were squirrels or flies.

Another problem which strikes me this section has is Richardson in his relentless powerhouse of a working-it-out imagination has forgotten the necessity of pleasure in art, of entertainment. Tragedy does not have to be tedious; if anything it ought to move and move swiftly at the end. We hear Lovelace's again with a kind of relief not because we like him but because he's uncontrolled, free, limber; he says he thinks he has been and still is mad, but there's a commen sense feel to him which lets in the old breathe of fresh air (of the comic I suppose), and stepping back from the funeral and will especially one begins to say, no there is something insane in all this, something nagging at Richardson. I know he experienced many deaths all at once at one point, but the obsession here has no obvious "obective correlative" to use the overused term.

I would also say that without meaning & certainly not wanting to Richardson's narrative seems to demonstrate that virtue and pleasure cannot co-exist, and by virtue I certainly don't mean the Harlowes' conventional (& ever greedy) or Clarissa's equally pious behavior, I mean unostentatious genuine kindness and the ability to have fun (enjoy oneself) in people who are not expecting any reward or long-term gain and not on guard.

Ellen Moody

Last night after I sent off my posting I hadn't tried to define pleasure. By pleasure I meant by joyous sensual and physical pleasures of the body which involves far more than sex, and the spiritual pleasures of the spirit to be found in companionship where there is real interchange of sentiments, and includes experiences like joking together and sociability. If you are virtuous as I defined it, Richardson's texts suggest all these things will destroy you; they are incompatible with safety and security. Indeed Clarissa herself always seemed to act in a way that showed she found something indecent in laughter as such.

Again tragedy need not preclude virtue or pleasure; on the contrary it is the destruction of these things that makes up part of tragedy.

I suppose all this is to say Richardson may be read as an intolerant puritan and that's another reason so many readers have reacted so positively to Lovelace.

Ellen Moody

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