The Limits of Lovelace's Brutality, Yet a Sponging-house, Bedlam, the Grave Preferable

One of the things that also strikes me about these letters is that there are limits to Lovelace's brutality. We should recall we have not seen the rape, and for some readers this would decrease their sense of its horror. Only later do we learn of the pinning down, the violent assault on a lifeless body in front of other women. Caroline is (as ever) perceptive when she picks up on Richardson's presentation of Sinclair and her whores as people who know no such limits. But would the average reader? Does the epistolary rearrangement work to soften the act of rape? (By-the-bye I believe the latter is an aspect of the anti-feminism of the book (sexually awakened woman outside social bonds is a vulture &c--we've discussed this one when we discussed Richardson's presentation of Belton's Thomasine).

Let us here recall Bill Sykes. Let us recall how male pimps are said to beat their whores senseless. Let us think about what Lovelace could have done now had he been disposed, were this a real situation, not fiction. I think Richardson keeps the violence contained. Perhaps he does not want us utterly to abhore Lovelace; perhaps in the first version of the novel in which Richardson was more even-handed, he wanted us not to see in Lovelace a criminal. He wants us to contemplate marriage to him once again. Thus Lovelace does not persist. He threatens, and magnificently, making me think of Byron's males in his Giaour or Mazeppa:

"do you think I can part with you thus?--Do you think I will?
And am I, sir, to be thus beset?--Surrounded thus?--What have these women to do with me? (Ross Penguin, p 905).

My view is that Richardson's presents Lovelace as at this point also sickened, unwilling to persist. He does not want to do that all over again. Once was enough. "Clarissa lives," can also intimate "my God what an ordeal this was. " He "dreads" going into the room at all for then he sees her "anguish." He is afraid to leave her for fear of what Sinclair will then get up to in Clary's present shipwrecked state. Such remorse can be scorned; he's a man who's robbed a bank and been shot in the arm; he's not all that sorry he tried to rob the bank & even maimed the teller, but he wishes everyone wouldn't make such a fuss.

Yes it is also a corrective to say that while on the one hand from one point of view nothing's changed, on the other a greal deal has. Yes, Clarissa's still the same woman. She's not going to fall into Lovelace's arms. Her fundamental morality and responses will remain the same. But full sexual intercourse is one of those experiences societies and learned anthropologists have agreed to call "liminal" (there's another one of those big words) for very good reasons. Clary has learned something, and it was a hard lesson, as I am afraid such lessons often are for virgin women. But she has gained something important. She is not going to be deluded anymore. She now sees Lovelace very clearly; she has recognized another enemy. Calling Phase 3 Clary Against Society or Against Everybody strikes me as appropriate. Now people urge her to marry anyway; I have a memory of some sycophantic sleaze called Brand who lies about her to her family in ways that made my skin creep. He does so to get on their side, but he "makes love to his employment" when he insinuates that Clary has become Belford's mistress.

Finally another dark theme emerges in these few powerful letters, a theme which begins to dominate and wholly takes over Clarissa by the time we reach the fourth volume. Some people find it tedious and others perverse. The new subversion is that she is not, to switch FR Leavis's famous phrase, "on the whole for life." She's for the darkness, against life as it's lived. She never asked to be born As she says at one point:

"What a world is this! What is there in it desirable? The good we hope for, so strangely mixed, that one knows not what to wish for! And one half of mankind tormenting the other, and being tormented themselves in tormenting..."
This is one of my favorite passages in the book. To me it has the key to Clary's voice. Before she was raped Clarissa never totally gave up a longing for prestige in the world, for its form of pride, and honor. She was seduced by the false Lady Betty and her tinsel. All trappings. All nonsence when everyone has a "hard heart." Doesn't Lear ask what is it in nature makes these "hard hearts"? A sponging house is a good place. It's the world for real. It tells us what it is all about without the trappings. What lies behind these. Bedlam is what she prefers as long as no-one can look at her. Anywhere out of the way. Then she'll be safe from bodily and spiritual invasion which is what society won't recognize she fights for. Safety in the grave with God. I liked how the BBC film ended on a lingering look at a gravestone; that was the best place after all.


To both my postings of June 13 and 14, Caroline Breashears replied:

Just back from vacation, and eager to add my thanks to Ellen Moody for her faithful responses to Clarissa. Ellen's commentary yesterday was especially interesting. I like the idea of the novel as a symphony, and would like to suggest something for Phase 3: Clary against Society. Now she's supposed to clear her name by marrying her seducer, and now she absolutely refuses. She rejects society's conventions. What matters is self-approval and faith. Ellen's idea that "nothing has happened" also interests me.

Lovelace himself in effect subscribed to the notion that full intercourse effected some magical change in people. He expected that having you-know-whatted the lady, she would somehow radically change. But not at all. She's the same woman. There's a real irony here Richardson is fully aware of. All along Lovelace has averred that full intercourse means nothing. Well he finds it does.

Lovelace wrongly thinks that intercourse will somehow humanize the angel; once violated, he believes, she will descend from her heights and act like any other woman. She will cling. Yet Clarissa remains the same in the sense that she retains her integrity and her values.

Yet rape changes Clarissa in other ways. Clarissa herself expresses a sense of difference in her raving letter to Miss Howe (Paper I): "I am no longer what I was in any one thing." She qualifies this by adding that she remains a true friend; she still values loyalty; yet something differs, must differ.

How? Clarissa turns inward and upward. She gains resolution. She detaches her self from her body, her thoughts from the world. The rape thus effects the change opposite from what Lovelace and everyone else most expect. Lovelace thinks to humble her. Sinclair and the whores want to "break" her as they do other young women (Letter 222). Even the good aunt, Mrs. Hervey, earlier implies that Clarissa needs to be humiliated: "You are young and unbroken" (Letter 17). Clarissa's heart, indeed, breaks. Her spirit and faith and resolution, however, all strengthen.

What's the message? Is it that to survive in this world, a woman must allow herself to be broken; otherwise, she's fit only for heaven?


Nathanael Christopher Crawford also contributed his thoughts on "power:"

Like Ellen Moody, I too find Clarissa beautiful in her scenes with Lovelace in the days after the rape. Part of the beauty I see in her at this point stems from the amount of power she seems to have over Lovelace. As he describes her, she appears as a sublime creature of higher authority, while he is merely a sniveling little fool. For some reason these scenes reminded me of the part in The Magician's Nephew (C. S. Lewis) when Uncle Andrew brings Jadis back to London. Jadis gets phrases like "Now, slave, bring us our chariot" and Andrew can only hem and haw about his "old Dorchester family". What's interesting about these scenes is how different Clarissa appears than she does in her Mad Papers. The Mad Papers look like the work of a confused and agitated woman; in the scenes with Lovelace, Clarissa seems to control the situation. So I sometimes wonder about the way that Lovelace is presenting the situation--perhaps an academic question, since whether or not Clarissa is actually as together as he portrays her doesn't matter as long as he *feels* that she controls the situation.

I've also wondered about the way that Lovelace presented the rape, and how we might read it. I believe Caroline first pointed out the way in which Richardson distances Lovelace from the rape by focusing the blame on the whores; she then noted that Richardson's attitude towards the whores suggested that he was not as much of a feminist as people would like to think. It makes a lot of sense that a person as concerned with morality as Richardson would, for whatever reasons, feel a particualar anitpathy towards creatures who symbolized the opposite of female purity. But I'm unclear about one point in this discussion: Do we "fault" Richardson for distancing Lovelace from the rape, or is it Lovelace who distances himself from the rape by using the whores? I think that a LOVELACE would always find ways to distance himself from the violence of rape; one way would be to have even more contemptible creatures assist him. I'm not sure, though, that we should blame Richardson for making Lovelace true to his own character. Does this make any sense; or have a mistaken one of the threads of the discussion? If so, please respond--this group has been quite helpful about clearing up a number of misconceptions that I've had about the book.

Oh, one more thing. I think Ellen is right when she says Clarissa is "not a role model"--that is, not a person for people to imitate. But I also think that in some ways she *is* a role model--the archetypal role model who has been displaced from the world of the conduct book and put into the real world. In reading Pamela_, I noticed that Pamela seems to get saved more by freak ocurrences then by anythig else. Just when it looks like she can't avoid the rape, Mr. B. can't go through with it. But Clarissa is part of a more realistic world, (perhaps I'm walking myself into a contradiction here) full of jealous family members who won't give her any credit for past virtuous behavior when she refuses to budge on one point. Were Clarissa in _Pamela_, I think that something might have happened to save her from the marriage with Solmes. I just get the feeling that Clarissa is in the wrong book. I don't think that the book tells us that women must succumb to the world in order to live, because everyone who is not a CLARISSA is already a part of this world, has already succumbed in a way. Now that Clarissa can no longer live the virgin life neccessay for unmarried women in conduct books, she must escape to a world where the state of the body is not part of the requirements for being a role model--she needs to get to leave behind the body and retain her unviolated will. But this is an action special to Clarissa. It seems that she must leave our world and return to the world of text, in which live all of the other examples of exemplary women...


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