The Most Distasteful Aspect of the Rape That Clarissa was Drugged and Held Down

On this there were several postings at the time on Clary-L, and the topic was taken up again on C18-L as follows:

Peter Staffel wrote on Clary-L that

one of the most distasteful aspects of Lovelace to me is the manner of his raping of Clarissa--drugging her and then taking her in a state of virtual sleep or "death"--surely this is closer to necrophilia than rape! The TV film of the novel didn't follow this route but used a dreadful scene, I think I'm remembering correctly, of Lovelace's hench-women holding C while he rapes her. Yes, rape is rape, but this example seems somehow creepier because so pusillanimous. Hear hear for Katha Pollitt, the best commentator on all contemporary cultural issues. By the way, who is "the last Marxist" she always refers to--her husband?

Peter Staffel

On C18-L there were and have been the following relevant postings:

Organization: Queen Mary and Westfield College
Subject: Clarissa's poison

Dear C18-Listians,

A question I need help with, about the poison or drug Clarissa is fed before her rape.

What is the drug? What sort of sedatives were available in the period?.

The section I am thinking of is in letter 314 (p. 1008-09 in the Penguin ed), where Clarissa is relating her narrative to Anna Howe.

'I was made to drink two dishes, with milk, complaisantly urged by the pretended ladies helping me each to one. I was stupid in their hands; and when I took the tea almost choked with vapours; and could hardly swallow.
I thought, transiently, that the tea, the last dish particularly, had an odd taste. They, on my palating it, observed that the milk was London milk; far short in goodness of what they were accustomed to from their diaries.
I have no doubt that my two dishes, and perhaps my hartshorn, were prepared for me; in which case it was more proper for their purpose that they should help me than that I should help myself. Ill before, I found myself still more and more disordered in my head; a heavy torpid pain increasing fast upon me. But I imputed it to my terror.'

If this is an opiate, how is it prepared? What do opiates taste like? (i.e., is Clarissa's ignorance credible in this instance?). What I'm really after is a contemporary account (a physic handbook for example) that Lovelace's proxies could have used.

The rape scene is of course absent from the novel: it is also absent from Clarissa's memory, because she was drugged (or poisoned): as she says later in the same letter

The drug has the same effect on the text (or the reader) that it has on Clarissa.

Any thoughts or references gratefully received.

Dr Markman Ellis
School of English and Drama
Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London
Mile End, London E1 4NS

To which there was the following reply:

From: Barry Russell
Organization: at home (Oxford UK)
Subject: Re: Clarissa's poison

I hope this is a genuine question and not some masquerade by the FDA, or whatever agency is charged with these things.

Since it was a soporific it could well have been opium, which was common throughout the British empire (sic) in the C18. It was grown by British companies in India and exported through Malaya to China, quadrupling in value en route. The taste, as I recall fondly from my misspent youth in Kabul, is like very bitter chocolate, though it strikes the back of the palate rather than the front. It would have had to have been a very heavy dose to put Clarissa out and keep her reeling for days afterwards. The usual effect is calming and induces a dream-like sensibility - hence its popularity in Afghanistan at music recitals.


Two years later on C18-L the topic of rape, Clarissa, and drugging and assaulting women in order to procure sex from them came up again. After much discussion, the following summary was posted by Allen Michie:

It is a pleasure to share the results of a thread which I started on the list several weeks ago about women who are drugged or made otherwise unconscious before they are sexually assaulted. Several of you asked for a copy of the final tally, so here goes:

  • Clarissa
  • Lucy Hooper in Lawrence Stone's Uncertain Unions & Broken Lives (courtesy of Ellen Moody)
  • The Forced Virgin; or, the Unnatural Motherby Anonymous (courtesy of Stephen Constantine)
  • Harriet in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by Cleland (courtesy of Stephen Constantine)
  • Maggy in The Batchelor-Keeper Number II by John Clarke courtesy of Stephen Constantine)
  • Montamour in The Injur d Husband by Haywood (courtesy of Stephen Constantine)
  • Ambrosio's sister in The Monk by Lewis (courtesy of S. Sherman)
  • Maria in Maria by Wollstonecraft (courtesy of S. Sherman)
  • Mrs. Bennet in Amelia by Fielding (courtesy of Kathleen James-Cavan)
  • One of Colonel Jack's wives in Colonel Jack by Defoe (courtesy of Max Novak)
  • Queen Yxmilla in Adventures of Eovaai by Haywood (courtesy of Suzanne Gibson)

Where I'm thinking of going with this is a study of active vs. passive female "virtue" in the 18th century. Any further examples and suggestions (and commissions!!) would be welcome. Please do not mistake my delay in posting this for a lack of appreciation quite the contrary, since the range of sources produced by the collective wisdom of the list convinced me to slow down on this project for a while. My thanks and promises of acknowledgments to all.

Allen Michie
Coastal Carolina University

Thomas Krise had one more example to add:

Another example is Polly Haycock's mother in The Fortunate Transport ("By a Creole," c.1750), who, while sleeping next to a haycock (hence her daughter's name), is raped by a man who is out "drawing the Landskip." She doesn't notice the rape initially because she is dreaming of making love to the deputy governor of Jamaica (honest!). Her Moll Flandersesque daughter grows up to become the wealthy widow of several Jamaica planters, and winds up having a liaison with the deputy governor, closing the peculiar loop.

Tom Krise
Nat'l Defense Univ, Washington, DC

Other posts under this date in the novel:
             Rape in Clarissa and Middleton's Women Beware Women
             The Rape: The Effects of Epistolary Rearrangement
             A Symphony and New Phase
             Rape As Attack

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