The Rape: The Effects of Epistolary Rearrangement

Monday, June 12 through Friday, June 19, Letters 255-64 (Ross Penguin, pp 874-907) comprise some of the most famous passages in the official canon. Here is intense excitement, one feels the ink leap off the page, the beating heart, the (forgive it) hardened throbbing penis. Here are the concise electrifying words:

"Tuesday morn. June 13.
And now Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives. And I am
Your humble servant,
R. LOVELACE (Ross Penguin p 883)

This is a remarkable sequence. I still remember the first time I read it. I read deep into the night, couldn't stop. Richardson had me on pins and needles just waiting for that rape. And then this. It was in a way funny. He had confounded me. I would have to read for hundreds of pages more before I would find how how Lovelace had done it. I wonder if someone else knows of some other piece of great writing which includes a seriously-drawn out prelude to, and announcement of rape, followed by a teasing refusal to tell, and then mad letters by the lady, and then Lovelace's almost comic frustration when he finds that when Clarissa comes to, nothing, nothing has changed.

There is an irony here. In Lovelace's letter he implies nothing has changed. Well, nothing has.

What shall we say about this holding off telling? It defeats expectation and yet intensifies our sense of the rape. It makes it loom yet more importantly. We can't take it as just "in and out," even though Lovelace wants us to. Another way of looking at this is this is just the kind of rearrangement epistolary narrative permits.

It also leaves us room to imagine what happened from what we have seen. For me Clarissa's physical terror looms large. I have always found it interesting that Richardson does not emphasize Lovelace's size; the male bully of the book is James Harlowe. He wrenches his sister's arm; openly threatens her physically. Lovelace is not presented in this physical brutal manner which must have been a conscious choice for Richardson. Perhaps he had done so his hero-villain would have been less liked. One reason it is always the women who flee is that not only at least until recently has physical aggression been encouraged in men and discouraged in women, but men are bigger; they have size & a muscular build on their side; Elizabeth Hardwick says somewhere "just compare wrists," and I know the military will not permit hand-to-hand combat because women lose. Perhaps someone would like to correct me, but I think it is said that men are generally 10% heavier than women of the same size. But Richardson does not emphasize this. We are told Clarissa is "delicate." And Lovelace is dark and graceful, and handsome. Sinclair is the bully; Lovelace shields his "beloved" from her. So Clarissa, "terrified, caught hold of my sleeve."

Another element not telling as yet adds is the quality of understatement, at least for me. Someone the other day showed me a book at Borders which is said to be a best seller among women who read. (I don't know if this is so.) It was all overt eroticism; actually to me it was sickening pornography. I have seen what's called soft-corn porn movies and found them tedious. It's the understatement here that's part of the terror and horror. It is clearly the sadistic male toying with the female, but done with taste and discretion through a depiction of manners, dialogue, innuendo. Yet there is an intense raw excitement in the swift scenes of the women disguising themselves--perhaps achieved through the foreshortened grammar.

I don't know how many people have seen the BBC Clarissa. I own it by dint of taping it off my TV for 3 Sunday nights running. Since I have yet to really understand my VCR, this was a feat. (In fact, the taping was a family activity; my daughter set up the machine; my husband helped with which button to get the timing of the machine at the best rate so to get a good copy; I had only to sit and watch and press STOP at the end of each episode.) At any rate, those who have seen the film know the ending is foreshortened and Belford kills Lovelace in a duel. I was wondering if the scriptwriter, David Nokes, took a hint for this from Belford's letter 258 from Watford, Wed. June 14, where twice Belford expresses a desire to murder Lovelace on behalf of Clarissa:

Had I been her brother, her violation must have followed by the blood of one of us.
...I think I should not scruple to tilt with thee ... if thou sacrificest her to the accursed women.

Finally I find Clarissa's letters poignant and beautiful in a strange way. Here at least we reach her most inward self. There is a lovely soft tone to them. She is stripped and we find no ugliness, no hatred really, self-reproach in fact. I also find in these her curious brand of courage. She begins to realize her mind had slipped ("I began to be mad at Hampstead, Ross Penguin, p 896). I see irony in her letters, I see the vein which will come out and allow her to face Lovelace down and refuse to be raped again.


To this posting on the rape, Brian Connery replied:

Ellen Moody's reflections on the nature of rape prompt me to pose to the list a semi-query that is perhaps not completely disconnected from *Clarissa*. Not having reached the letters of June, I'm not yet ready to heed Ellen's injunction to confront the question of Lovelace's rape directly; without denying the brutality of rape itself, I'm interested in considering representations of rape in literature prior to *Clarissa*.

I've been thinking recently about the representation of rape as a seemingly (or initially seemingly) incongruous motif in comedy: Volpone's attack upon Celia, Lord Fellamar's attack upon Sophia Western, both Willmore and Blunt's attacks upon Florinda in *The Rover*, Archer's intentions against Mrs. Sullen in *The Beaux' Stratagem*, and--perhaps to unsettle our conviction that no always means no (which might also be unsettled by Melantha in *Marriage a la Mode* as she rehearses how to say no passionately)--the famous scene between Loveless and Berinthea in *The Relapse*.

My thoughts thus far are two-fold. On one hand, rape often seems to be posed as both parallel and opposite arranged marriage, i.e. our heroines must somehow navigate between two extremes of male power, arranged marriage and rape, in order to reach the romantic and comedic promised land of the love match. (Rape as the extreme opposite of arranged marriage would seem to be re-inforced by the historical incidents of rape as a means to consummate the marriages of kidnapped women prior to the Marriage Act of 1753). Rape in these plots is often figured as the consequence of too much liberty--either seized by the heroine or permitted by the laxity of her father. On the other hand, the representation of rape--particularly in the case of the misogynistic Blunt, but in others as well--seems to be an indictment of the homosocial dynamics among the male leads in these works. In comedy, of course, the threat of rape--like the threat of death which appears so often--is nullified in the course of the narrative. Issues of class appear as well in *The Rover* as well as in Manley's tragic story "The Wife's Resentment." And, of some perplexity to me at the moment, is the issue of the victim's marital status: unwed, married, widowed.

As I say, I'm only beginning to explore these ideas, but I'd welcome other examples of the threat of rape in comedy (esp. pre-Jonson) as well as any criticism of the hypothesis I've suggested. And as I confessed in my first post to the group, this is my first time through *Clarissa* so I don't know yet if my hypothesis sheds any light on Richardson's tragic narrative. But I thought I'd lay a few of my cards on the table. There they are.

Brian Connery

Laura Kennelly then asked if Brian Connery's examples weren't forms of seduction? isn't rape Lovelace's way of gaining control over Clary. To this John Dussinger replied by referring everyone to Freud's lecture "The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life" (1912).

[This document] helps to explain, I believe, not only Ellen Moody's important point about why Lovelace finds it imperative to rape Clarissa rather than settle for the many other victims around much more easy to deal with. As usual, however, I have the growing suspicion that much of scholarship is just emphasizing the obvious or missing even the important points that people at rape centers deal with in real life. We know that Richardson was deeply committed to helping reformed prostitutes and the like, but I must confess that beneath his public role I suspect the lingering erotic urge to run down the female as a sacrifice to the male authority that he needed. Is this just a cheap shot?...

Other posts under this date in the novel:
             Rape in Clarissa and Middleton's Women Beware Women
             A Symphony and New Phase
             The Most Distasteful Aspect of the Rape That Clarissa was Drugged and Held Down
             Rape As Attack

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