What is Mrs Charlotte Harlowe so scared of? What is she threatened with?

In the section of Letter 25 which is labelled Wednesday morning we find Let 25.2, Clary's mother's letter in response to Clary's (Letter 25 is another letter which contains other letters, three to be precise, one by Clary to her mother, one by Mrs Harlowe back, and one by "a justly-incensed father").

The mood of this phase of the struggle is in fact dominated by Mrs Harlowe, and as her son will become the focus of a later phase of the struggle and affect its mood and what is done to Clary and threatened, so she is the focus and dominating affective figure of this phase of the struggle. My question today is, Are we supposed to respond to her harshly or sympathetically? My instinct is to say Richardson wants us to call Mrs Harlowe a craven creature. He deliberately and overtly presents a woman who hasn't even got the spirit to play a firm good cop to her husband and son's bad cops." She makes eyes at Hannah to let Hannah know she is speaking against Hannah for the benefit of their audience (in this she recalls her sister Aunt Hervey earlier when Aunt Hervey wasin front of the James and Arabella), but then she slides two guineas into her hand. There's a curious groveling quality here.

I am also beginning to wonder if my own half-joke about the possibility of physical violence by Clary's father at Clary's mother is not hinted at in these letters. If so, then she is not so much craven by nature, but has been cowed by much more than unpleasantness, rough nagging, and petty humiliations of various sorts-- which can I admit (Dr Johnson is very good on bullying men in his Ramblers)

When one reads this letter one begins to wonder what is the woman so frightened of? She seems in a state of abject terror. What is it that she has endured so much that Clarissa cannot imagine (italics mine)? Mrs Harlowe keeps repeating this idea. Well ideas pop into my head which may not pop into Clarissa's, which I am embarrassed to mention so I shall refer everyone to a report on sexual behavior some months ago in which everyone made such a fuss about the seeming low incidence of homosexuality, but in which no-one seemed to notice (though it was reported again and again in the continuing pages of the Washington Postarticles) a high rate of anal intercourse between married couples. A virgin like Clarissa might not imagine anal intercourse, but Richardson's readers were not all virgins.

What else could it be? Did he beat her too? In a letter to Lady Bradshaigh Richardson implicitly justified the right of husbands to beat their wives; there is a discussion between the two of them of a court case in which the wife charged the husband beat her, and Richardson suggests that fear is as important an element in love as any other, and implies that fear is a solid basis for people to build a marriage upon. When one person fears the other (and he is of course for the wife fearing the husband), then there will be fewer arguments. Lady Bradshaigh objects strenuously to this line of argument, and like her I find Richardson's tone extremely distasteful in this phase of the series of letters between these two.

Victorians expect us to pick up on hints (as in Trollope--I am a great Trollope lover and reader of Trollope novels), maybe Richardson means us to read the strong hints of sexual abuse in statements like:

"happy, if I could be an unconcerned one! ... I charge you, let not this letter be found. Burn it."

One feels a shiver of terror here. What punishment will she have meted out to her? There's no talk of Mr Harlowe threatening to throw dear Charlotte out of the house, though the fact that a great deal of his wealth came to Mr Harlowe from Mrs Harlowe's dowry is mentioned repeatedly. What's it like between Mr and Mrs Harlowe? Is this what Richardson is playing upon? I think he is wholly conscious of all the practical sexual implications of the psychology of sex.

Another aspect of this fear comes out in her stark demand not to be let in on the secret of Clary's letters to Lovelace?

"I will not be in your secet. I will not know that you did correspond" (Ross Penguin Let 25.2, p 124)

Again does she dread will be done to her if it is found her she was in on the secret. Unlike fear which is directed towards the unknown, dread is directed towards the known. What will be done to her to get out of her what these letters say? For that is why she does not want to be in on Clary's secret that she corresponds with Lovelace. Something will be done to Mrs Harlowe to make her tell.

Ellen Moody

To which Murray L. Brown replied:

Recent studies, in fact, nearly every one that I can think of, including Lois Bueler's recent CLARISSA'S PLOTS, places nearly all the blame for Clarissa's situation at the feet of the Harlowe males: they do not honor the social contract, they sell their daughter to be served up like a game hen, they are absent, they are violent. They are indeed all of these things. However. I've gone back and reread letters 18 & 20 and I must say that while I do not find evidence of Mrs. Harlowe's having been physically abused, I do find that her ineffectuality--her lack of recalcitrance--to be very disappointing--even cowardly. I would not judge her so were it not for the fact that she takes on great responsibility and then fails in it. It is Mrs. Harlowe who reads Clarissa's letters to Lovelace and finds them innocent; it is also she who understands better than anyone other than Anna what Clarissa's motivations are--yet she lacks the courage to confront the monster. In L18 she weeps and gazes in that significant mirror: "One of the provokingest things in the world is to have people cry for what they can help!" says daughter Clarissa. Exactly so. Mother Harlowe blames her daughter for her own suffering at the hands of her tyrant and in letter 20 loses or suppresses all motherly instinct (?), empathy, and DUTY--she becomes one of them. This is unforgivable--I should expect her (like Lady Bradshaigh) to "stick by her text" and defy tyranny. Oh for a Wife of Bath, or Burney's Selwyn in this situation! Sic semper tyrannis.

We have entertained the notion of CLARISSA as fairy tale, or at least as a re-expression of an archetypal situation and I think this reading is helpful, even essential--but--what strikes me tonight is how CLARISSA differs from romance--indeed what makes her story a tragedy. She has no champion--no guide--no one who is willing or present to help her find justice. Mother Harlowe is (brow) beaten, Cousin Morden is in Italy, Belford is so awed by Lovelace--so convinced that (until it is too late) that all this is sport, he cannot/will not act. And I must say that, for me, this is the most frustrating aspect of this novel--any one of these might serve--indeed the folks at the BBC were evidently so frustrated with Belford's inaction that they made him kill Lovelace in the end. Well. Changing the story won't do--but I do understand the temptation. Perhaps this is what draws and repels readers, involves and excludes them: we would all protect her if we could--surely, the many anxiety-ridden responses SR received as these volumes appeared is evidence of this same kind of desire for involvement that this text simultaneously demands and denies." Murray L. Brown

Prof. Brown also typed out "Bradshaigh's and Richardson's letters...as a courtesy... to point out that Richardson would not overthrow the patriarchy--he merely wanted it to behave more benevolently--and in this sense Uncle Tony (like Sir Cleeve) presses too far what SR evidently regarded as valid policy.

Thus from CORRESPONDENCE VI, 185-98:

SR @ LB June 24, 1752

Your Ladyship is sure that you love, and as sure that you do not fear. Bless me, Madam, did I not except, from my general observation, a certain baronet and his lady?

"A thoughtless irresolute child;" as if thoughtlessness and irresolution were not to be found in persons grown up!

The wife you describe, the good, the tender wife, who will never designedly offend a good, a tender husband, is not the wife I , any more than your Ladyship, thought of: the generality of the sex I had in my view. And yet I think the fear I meant very compatible with the character of a good, a tender wife; nay, she hardly can e either good or tender without it.

"Want of correction equally, or in comparison, with a child." That, Madam, was not what I supposed, though I have know humorous wives to be more perverse than babies. Nor meant I that stripes should be thought of: and yet in a cause that I once heard argued in the House of Lords, between Sir Cleeve Moore and his lady, who, in resentment of his cruelty, had run away from him, and who he had forced back, with farther instances of cruelty, I heard a very edifying debate: a cause which was managed by the present Lord Chancellor, then Attorney-General, against the the late Lord-Chancellor, Talbot, then Sollicitor-General, in which the former declaimed very powerful against Sir Cleeve for his ill usage of his wife. The latter, allowing part of the charge, justified Sir Cleeve by the law of England, which allows a man to give his wife moderate correction [italics]. The house was crowded with ladies, who, some of them, shrugged their shoulders, as if they felt the correction; and all of them who could look from behind their fans, leered, consciously, I thought, at one another. A pretty doctrine, thought I! Take it among you, ladies; and make your best courtesies when you come home to your emperors.

Well, but your Ladyship turns me over to St. John, who, in his first epistle, says: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment: He that feareth, is not made perfect in love."

Charming! And how your Ladyship exults upon this! "What will you say to this, I wonder?"

Why, Madam, in the first place, I say that this love and this fear, as you will see in the context, are not meant to be the love or fear of an earthly creature, a husband, or that of a wife--but of God.

But when another apostle comes, from the same divine spirit, to speak of the duty of wives to husbands, he delivers himself with the authority of a precept:-- "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that if any obey not the word, they also may, without the word, be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your conversation coupled with fear." This, Madam, is directly to [italics] wives and of [italics] husbands. What now will your lady ship say to these things? But I am meek; I exult not; no broad smile do I put on; no triumph!

A meek and quiet spirit is enjoined as the principal ornament of a wife; "for, after this manner, says the apostle, in the old time, the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands, even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are, as long as you do well, and are not afraid with any amazement." There, Madam, is the fear, that a wife should mingle with her love, described. It should be a sweet, familiar fear, looking up to him for encouragement and reward, from his smiles; [note how painfully Solmes performs this action!! sorry]; and not such a one as should awe, confound, or amaze her--So much for this subject of love and fear.

"No, Sir, says your Ladyship, never, never, will I allow, that a woman is under obligations to her husband, for returning her love; no, not for his entire love!"--I cannot help it, Madam; you see what a state of vassalage both the Scripture and the law of the land suppose a wife to be in; and what stately creatures men are! But you know that I enforce not this vassalage, this stateliness. This argument was introduced with my declared indignation against the tyranny of a husband, who, of your own knowledge of his temper, you supposed would be a tyrant and expect his sweet pretty wife to be will-less. A sad thing, whatever it was of old time (in Sarah's days), when the wives were thought of little account, and the old patriarchs lorded it over half a score good, meek, obedient creatures, to deprive a woman, in these days, of her will! Whence I had the boldness to advance, that it was, however, very likely that the man would have the more obliging wife for it; and I thought you Ladyship, by giving the instance, was of the same opinion. Said you not, "that humility only could make her happy?"

Polygamy is a doctrine that I am very far from countenancing; but yet, in an argumentative way, I do say, that the law of nature, and the first command (increase and multiply), more than allow of it; and the law of God no where forbids it. Throughout the Old Testament, we find it constantly practiced. Enough, however, of this subject; though a great deal more might be said; more than I wish there could, as I think highly of the laws and customs of my country. Have you, Madam, who are an admireer of Milton, read his treatise on Divorces? You reject his authority. As a poet, do, if you please: poets are allowed to be licentious. But reason ought to weigh, whether from a man or woman. Do you not think so, Madam? [....]

To which Bradshaigh responds on 18 July 1752:

The law of England, which gives liberty for a husband to use moderate correction, may be a well-designed law, but left a little too much at large, because there may be very different interpretations of the word moderate, which I think I observed before. There may be woves who stand corrected, and have less occasion for it than their correctors; and there are many husbands much inferior, in capacity and understanding, to the wives they correct. A grating circumstance! But, "wives be in subjection to your own husbands," is an answer to all the hardships and just complaints the can make; and I grant it is the wisest and best method we can take, since we have no redress; and I acknowledge humility is the safest way to happiness, though there are men who would make better husbands to the woman of spirit, than to the meek and gentle. However, the laws are severe, at least in practice; but they were made by en, to justify their tyranny.

What do I care for patriarchs! If they took it into their heads to be tyrants, why should we allow them to be worthy examples to imitate? If we knew all their domestic differences, we should not perhaps find the good women, the household does you represet them. Sarah, indeed, called her husband lord; no great matter in that, though I believe she was obedient; for, without scruple, she even told lies when her husband bid her; but we will suppose they were of the white kind.

You do not bring in Rebecca as an instance and example of obedience. Well, she obeyed her dying husband, her lord, as no doubt she called him.

I am apt to think the wives of these days are not worse, though customs are changed, than were the patriarchal ladies. Your seeming to think otherwise, made me say what I have said. And now you will tell me, that you know wives in every age were bad enough; and I shall answer that husbands in every age were worst; which I do not say to raise an argument, but as my real opinion.

I shall stick to my text: "Perfect love casteth out fear:" which tells us, if we perfectly love, we cannot fear, at least we are not to suppose fear necessary. But you say, the Scripture expression for love is often fear. Surely it cannot mean that fear which the text calls a torment. Here in are two different sorts of fear; but I shall not attempt to explain them, perhaps for a very substantial reason.

I am very sensible how high the text is directed, and how despicable the love we profess is, n comparison to the divine love therein meant; yet I do not think it a presumption to humbly imitate that love, as far as mortals can imitate divinity: and I think the love bound up in two united hearts and souls; the love subsisting beyond the passions; the perfect love, which casteth out fear, comes the nearest to the divine love.

"You are far from countenancing polygamy." I protest I think not very far; but I will still venture to set the first single pair, as the first ordinance of God, against your first command--"Increase and multiply." To us short-sighted mortals, it appears polygamy was then, if ever, necessary; but God Almighty thought otherwise, is plain. [....]

I never read Milton's Treatise upon Divorces, but I have heard it much condemned, as a thing calculated to serve his own private ends. Though, divorces amy be thought allowable by those who do not think polygamy so. But whatever he may have written is of no great consequence, since I will stand and fall by the law of nature

Murray Brown

My posting also elicited from John Dussinger the following:

Charlotte Harlowe's fears? What would this novel be if not a vehicle of the violence (Murray Brown's point?) that an early capitalistic society tried to incorporate into a justifiable system, with the woman, as usual, the scapegoat? My sense is that gouty old James Harlowe, Sr. could not muster more than throwing a few things at his wife. HIS arthritis was real, whatever we are to believe about O.J.'s! Maybe Charlotte's greatest fear is that of not being the ideally passive woman and wife that presumably an earlier generation took for granted, and that is no longer the case in the era of a Clarissa and an Anna Howe. Again, the chronological gap is probably more important as a GENERAL contrast rather than anything specifically identified with 1704 or 1732 per se.

More locally, Charlotte is afraid to be a part of her daughter's secret correspondence because, at least in her craven passivity, she might somehow be forced into telling the truth and risking her husband's total rejection on that account. I don't think we need to imagine Charlotte as a battered wife in the crudely physical sense. Her culture was enough to make sure that her own self-esteem depende on utter acceptance by the husband as being perfectly obedient. OBEDIENCE, as we surely know, is rather important in the military even today, in case smug readers in the 1990s brush this off as obsolete morality!

To go further, I've already suggested links to the Gothic romance and to the fairy tale, where the child's and often the girl's fears are at the center. From the adult perspective, there's even an analogy with detective fiction here, don't you think? Where one is afraid even to read a message in case of being forced under torture to give up some vital secret. No, if one really gets hooked on this novel, one can even forgive its prolixity, and for a few, even regret that it isn't longer!!!

John Dussinger

Then Noel Chevalier wrote:

Might I suggest, in response to Ellen Moody's reflections, that perhaps we don't need a peep into the Harlowes' bedroom to find shocking things? What you suggest may, of course, be true--I wouldn't presume that Mr. and Mrs. H are the happiest of couples--but rather than suggest unsavoury sexual practices, I would be inclined to say that nothing at all happens in that marriage bed--that James Harlowe is now unable to perform, as it were.

That takes me away from my original point, however. I wonder whether actual physical violence plays a part in the Harlowe household--I think the usual Harlowe m.o. is repression rather than explosion--that everyone (Clary excepted, of course) is so damn cold to each other, and that what makes this section of the novel so painful for me is the systematic freezing out of Clary from family life. I've experienced this myself, and, strange as it may seem, one almost wants a major fight--screaming, punches, what have you-- to break the intolerable silence. The Harlowes--the children perhaps more than the parents--are masters at this game, and what makes them so ruthless is the way they cite the rules--and Clary's transgressions thereof--as a justification for her punishments. Perhaps Mrs. H. cannot stand the silence either, and the *threat* of explosion is a greater burden than any actual punch thrown?

That's a woefully unscientific psychological reading of the Harlowe family


Murray L. Brown then had the final say:

Hello to all:

I don't know how much I will contribute to this discussion, but I would like to say that the terms, "violent" and "violence" are among the most frequently (but not commonly) used in Richardson's novels. As a rule of thumb, "violence" appears on nearly every page of CLARISSA. It is among the heroine's most-used terms because Richardson obviously wanted to stress the notion that "violence" does not have to be physical to be damaging. We are told over and over again of brother James' violence--of Lovelace's violent tendencies, whereas, generally speaking, Lovelace uses the term "violent" as a description of the force of the emotions he feels, as in the the double sense of "furo": to rage, to love.

With regard to the (il)legitimacy, or, rather, to the prevalence of wife beating, SIR CHARLES GRANDISON offers at least once striking instance. When Sir Hargrave makes off with Harriet--abducting her from a masquerade and then, failing to force a sham marriage but succeeding in bloodying her nose and badly bruising her, forces her into a coach, he has an extended rape fantasy on route to the next point of projected debauchery. This fantasy in interrupted by Sir Charles who is out looking for a place to do good. When he hears Harriet's muffled screams and protestations emitting from within the coach he hails Hargrave who explains that Harriet is a runaway wife, and in need of a beating. Hargrave believes that Grandison will not interfere. Hargrave assumes that homosocial ties will get him by. He is mistaken. And in a very few paragraphs he finds himself tangled under the coaches wheels, looking for his newly-errant teeth.

One would be hard-pressed to discover, I think, an instance in SCG where violent behaviors do not recoil against the violent. Perhaps Richardson felt that CLARISSA's closure did not enforce this notion strongly enough. Certainly CLARISSA's ending was not sufficiently just to satisfy Colley Cibber (among others)--nor was it sufficient for the BBC who insisted that Belford (the unhero) and not Clarissa's avenging kinsman, Morden, dispatch Lovelace. Clearly, the image of father Harlowe sighing a sigh and pointing (finally) an accusatory finger at his son in no way approximates temporal justice.

Richardson expends more energy, it seems, on building up to Bella's slapping her sister than he does on the most violent and most central action of the novel, the rape itself. As it is, the rape is like some frozen inactive center around which all other violent actions revolve. I don't think that Richardson wanted to represent it "to the minute" for fear, perhaps, that he would meet with the same kind of criticism that he did with PAMELA.

I would argue that all of Richardson's novels are extended studies in the psychology of violence--male and female--the threat, the fear, and the actualization of violence are almost without exception (PAMELA II) what drive these novels forward. PAMELA II is that exception--it is also, relatively speaking, a grand flop.

To maintain that CLARISSA contains only minimal violence, in my opinion, is either to seriously misread the novel, or not to read it at all.

Murray L. Brown Department of English Georgia State University

Other posts under this date in the novel:
             To what extent is Mrs Harlowe controlled by a supposed conventional ideology?
             Mrs Charlotte Harlowe and Stella Kowalski

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