Clarissa as a psychological novel

Considering today's letter (184, Clary to Anna, Mon, May 15), I thought I might bring up one facet of the novel one cannot avoid no matter what the ostensible subject, the psychological depth of the book. It has been said in various ways by various people how it is this book which looks forward to Proust and other in-depth portrayals of character in the 19th and 20th century novel. Today's letter is one of those cases where if you go at the content morally or from some ideological perspective you may take sides or side against Clarissa; if you, on the other hand, see her behavior as utterly in character, you sympathize and understand her trouble much more.

She says, for example,

The occasion for it should never have been given by me, of all creatures; for I am unequal, utterly unequal to it!--What, I, to challenge a man for a husband!--I, to exert myself to quicken the delayer in his resolutions! And, having lost an opportunity, to begin to try to recall it, as from myself and for myself--to threaten him ... into the marriage state ...

She would much more naturally and easily renounce him than manipulate and pressure and play the game. But when she can't face going down, and sends a message, she will come in the morning when he calls, this is not good enough. Probably he can't see this from her point of view (as he can't see things far grosser to the mind), so he doesn't see himself as giving her liberty to court him. But as she feels it, so it is.

Passages like this show how beside the point is talk about role models and social demands. One might say that when Richardson's texts are read sheerly psychologically (when he permits us to do this), they are at their most intelligent and compelling.

I did very much like Anna's sharp statement to Mrs Norton: "I pity nobody that puts it out of their power to show maternal love and humanity, in order to patch up for themselves a precarious and sorry quiet, which every blast of the wind shall disturb," though, again, psychologically, Anna would not understand Mrs Harlowe's inability to confront her family, although I think Richardson means us to condemn Mrs Harlowe from the placement of her letter just before Anna's to Clarissa: "I know the gentleness of your spirit; I know the laudable pride of your heart ... all this is nothing now," which, as I say, Clary can't follow. How can she "insist upon bringing these points ..." Has she ever behaved this way? She can't bring herself to.

I would also add that Mrs Norton's letter suggests that the taboo of virginity is a sacred horror the characters all feel about sexual activity for a woman before marriage, and is not anything pragmatic.

Ellen Moody

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