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Richardson as Novelist: 'Clarissa'


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Richardson as Novelist: 'Clarissa'

EARLY in 1741 Richardson explained to Aaron Hill that he had written Pamela in the hope that it 'might possibly introduce a new species of writing'. 1 This claim antedates that of Fielding, made the following year in the preface to Joseph Andrews, and indicates that, unlike Defoe, Richardson was a conscious literary innovator.

There was certainly no accidental quality about Clarissa, whose plot was already in his mind in 1741, and whose actual composition occupied him fairly continuously from 1744 to 1749 when the last volumes were published: nor can there be any doubt that in Clarissa, even more completely than in Pamela, Richardson resolved the main formal problems which still confronted the novel by creating a literary structure in which narrative mode, plot, characters and moral theme were organised into a unified whole. For, although Clarissa contains something like a million words and is almost certainly the longest novel in the language, Richardson was justified in asserting that 'long as the work is, there is not one digression, not one episode, not one reflection, but what arises naturally from the subject, and makes for it, and [carries] it on'. 2


Richardson's use of the letter form in Clarissa was much better adapted to the presentation of personal relationships than was the case in his first novel. In Pamela there was only one main correspondence -- that of the heroine and her parents; as a result there was no direct presentation of Mr. B.'s point of view, and our picture of Pamela herself was completely one-sided. This posed a very similar critical problem to that in Moll Flanders: it was difficult to know how far the heroine's own interpretation of her character and actions was to be accepted. The parallel,

Correspondence, I, lxxiii-lxxiv; on its date see McKillop, Richardson, p. 26, n.

McKillop, Richardson, p. 127.

indeed, can be continued, for the fact that Richardson had essentially only one narrative source, Pamela herself, meant not only that he occasionally had to intervene himself as editor and explain such matters as how Pamela got from Bedfordshire to Lincolnshire, but, more important, that the epistolary convention itself gradually broke down, the letters turned into 'Pamela's Journal', and the later parts of the novel therefore produced a kind of narrative effect not unlike that of the autobiographical memoir in Defoe.

In Clarissa, however, the epistolary method carries the whole burden of the story which is, therefore, as Richardson says in his Postscript, a 'dramatic narrative' rather than a 'history'. Its main and obvious difference from drama, indeed, is a significant one: the characters express themselves not by speaking but by writing letters, a distinction which is entirely in keeping with the inward and subjective nature of the dramatic conflict involved. This conflict is also such as to justify the way Richardson organised his narrative 'in a double yet separate correspondence, between two young ladies of virtue and two gentlemen of free lives' 1 -- the basic formal division is both an expression of the dichotomisation of the sexual roles which is at the heart of Richardson's subject, and an essential condition of the candid self-revelation by the characters which would have been inhibited by a mixed correspondence.

The use of two parallel series of letters, then, has great advantages, but it also presents considerable difficulties; not only because many of the actions have to be recounted separately and therefore repetitively, but because there is a danger of dispersing the reader's attention between two different sets of letters and replies. Richardson, however, handles the narrative sequence in such a way as to minimise these disadvantages. At times the attitudes of the protagonists to the same events are so different that we have no sense of repetition, while at others he intervenes editorially to explain that some letters have been suppressed or shortened -- the distinction, incidentally, between such intervention, which is limited to clarifying the handling of the original documents, and that which occurs in Pamela, where the author becomes the narrator, is an important one.

Richardson's main method of resolving the narrative problem,

Preface, Clarissa. On this subject see A. D. McKillop, 'Epistolary Technique in Richardson's Novels', Rice Institute Pamphlet, XXXVIII ( 1951), 36-54.

however, is to give us large groups of letters from one side or the other and to organise these major compositional units in such a way that there is a significant relationship between the action and the mode of its telling. At the outset, for example, the letters between Clarissa and Anna Howe occupy most of the first two volumes. It is only when their characters and background have been fully established, and Clarissa has taken the fateful step and placed herself in Lovelace's power, that the main male correspondence begins and at once reveals the full danger of Clarissa's situation. The climax of the story brings another very effective piece of counterpoint: the rape is announced briefly by Lovelace, but the reader has to undergo several hundred pages of anguished expectation before hearing a word of Clarissa's account of the affair, and the events that preceded it. By then her death is already in sight and it precipitates another significant reordering of the epistolary pattern: the rigid canalisation of correspondences is broken down by a flood of letters surrounding Clarissa with admiring and anxious attention, while Lovelace becomes a more and more isolated figure, to have his eventual death reported by a French travelling valet.

Richardson prevents the fundamental simplicity of his handling of the main epistolary structure from becoming obvious or boring by a great variety of auxiliary devices. There is, first of all, the contrast between the totally different worlds of the male and female correspondences; and within them there are further contrasts of character and temperament: Clarissa's anxious restraint is juxtaposed to Anna's pert volubility, and Lovelace's Byronic alternations of mood are set off against the increasingly sober tenor of Belford's letters. From time to time further contrasts of tone are provided by the introduction of new correspondents, such as Clarissa's heavy Uncle Anthony, Lovelace's illiterate servant Joseph Leman, the ridiculous pedant Brand or by the inclusion of incidents of a contrasted kind, varying from the full-dress description of the moral and physical squalor of Mrs. Sinclair's death to the social comedy of some of the disguise scenes in which Lovelace participates.

For -- contrary to general opinion -- Richardson had considerable humorous gifts. Much has been made of his unintentional humour, and Clarissa is certainly not free from it -- witness the letter where Clarissa informs her Cantabrigian brother that she

is 'truly sorry to have cause to say that I have heard it often remarked, that your uncontrolled passions are not a credit to your liberal education'. 1 But there is also a great deal of effective conscious humour in the novel; Fielding found 'much of the true comic force' in the widow Bevis, 2 and some very lively and sardonic irony is obtained, especially in the central portions of the book, from the interplay of characters and of their very different standards and assumptions. One brief example must suffice. After the dinner in Mrs. Sinclair's parlour before Clarissa realises the true nature of the establishment, Lovelace dryly reports Clarissa's approving comment on the dissolute Sally Martin's quite imaginary prospective alliance with a woollen draper: 'What Miss Martin particularly said of marriage, and of her humble servant, was very solid'. 3 The comment enforces the pathos of Clarissa's charitable ignorance, and yet leads us on to savour the total irony of the scene, an irony which depends upon the fact that it is Lovelace who is writing mockingly to Belford about Clarissa's penchant for the 'very solid'.

Richardson also shows great skill in varying the tempo of the narrative: after a very prolonged preparation, for example, the rape is reported so swiftly that it comes as a surprise whose full impact reverberates through the atmosphere of slowly developing leaden horror that ensues. Such calculated alternations combine with the tenor of the action itself to produce a curious and wholly characteristic literary effect. Richardson's very slowness communicates a sense of continual tension held lightly in check: the poised, almost processional, tempo of the narrative with its sudden lapses into brutality or hysteria is itself the perfect formal enactment of the universe which Clarissa portrays, a universe where the calm surface of repressive convention and ingrown hypocrisy is momentarily -- but only momentarily -threatened by the irruption of the secret violences which it provokes but conceals.

Richardson was as careful and skilful in his characterisation as in his epistolary technique. He claimed in the Postscript that 'the characters are various and natural; well distinguished and

I, 138.

This letter to Richardson was discovered by E. L. McAdam, Jr., and was published by him in 'A New Letter from Fielding', Yale Review, XXXVIII ( 1948), 304.

II, 221.

uniformly supported and maintained'; and his assertion is very largely justified. All characters of any importance are given a complete description, which includes an account, not only of their physical and psychological nature, but of their past life and of the ramifications of their family and personal relationships; while in the 'Conclusion Supposed to be Written by Mr. Belford' Richardson anticipates a later convention of the novel by acknowledging his responsibility for all his dramatis personae and rounding off his narrative with a brief account of their later careers.

Many modern readers, it is true, have found Clarissa too good and Lovelace too bad to be very convincing, but this was not the view of Richardson's contemporaries, who infuriated him, as he recounts in the Postscript, by their tendency, on the one hand, to condemn the heroine as 'too cold in her love, too haughty, and even sometimes provoking', and on the other to succumb to the hero's rakish charms. 'Oh that I could not say, that I have met with more admirers of Lovelace than of Clarissa', Richardson lamented to Miss Grainger; 1 and this despite the fact that he had already added footnotes to his original text so as to emphasise Lovelace's cruelty and duplicity. This very different attitude to Richardson's protagonists lasted until well into the nineteenth century: Balzac, for example, thought it appropriate in 1837 to illustrate the point that there are always two sides to a question by asking, with what was certainly meant to be a rhetorical flourish -- 'Who can decide between a Clarissa and a Lovelace?' 2

On the other hand, there is no doubt that it was a major part of Richardson's intention to establish Clarissa as a model of feminine virtue -- he stated very explicitly in the Preface that she was 'proposed as an exemplar to her sex' -- and that this interposes considerable barriers between us and the heroine. When we are told that Clarissa knew some Latin, was distinguished for the correctness of her orthography, was even 'a perfect mistress of the four rules of arithmetic', we find it a strain to muster the proper awe. Clarissa's systematic apportionment of time seems ridiculous, with its fantastic book-keeping carried on by such entries as 'debtor to the article of benevolent visits, so many hours' if perchance she has skimped on

Cit. McKillop, Richardson, p. 205.

Les Illusions perdues ( Paris, 1855), p. 306.

philanthropy by running over the three hours allotted daily to epistolary amusements; we are gratified rather than otherwise when Clarissa bewails the fact that her fall has deprived her of the pleasure of visiting the 'cots of my poorer neighbours, to leave lessons for the boys and cautions for the elder girls'; and we pine for more substantial concessions to human frailty than are indicated by Anna Howe's admission that her friend did not excel 'in the executive part' of painting. 1

None of these things would have seemed so ridiculous to Richardson's contemporaries. Theirs was an age of very deep class distinctions; an age when the position of women was still such as to make any effective intellectual achievement on their part a legitimate cause of admiration; an age when the ceremonies of benevolence were commonly performed with a blandly patronising pomp. Even Clarissa's care in the management of her time, though extreme by any standard, would probably have found wide approval as a laudable schematisation of an established Puritan tendency.

The ideals of Richardson's time and class, then, combined with the somewhat limited literary perspective prevalent in his day according to which the didactic function of art was best served by making characters paradigms of vice or virtue, go far towards explaining much that we find incredible or uncongenial in Clarissa's personality. But in any case such a defence is only necessary for a small part of the book -- the beginning and especially the end when she is overwhelmed in the obituary pieties of her friends; during most of the narrative our attention is deflected from her perfections towards the tragic consequences of her error of judgement in leaving the parental roof in the company of Lovelace. Nor is this all: with a psychological penetration which shows how, if the need arises, Richardson the novelist can silence Richardson the writer of conduct books, it is made clear that this error of judgement was itself the result of Clarissa's very excellencies: 'So desirous', she taunts herself, 'to be considered an example! A vanity which my partial admirers put into my head! And so secure in my own virtue.' Indeed, with a supreme objectivity, Richardson connects his heroine's downfall with her attempt to realise the aims of the campaign of sexual reformation described above. Clarissa eventually comes to realise that she fell into Lovelace's power

IV, 494, 496, 507; III, 521; IV, 509.

because of her spiritual pride, which led her to believe 'that I might be an humble means in the hands of Providence to reclaim a man who had, as I thought, good sense enough at bottom to be reclaimed'. 1

In the case of Clarissa, then, Richardson's strong tendency towards making his characters exemplifications of some rather obvious moral lesson is to a large extent redeemed by his equally strong if not stronger tendency towards a very powerful imaginative projection into a much more complicated psychological and literary world. There is a similar qualification of his didactic tendency in his portrayal of Lovelace -- Richardson refused, for example, to satisfy the narrow moralists who wanted him to add atheism to Lovelace's other sins, on the grounds that this would have made it impossible for Clarissa even to consider him as suitor. 2 But the main objections to Lovelace's character are of a somewhat different order: we object not so much to his exemplary viciousness as to its artificial, self-conscious and singleminded quality. Richardson undoubtedly had Lothario in Rowe's Fair Penitent ( 1703) in mind, 3 as well as several real persons of his acquaintance; he had 'always' been 'as attentive to the profligate boastings, of the one sex as to the disguises of the other': 4 and as a result produced a character who is not so much a real individual as a conflation of a variety of rakish traits that Richardson derived partly from personal observation and partly from his considerable reading in the drama.

Yet, although the artificial and composite elements in Lovelace's character cannot be denied, there is, as we shall see, much else that is convincingly human about him; and, as with Clarissa, an appreciation of the contemporary social context does much to relieve Richardson of the grosser charges against the credibility of his creation. For the eighteenth-century rake was very different from its twentieth-century counterpart. Lovelace belonged to an age before the public schools had enforced a code of manly reticence upon even the most hypertonic of aristocratic cads; 5 nor did cricket and golf provide alternative channels for the superfluous energies of the leisured male. Lady

II, 378-379; III, 335.


See H. G. Ward, ''Richardson's Character of Lovelace'', MLR, VII ( 1912), 494-498

Correspondence, V, 264.

On this interpretation of the character see H. T. Hopkinson, Robert Lovelace, The Romantic Cad, Horizon, X ( August 1944), 80-104.

Mary Wortley Montagu tells us that in 1724 one of Richardson's possible models for Lovelace, Philip, Duke of Wharton, was the moving spirit in a 'committee of gallantry', the Schemers, who met 'regularly three times a week to consult on gallant schemes for the advantage and advancement of that branch of happiness'; 1 and there is much other evidence to suggest that a single-minded devotion to the chase was the exception rather than the rule among the gentry of the time, and that many of the younger set differed from Squire Western only in preferring a sport that had no closed season and where the quarry was human and feminine.

The moral theme of Clarissa is open to objections somewhat similar to those against its characterisation, but there can at least be no doubt that Richardson's purpose, as stated in the title, is carried out considerably more carefully than is the case in Moll Flanders. The title reads: Clarissa: or, The Histoly of a Young Lady: Comprehending the Most Important Concerns of Private Life, and Particularly Showing the Distresses that May Attend the Misconduct Both of Parents and Children, in Relation to Marriage. What follows bears this description out: both parties are wrong -- the parents in trying to force Solmes on their daughter, and their daughter in entertaining the private addresses of another suitor, and leaving home with him; and both parties are punished -Clarissa dies, and is shortly followed to the grave by her remorseful parents, while the fates bring to her sister and brother respectively the appropriate scourges of a faithless husband and a wife who brings, not the anticipated fortune but only 'a lawsuit for life'.

In the Postscript, however, Richardson also laid claim to a much larger moral purpose. Considering that 'when the Pulpit fails other expedients are necessary', he resolved to 'throw in his mite' to reform the infidel age and to 'steal in the great doctrines of Christianity under the guise of a fashionable amusement'. Whether this lofty ambition is achieved is open to serious question.

The crux of the matter is Clarissa's death. In the Postscript Richardson adversely criticises previous tragedy on the grounds that 'the tragic poets have seldom made their heroes in their deaths look forward to a future hope'. He, on the

Letters and Works, I, 476-477.

contrary, prides himself that he is 'well justified by the Christian system, in deferring to extricate suffering virtue to the time when it will meet with the completion of its reward' and goes on to discuss the theory of poetic justice, with copious quotations, notably from Addison's essay on the subject in the Spectator. 1 This has led B. W. Downs to argue that Richardson was merely continuing the 'virtue rewarded' theme of Pamela with the single difference that he post-dated 'the reward', and paid it 'in different currency from that in common use at B----- Hall': that Richardson, in fact, merely 'substituted a transcendental for a sublunary audit'. 2

Although a transcendental audit is aesthetically more satisfying in the circumstances than the very sublunary one which is found, not only in Pamela, but in many eighteenth-century works which attempt to combine the tragic mode with a happy ending, it must be admitted that Richardson has at best a shallow notion of religion: as a writer in the Eclectic Review ( 1805) said of him, with damning brevity: 'his views of Christianity are general and obscure'. 3 On the other hand, if all examples of Christian art -- or theology for that matter -- in which some form of transcendental reward played an important part were to be rejected, there would be very little left, especially from the eighteenth century; we cannot fairly condemn Richardson too strongly either for sharing the complacent piety of his age or for failing to overcome the very general tendency of the Christian view of the after-life to modify the usual effect of the death of the tragic hero.

In any case, the overpowering sense of waste and defeat actually conveyed by Clarissa's death, combined with the fortitude she displays in facing it, actually succeed in establishing a true tragic balance between the horror and the grandeur of Clarissa's death, a balance which reveals an imaginative quality of a much higher order than the jejune eschatology of Richardson's critical defence in the Postscript would suggest. Here again, however, the modern reader encounters what seems to be an insuperable obstacle -- the tremendous scale on which every detail of Clarissa's death is described, up to her embalming and the execution of her will. The reality of this obstacle must be in part admitted: to devote nearly one-third of the novel to the heroine's death is surely excessive. On the other hand, Richardson's emphasis can

No. 40.

Richardson, p. 76.

I ( 1805), 126.

be to some extent explained on both historical and literary grounds.

Puritanism had been opposed to all the joyous festivals of the church, but it had approved of protracted rituals and even of emotional abandon where death and burial were concerned. Consequently the scope and importance of funeral arrangements had increased until, by Richardson's day, they had attained an unprecedented elaboration. 1 Once again, therefore, it would seem that what appears to be a false note to us in Clarissa is also evidence of how Richardson, for good and ill, acted as a sounding board for the dominant notes of his age, and in this case, incidentally, for a note which has echoed from the Pyramids to the cemeteries of twentieth-century Los Angeles.

The later part of Clarissa, in fact, belongs to a long tradition of funeral literature. J. W. Draper has shown how one specifically Puritan contribution to poetry was the Funeral Elegy; 2 and death-bed reflections were often published separately as pamphlets for evangelical purposes. Eventually both these sub-literary genres developed into a larger literary trend which exploited all the thoughts and emotions concerned with death and burial; and it was the decade in which Clarissa was published that saw the triumph of this movement in such works as Blair The Grave ( 1743), Edward Young Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality ( 1742-1745) and Hervey very popular Meditations among the Tombs ( 1746-1747), the last two of which Richardson printed. 3

Theological works dealing with death were also among the best-sellers of the time -- among them Drelincourt's On Death, to which Defoe The Apparition of Mrs. Veal was commonly appended. It was undoubtedly part of Richardson's intentions to supply another work of this kind, a conduct book for death and burial. He wrote to Lady Bradshaigh hoping that she would place Clarissa on her shelf with Jeremy Taylor Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Holy Dying;4 and would have been happy to know that Thomas Turner, grocer of East Hoathly, and a

See H. D. Traill and J. S. Mann, Social England ( London, 1904), V, 206; H. B. Wheatley , Hogarth's London ( London, 1909), pp. 251-253; Goldsmith, Citizen of the World, Letter 12.

The Funeral Elegy and the Rise of English Romanticism ( New York, 1929), especially pp. 3, 82, 269.

William Sale, Jr., Samual Richardson, Master Printer ( Ithaca, 1950), pp. 174-175, 218-218.

devotee of Drelincourt, Sherlock and other specialists in the literature of death, accorded him this status: 'My wife read to me that moving scene of the funeral of Miss Clarissa Harlowe', he wrote in 1754, and concluded, 'Oh, may the Supreme Being give me grace to lead my life in such a manner as my exit may be in some measure like that divine creature's'. 1

The reason for this emphasis on death seems to have been the belief that the growing secularisation of thought could best be combated by showing how only faith in the future state could provide a secure shelter from the terrors of mortality; for the orthodox at least, death, not ridicule, was the test of truth. This was one of the main themes of Young Night Thoughts; and Richardson himself was responsible for the insertion into Young Conjectures on Original Composition of the story of how Addison had called a young unbeliever to his bedside so that he could 'see in what peace a Christian can die'. 2 To us Clarissa's preoccupation with her own coffin can only seem morbid affectation; but it must have seemed a convincing confirmation of her saintly fortitude to an age which made Newgate criminals about to be executed kneel round a coffin on their last Sunday alive while the 'condemned sermon' was preached. 3

To his contemporaries, then, Richardson's funerary emphasis would have seemed justified for its own sake; and we, perhaps, can only try to regard it in the same light as we do a good deal of baroque memorial sculpture -- forget the crushing banality of the symbolism and notice only the elaborate assurance of its presentation. At the same time we must recognise that there are strong literary reasons why Richardson should have placed such an emphasis on the death of his heroine. A very considerable length of time is required before we can forget the sordid scenes through which Clarissa has passed and remember only the final radiance, the 'sweet smile' that remains on her face when Colonel Morden opens the coffin. A very complete description is necessary before we can fully appreciate, in Belford's words, 'the infinite difference, on the same awful and affecting occasion, between a good and a bad conscience'. Clarissa meets

Diary, ed. Turner ( London, 1925), pp. 4-5. Turner's reaction was exactly the one which Richardson hoped to inspire (see Correspondence, IV, 228).

Young, Works, 1773, V, 136; A. D. McKillop, 'Richardson, Young, and the Conjectures', MP, XXII ( 1925) 396-398.

Besant, London Life in the Eighteenth Century, pp. 546-548; the scene is depicted in Ackermann Microcosm of London, 1808.

her end with tragic serenity, asking Belford to tell Lovelace 'How happily I die: -- and that such as my own, I wish to be his last hour'. 1 But Lovelace falls suddenly and unprepared, whereas by his unhurried emphasis Richardson has contrived to give Clarissa's death all the appearance of an act of the will -- it is no hasty surrender to man's mortality but a beautifully staged collaboration with the powers above that have already marked her for their own.


In Clarissa, then, Richardson solved many of the formal problems of the novel, and brought the new form into relation with the highest moral and literary standards of his day. The epistolary method, it is true, lacks the pace and crispness of Defoe's narrative manner, but Clarissa is, what Moll Flanders is not, a work of serious and coherent literary art, and one which, by the almost unanimous consent of his contemporaries at home and abroad, was the greatest example of the genre ever written: Dr. Johnson called Richardson 'the greatest genius that had shed its lustre on this path of literature', and considered Clarissa 'the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart', 2 while Rousseau wrote in the Lettre à d' Alembert ( 1758) that 'no one, in any language, has ever written a novel that equals or even approaches Clarissa'. 3

That this is not the modern view does not prove that it is wrong; but it is undeniable that the moral and social preoccupations of the age obtrude themselves much more insistently in Clarissa than in the novels of Defoe or of Richardson's great contemporaries, and thus tend to render it much less immediately palatable to the modern reader ( Defoe's moralising, we have seen, is usually viewed ironically today; while Fielding, Smollett and Sterne, being primarily comic or satirical writers, do not demand our acceptance of their positive standards in the same way). This, combined with the enormous length of Clarissa, and Richardson's occasional tendency to a harrowing moral and stylistic vulgarity in which Dreiser is perhaps his only peer among the great novelists, has denied the first masterpiece of the novel form the tribute which it so freely earned in its own day, and to which it is still largely entitled.

IV, 398, 327, 347.

Johnsonian Miscellanies, ed. Hill, II, 190, 251.

Cit. McKillop, Richardson, p. 279.

It is entitled to it primarily because Richardson's very responsiveness to the dictates of his time and his class, which did much to render Clarissa unpalatable today, also helped to make it a more modern novel in a sense than any other written in the eighteenth century. Richardson's deep imaginative commitment to all the problems of the new sexual ideology and his personal devotion to the exploration of the private and subjective aspects of human experience produced a novel where the relationship between the protagonists embodies a universe of moral and social conflicts of a scale and a complexity beyond anything in previous fiction; after Clarissa one has to wait until Jane Austen or Stendhal for a comparable example of a work which develops so freely and so profoundly under the impetus of its own fictional imperatives.

Richardson was, as has often been noted, obsessed by class distinctions. Not consciously perhaps; he seems rather to have combined an acute sense of class differences with something of the moral democracy of the earlier Puritans which eventually led to the Victorian view as expressed by G. M. Young that 'the great dividing line is the respectable and the others'. 1 Some such duality is perhaps responsible for the very unsatisfactory treatment of the class issue in Pamela: virtuous indignation at upper-class licentiousness jars very unpleasantly with the heroine's abject regard for Mr. B.'s social status. In Clarissa, however, and perhaps because there is nothing like the same social distance between hero and heroine, Richardson achieves a much more powerful rendering not only of the social conflict itself, but of its moral implications.

Both Clarissa and Lovelace come from the wealthy landed gentry and have aristocratic connections. Those of the Harlowes, however, are only on the mother's side, and they are in no sense the equivalent of Lovelace's uncle, Lord M., or his titled half-sisters. The Harlowe 'darling view', as Clarissa bitterly explains, is that of 'raising a family a view too frequently entertained by families which having great substance, cannot be satisfied without rank and title'. The chief repository of this ambition is James, the only son: if the family fortune, combined with those of his two childless uncles, can be concentrated on him, his enormous wealth and its accompanying

Last Essays ( London, 1950), p. 221.

political interest 'might entitle him to hope for a peerage'. Lovelace's courtship of Clarissa, however, threatens the realisation of this aim. Lovelace has even higher expectations, and James is afraid that his uncles may encourage the match by diverting some of their fortunes from him to Clarissa. For this reason, combined with a personal animosity towards Lovelace and perhaps an envious fear lest his sister outstrip him in the race for a coronet, James uses every possible means to make his family force Clarissa to marry Solmes. Solmes is very rich but he is meanly born, and in return for such a grand alliance will not expect any more dowry from Clarissa than her grandfather's estate, which is already hers and whose loss therefore cannot in any case be avoided. 1

At the outset, therefore, Clarissa is placed in a complicated conflict of class and family loyalties. Solmes is most unpleasantly typical of the rising middle class: mercenary with the squalid concentration of 'an upstart man not born to the immense riches he is possessed of', as Clarissa scornfully reports. He is totally devoid of social grace or intellectual cultivation, repulsive physically and a poor speller to boot. Lovelace, on the other hand, seems to possess the very qualities which Clarissa misses in her own environment: a generous landlord, a 'person of reading, judgement and taste', 2 and what is more, his suit is primarily motivated not by economic interest but by genuine personal admiration of Clarissa's beauty and accomplishments. As a potential lover he is immensely superior to the males of the Harlowe milieu -- not only to Solmes but to her previous suitors and to Anna Howe's rather tame admirer Hickman; and there is therefore every reason why Lovelace should at first represent for Clarissa a very desirable escape from the constrictions of the Harlowe way of life, and the immediate threat of being forced to marry Solmes.

Events soon demonstrate, however, that Lovelace actually menaces her freedom and self-respect even more dangerously, and this for reasons also closely connected with his social affiliations. Primarily, of course, it is his aristocratic licentiousness, and his cynical distaste for matrimony, which are at issue, but they are accompanied by a quite conscious enmity to the moral and social attitudes of the middle class in general. Clarissa's sexual virtue is his great 'stimulative' as he says, and it must

I, 53-54.

I, 59, 166, 12.

be regarded as an expression of the moral superiority of her class: 'were it not for the poor and the middling', he comments, 'the world would probably, long ago have been destroyed by fire from Heaven'. He has already deceived and ruined a Miss Betterton, of a rich trading family that 'aimed at a new line of gentry'; and one of the factors which poisons his love of Clarissa is his resolve to win a much greater victory for his caste against the Harlowe family that has insulted him, and that he despises as a house 'sprung up from a dunghill, within every elderly person's remembrance'. 1

Clarissa, therefore, is without allies, and this is fitting since she is the heroic representative of all that is free and positive in the new individualism, and especially of the spiritual independence which was associated with Puritanism: as such she has to combat all the forces that were opposed to the realisation of the new concept -- the aristocracy, the patriarchal family system, and even the economic individualism whose development was so closely connected with that of Puritanism.

The authoritarian nature of the family is what precipitates Clarissa's tragedy. Her father goes beyond what was generally agreed to be his legitimate paternal rights: he demands not only that she give up Lovelace but that she marry Solmes. This she must refuse, and in an interesting letter to her Uncle John enumerates the absolute dependence of her sex upon their marriage choice, and concludes that 'a young creature ought not to be obliged to make all these sacrifices but for such a man as she can love'. 2

The patriarchal authoritarianism of the Harlowe family is exacerbated by the unrestrained dominance of the dictates of economic individualism; and Clarissa is caught between the two. Much of the initial animosity that her brother and sister feel towards her is based on the fact that their grandfather has singled her out to inherit his estate. In doing so, of course, he has disregarded primogeniture, and the fact that his grandson James is the only relative who could possibly continue the family name; instead he has chosen Clarissa, a younger granddaughter, and this purely on grounds of personal preference, that is on grounds of an individual, not a family relationship. At the same time Clarissa's plight is increased by James's hatred of the traditional system of dowries: 'daughters', he likes to

II, 491, 218, 147; I, 170.

I, 153.

say, 'are chickens brought up for the tables of other men', and he cannot bear to think that to achieve this, 'the family stock must be impaired into the bargain'. 1

The combination of family authority with the attitudes of economic individualism not only denies Clarissa any freedom of choice, but even leads her family to treat her with calculated cruelty, on the grounds that, as her Uncle Anthony puts it, she prefers 'a noted whoremonger before a man that is merely a money-lover'. 2 Richardson here suggests how rigid middleclass morality, combined with a primary regard for material considerations, express themselves in a concealed and selfrighteous sadism; and this was recognised by one member of his circle, Jane Collier. In her Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting ( 1753) -- an early study of the minor persecutions of genteel family life -- she comments on 'How much must an old Harlowe enjoy himself in loading a Clarissa with money, clothes, jewels, and etc., whilst he knows, that all she wants from him, is kind looks, and kind words'. 3

A perfectly realised scene depicting this kind of persecution occurs when her sister Arabella tortures Clarissa by pretending not to understand why she is unwilling to talk about the trousseau which has been ordered for her wedding with Solmes. Clarissa, who has been confined to her room for disobedience, thus reports the visit of Arabella and her aunt:

My sister left my aunt musing at the window, with her back towards us; and took that opportunity to insult me still more barbarously: for, stepping to my closet, she took up the patterns which my mother had sent me up, and bringing them to me, she spread them upon the chair by me; and, offering one, and then another, upon her sleeve and shoulder, thus she ran on, with great seeming tranquillity, but whisperingly, that my aunt might not hear her. This, Clary, is a pretty pattern enough: but this is quite charming! I would advise you to make your appearance in it. And this, were I you, should be my wedding night-gown, and this my second dressed suit! Won't you give orders love, to have your grandmother's jewels new set? Or will you think to show away in the new ones Mr. Solmes intends to present to you? He talks of laying out two or three thousand pounds in presents, child! Dear Heart, how gorgeously you will be arrayed! What! Silent my dear! 4

I, 54.

I, 160.

P. 88.

I, 235-236.

Clarissa escapes from such oppressions and the struggle is transferred to the purely individual plane. Even here, however, she is under great disadvantages. The mere fact that she has left home to protect her own freedom and not out of love for him gives deep offence to Lovelace's pride; while the main issue that separates them, that of marriage, presents peculiar difficulties. As far as Lovelace is concerned, to consent to marriage is to yield Clarissa too easy a triumph: it means that 'a man is rather to be her prize, than she his'. Lovelace therefore tries by every stratagem to make her love 'come forward and show itself', to have the attraction of his maleness fully acknowledged; and it is only when this fails, and he fears that 'she presumes to think that she can be happy without me' that he uses force, hoping that then at least family pressure and public opinion will force her to remain with him. 1

The way that Lovelace exploits every disadvantage of her situation means that Clarissa continues to be confronted with the issue which parental tyranny first raised -- the power of all the forces which deny her sex their just equality with men. She is indeed, as Richardson implies during Belford's discussion of The Fair Penitent, engaged in the same cause as Rowe's heroine Calista, and asks with her:

Wherefore are we Born with high souls, but to assert ourselves, Shake off this vile obedience they exact, And claim an equal empire o'er the world? 2

Unlike Calista, however, and because she is pure and guiltless, Clarissa is eventually able to conquer her Lothario with spiritual weapons. At first Lovelace proclaimed himself 'a very Jew' in believing 'that women have no souls', but he is finally convinced of the reality of considerations which had not previously entered his mind: Clarissa's behaviour as she undergoes her terrible trials persuades him that 'justly did she tell me that her soul was my soul's superior'. 3 Such is the wholly unexpected result of his experiment to vanquish her with the methods he has previously employed so successfully against other members of Clarissa's sex: for the first time he has been brought up against the fact that the individual is ultimately a spiritual entity and that Clarissa is a finer one than he.

II,426-427; III, 150.

Act III, sc. i.

II, 474; III, 407.

In a sense, therefore, Clarissa's triumph is one in which her sex is irrelevant and looks forward to the new and inward ethical sanction which an individualistic society requires, and of which Kant was to be the philosophical spokesman. His categorical imperative was based on the premise that 'persons, because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves must not be used merely as means'. 1 Lovelace uses Clarissa, as he uses everybody else, as a means to gratify his pride in his caste, his sex and his intellect; Clarissa at first fails in the eyes of the world because she does not use others as means, but eventually she proves that no individual and no institution can destroy the inner inviolability of the human personality. This realisation completely cows him: as he confesses, 'I never knew what fear of man was -- nor fear of woman neither, till I became acquainted with Miss Clarissa Harlowe; nay, what is most surprising, till I came to have her in my power'. 2

If Richardson had stopped here, Clarissa would have been a work analogous to such later portrayals in the Puritan tradition of the tragedy of feminine individualism as George Eliot Middlemarch and Henry James Portrait of a Lady. The three novels reveal the all but unendurable disparity between expectation and reality that faces sensitive women in modern society, and the difficulties that lie before anyone who is unwilling either to be used, or to use others, as a means. Richardson's fascinated absorption in the sexual issue, however, produced a treatment of the theme which is starker, less reticent, and, perhaps, even more revealing.

Clarissa is, among other things, the supreme embodiment of the new feminine stereotype, a very paragon of delicacy. This is a crucial factor in her relations with Lovelace, who carefully contrives not to propose marriage in such a way as would enable Clarissa to agree without compromising her delicacy, which she refuses to do: 'Would he have me catch at his first, his very first word?' she asks on one occasion, and on another, when Lovelace cruelly asks if she has any objections to delaying a few days until Lord M. can attend the wedding, she is forced by her sense of 'due decorum' to answer, 'No, no, You cannot

Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals ), in Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and Other Woks, trans. Abbott ( London, 1898), p. 46.

III, 301.

think that I should imagine there can be reasons for such a hurry'. As a result, even Anna Howe thinks that Clarissa is 'over-nice, over-delicate', and she strongly urges that Clarissa 'condescend to clear up his doubts'. Richardson, however, points out in a footnote that 'it was not possible for a person of her true delicacy of mind to act otherwise than she did, to a man so cruelly and insolently artful': and in fact Lovelace understood this very well, as he explained to Belford: 'Never, I believe, was there so true, so delicate a modesty in the human mind as in that of this lady this has been my security all along'. 1

The reinforced taboo on women avowing their feelings in courtship is, therefore, primarily responsible for the way that the deadlock between Clarissa and Lovelace drags out so long, becoming uglier and more desperate in the process. Richardson, indeed, with remarkable objectivity, even makes Lovelace challenge the whole basis of the code. He wonders whether women should really be proud of having 'wilful and studied delays, imputed to them' over marriage: 'are they not', he suggests, 'indelicate in their affected delicacy; for do they not thereby tacitly confess that they expect to be the greatest gainers in wedlock; and that there is self-denial in the pride they take in delaying'. 2

Lovelace is himself a representative of the masculine stereotype against which the feminine code is a defence. He believes, for example, that the hypocritical bashfulness of the 'passive sex' justifies his own in using forceful methods. 'It is cruel to ask a modest woman for her consent', he writes, and finds a kind of support in the views of Anna Howe who believes that 'our sex are best dealt with by boisterous and unruly spirits'. Clarissa sees that a larger issue is at stake, and pleads that a 'modest woman' should 'distinguish and wish to consort with a modest man' such as the unexciting Hickman: but Lovelace knows better; women do not really desire such a lover -- 'a male virgin -- I warrant!' For, as he rather wittily puts it, a virtuous woman can 'expect the confidence she wants' if she marries a rake, whereas she cannot but consider the virtuous male 'and herself as two parallel lines; which, though they run side by side, can never meet'. 3

II, 28, 312, 156; I, 500; II, 156, 475.

II, 457.

III, 214; II, 147, 73, 126; III, 82.

Lovelace himself, like the rakes and heroes of Restoration drama, gives his allegiance to a debased form of romantic love, thus underlining his historical role as the representative of the Cavalier attitude to sex, in conflict with the Puritan one represented by Clarissa. Sexual passion is placed upon a different and higher plane than the institutional arrangement of marriage, and so, although the divine Clarissa Harlowe can almost make him think of 'foregoing the life of honour for the life of shackles', his darling hope is 'to prevail upon her to live with [him] what [he] call[s] the life of honour', in which he will promise 'never to marry any other woman', but in which their felicity will be uncontaminated by the rites of matrimony. 1

That, at least, is his scheme: to win her on his own terms; with always the possibility that he can marry her afterwards, once his personality and his code have had their triumph. 'Will not the generality of the world acquit me, if I do marry?' he asks. 'And what is that injury which a church rite will not at any time repair? Is not the catastrophe of every story that ends in wedlock accounted happy?' 2

As the world goes, Lovelace is perhaps as close to the average view as Clarissa, and his attitude finds some support in the story of Pamela. But Richardson was now in a much more serious mood, and, as he announced in the Preface, was now determined to challenge 'that dangerous but too-commonly-received notion, that a reformed rake makes the best husband'. So he introduced the rape when Clarissa is unconscious from opiates, which is perhaps the least convincing incident in the book, but which serves a number of important moral and literary purposes.

First, and most obviously for Richardson's didactic purpose, it puts Lovelace wholly beyond the pale of any conception of honour, and proclaims to all the barbarity which lies below the genteel veneer of rakery; this Lovelace himself comes to realise, and curses himself for having taken the advice of Mrs. Sinclair and her crew. Not, of course, out of moral compunction, but because it is an admission of complete defeat: in his own eyes, since, as he says, 'there is no triumph in force. No conquest over the will': 3 and in the eyes of the world, since, as John Dennis cynically remarked, 'A rape in tragedy is a panegyrick upon the sex for the woman is supposed to remain innocent, and to be pleased without her consent; while the man, who is ac-

I, 147; II, 496.

III, 281.

II, 398.

counted a damned villain, proclaims the power of female charms, which have the force to drive him to so horrid a violence'. 1

Once Lovelace has found that, contrary to his expectation, it is not a case of 'once overcome for ever overcome', Clarissa is able to demonstrate the falsity of his view of the feminine code, and defy him in the famous words, 'That man who has been the villain to me that you have been shall never make me his wife'. Clarissa's sense of her own honour is much more important than her reputation in the eyes of the world; the code, in fact, is not a hypocritical sham; Lovelace's assumption that 'the for-better and for-worse legerdemain' would 'hocus pocus all the wrongs I have done Miss Harlowe into acts of kindness and benevolence to Mrs. Lovelace' is completely disproved, and he succumbs to such 'irresistible proofs of the love of virtue for its own sake'. 2

If this were all, the conflict in Clarissa would still, perhaps, be too simple for a work of such length. Actually, however, the situation is much more complex and problematic.

Freud showed how the artificiality of the modern sexual code must incline [the members of society] to concealment of the truth, to euphemism, to self-deception, and to the deception of others'. 3 In Pamela this self-deception produces irony: the reader contrasts the heroine's pretended motives with her transparent but largely unconscious purpose. In Clarissa, however, a similar unawareness of sexual feeling on the heroine's part, which by others may be interpreted as gross lack of self-knowledge, if not actual dishonesty, becomes an important part of the dramatic development, deepening and amplifying the overt meaning of the story.

Johnson observes of Clarissa that 'there is always something which she prefers to truth'. 4 But Anna Howe justly points out that as far as women's communication with men is concerned, this duplicity is imposed by the sexual code: for, as she says, if a woman writes 'her heart to a man practised in deceit, or even to a man of some character, what advantage does it give him over her!' 5 The real tragedy, however, is that the code also makes Clarissa withhold her sexual feelings from Anna Howe,

Critical Works, II, 166

III, 318, 222, 412, 222.

Civilised' Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness, Collected Papers ( London, 1924), II, 77.

Johnsonian Miscellanies, I, 297.

III, 8.

and even from her own consciousness, and it is this which creates the main psychological tension in the early volumes, for which Johnson particularly admired Richardson. 1 The correspondence of Clarissa, and, to a lesser extent, of Lovelace, is an absorbing study because we can never assume that any statement should be taken as the complete and literal truth. Perhaps one of the reasons for Johnson's admiration was that, although as we have seen he believed that a man's 'soul lies naked' in his letters, he also knew that 'There is no transaction which offers stronger temptations to fallacy and sophistication than epistolary intercourse'. 2

The counterpoint of these unconscious duplicities in the early volumes is built upon the fact that Anna believes that Clarissa is in love with Lovelace, and does not believe Clarissa's protestations that her elopement was entirely accidental and involuntary on her part. After the marriage has been long delayed, Anna Howe even thinks it necessary to write to Clarissa: 'What then have you to do but to fly this house, this infernal house! Oh that your heart would let you fly the man!' Lovelace, it is true, seizes the letter, and Clarissa escapes on her own initiative. Nevertheless, until half the book is done, there is a genuine ambiguity about the situation in everyone's mind; we are fully entitled to suspect Clarissa herself of not knowing her own feelings: and Lovelace is not altogether wrong in suspecting her of the 'female affectation of denying [her] love'. 3.

As the story develops, Clarissa herself gradually makes this discovery. Very early she has cause to wonder 'what turn my mind had taken to dictate so oddly to my pen' in the course of a letter about Lovelace; and her debates with Anna Howe about her real attitude to him eventually force her to question whether her original hope that she could reform Lovelace was not actually a mask for less creditable motives. 'What strange imperfect beings!' she reflects. 'But self here, which is at the bottom of all we do, and of all we wish, is the grand misleader.' 'Once you wrote', she confesses to Anna Howe, 'that men of his cast are the men that our sex do not naturally dislike: while I held that such were not (however that might be) the men we ought to like.' She cannot deny that she 'could have liked Mr. Lovelace above all men', and that there may be some justice in

Johnsonian Miscellanies, I, 282.

'Pope'', Lives of the Poets, ed. Hill, III, 207.

III; 11, I, 515

the tenor of Anna's raillery that she did not 'attend to the throbs' of her heart; her principle that we should 'like and dislike as reason bids us' was not so easy to practise as she imagined; and she convicts herself 'of a punishable fault' in having loved him, punishable because 'what must be that love that has not some degree of purity for its object?' But, as she realises, 'love and hatred' are not 'voluntary passions', and so, although without any full clarification of her feelings, she admits 'detection' by Anna of her passion for Lovelace: 'Detection, must I call it?' she wonders, and adds defeatedly: 'What can I call it?' 1

Throughout the novel Clarissa is learning more about herself, but at the same time she is also learning more about the much blacker deceptions of Lovelace. The minor reticences and confusions revealed in the feminine correspondence are insignificant compared to the much grosser discrepancies between Lovelace's pretended attitudes to Clarissa and the falsehoods and trickeries which his letters reveal. The masculine code allows him to practise, and even openly avow, his complete lack of truth and honour in his pursuit of the opposite sex. As Belford points out, 'our honour, and honour in the general acceptation of the word are two things', and Lovelace's honour is such that he has 'never lied to man, and hardly ever said truth to woman'. As a result of these revelations we realise that the code which might seem to make Clarissa too prudent is not prudent enough when measured against the outrageous means which men allow themselves to gain their ends. But if Clarissa's code fosters the self-ignorance which helps to place her in Lovelace's power, it at least does not involve conscious deception; and so Lovelace is forced to see that since Clarissa cannot 'stoop to deceit and falsehood, no, not to save herself', Belford was right when he asserted that 'the trial is not a fair trial'. 2

The sophistries both conscious and unconscious produced by the sexual code, then, helped Richardson to produce a pattern of psychological surprise and discovery very similar in nature to that in Pamela, although the counterpoint between feminine self-deception and masculine trickery is of a much more extended and powerful kind. But Richardson's explorations of the unconscious forms taken by the sexual impulse also took

I, 47; II, 379, 438-439; I, 139; II, 439.

II, 158; IV, 445; III, 407; II, 158.

him much further; and he added to the already complex series of dualities embodied in the relationship of Lovelace and Clarissa quite another range of meanings which may be regarded as the ultimate and no doubt pathological expression of the dichotomisation of the sexual roles in the realm of the unconscious.

The imagery in which the relation between the sexes is rendered indicates the basic tendency of Richardson's thought. Lovelace fancies himself as an eagle, flying only at the highest game; Belford calls him 'cruel as a panther'; while Anna sees him as a hyena. The metaphor of the hunt, indeed, informs the whole of Lovelace's conception of sex: he writes to Belford, for example: 'we begin when boys, with birds, and when grown up, go on with women; and both, perhaps, in turn, experience our sportive cruelty'. Then he gloats as he pictures 'the charming gradations' by which the bird yields to its captor as he hopes Clarissa will yield to him, and concludes, 'By my soul, Jack, there is more of the savage in human nature than we are commonly aware of'. But Jack is already aware of it, in Lovelace's case at least, and replies: 'Thou ever delightedst to sport with and torment the animal, whether bird or beast, that thou lovedst and hadst a power over'.

Sadism is, no doubt, the ultimate form which the eighteenthcentury view of the masculine role involved: and it makes the female role one in which the woman is, and can only be, the prey: to use another of Lovelace's metaphors, man is a spider, and woman is the predestined fly. 1

This conceptualisation of the sexual life has had an illustrious literary history since Richardson. Mario Praz has seen Clarissa as the beginning of what he calls 'the theme of the persecuted maiden', a theme which was taken up by de Sade, and played an important part in Romantic literature. 2 Later, in a somewhat milder form, this picture of the sexual relationship established itself in England. The Victorian imagination was haunted by the perpetual imminence of attacks on pure womanhood by cruel and licentious males, while, in a Rochester or a Heathcliff, the feminine and Puritan imaginations of Charlotte and Emily Bront produced a stereotype of the male as a combination of terrifying animality and diabolic intellect which is equally pathological.

II, 253; IV, 269; II, 245-249, 483, 23.

The Romantic Agony, trans. Davidson ( London, 1951), pp. 95-107.

The complement of the sadistic and sexual male is the masochistic and asexual female; and in Clarissa this conception is present both in the imagery connected with the heroine and in the underlying implication of the central action. As regards imagery, Clarissa, significantly, is symbolised not by the rose but the lily: Lovelace sees her on one occasion as 'a halfbroken-stalked lily, top-heavy with the overcharging dews of morning', and Clarissa later arranges that her funeral urn be decorated with 'the head of a white lily snapped short off, and just falling from the stalk'. 1 In the realm of action, the rape itself, when Clarissa is unconscious from opiates, may be regarded as the ultimate development of the idea of the feminine sexual role as one of passive suffering: it suggests that the animality of the male can only achieve its purpose when the woman's spirit is absent.

Even so, Clarissa dies; sexual intercourse, apparently, means death for the woman. What Richardson intended here is not wholly clear, but it may be noted that he had already shown a remarkable awareness of the symbolism of the unconscious in Pamela. When the heroine is still terrified of Mr. B. she imagines him pursuing her in the shape of a bull with bloodshot eyes; later, when a happy resolution is in sight she dreams, appropriately enough, of Jacob's ladder. 2 It is significant, therefore, that just before her elopement, Clarissa should have a dream in which Lovelace stabs her to the heart; then, she reports, he 'tumbled me into a deep grave ready dug, among two or three half-dissolved carcasses; throwing in the dirt and earth upon me with his hands, and trampling it down with his feet'. 3 The dream is primarily a macabre expression of her actual fear of Lovelace; but it is also coloured by the idea that sexual intercourse is a kind of annihilation.

This connection haunts the later part of the story. Though afraid of Lovelace, she goes off with him; and later, when his intentions are becoming more evident, she several times offers him knives or scissors to kill her with. One of these occasions is thus reported by Lovelace: 'baring, with a still more frantic violence, part of her enchanting neck, Here, here, said the soulharrowing beauty, let thy pointed mercy enter'. Unconsciously, no doubt, Clarissa courts sexual violation as well as death; and when the violation comes its equation with death is apparent to

III, 193; IV, 257.

Pamela, I, 135, 274.

I, 433.

both parties. Lovelace announces, 'The affair is over. Clarissa lives' -- as though the contrary might have been expected; while later Clarissa directs that if Lovelace insists 'upon viewing her dead whom he ONCE before saw in a manner dead, let his gay curiosity be gratified'. 1

In a sense the coming death to which Clarissa here refers is a working out of her own initial masochistic fantasy: having equated sex and death, and having been violated by Lovelace, her self-respect requires that the expected consequence ensue: her decline is as the physician says, clearly not a bodily matter but 'a love case'. 2 Not much is said about the covert and implacable cause why her fate cannot be otherwise, but there is never any doubt about the fact itself: anything else would prove her deepest self to have been wrong.

This, of course, is not the only cause of her death, which has a very complex motivation. It is, for example, quite consistent with Richardson's beliefs that Clarissa should prefer death to the burden of her sexual desecration, even though it is, as Lovelace says, 'a mere notional violation'. 3 But there is also more than a hint that what Clarissa cannot face is not so much what Lovelace has done or what the world may think about it, but the idea that she herself is not wholly blameless.

This idea is most clearly expressed in one of the fragments which she writes in her delirium after the rape:

A lady took a great fancy to a young lion, or a bear, I forget which -- but of a bear, or a tiger, I believe it was. It was made her a present of when a whelp. She fed it with her own hand: she nursed up the wicked cub with great tenderness; and would play with it without fear or apprehension of danger But mind what followed: at last, somehow, neglecting to satisfy its hungry maw, or having otherwise disobliged it on some occasion, it resumed its nature; and on a sudden fell upon her, and tore her in pieces, And who was most to blame, I pray? The brute, or the lady? The lady, surely! For what she did was out of nature, out of character, at least: what it did was in its own nature. 4

Lovelace, being a man, had done only what was to be expected: but Clarissa had acted out of nature in toying with him. Looking back, she perhaps remembers that Anna Howe, mocking her own claim that 'she would not be in love with him

III, 238, 196; IV, 416.

II, 468.

III, 242.

III, 206.

for the world', had ironically congratulated her on 'being the first of our sex that ever I heard of who has been able to turn that lion, Love, at her own pleasure, into a lap-dog'. And this bitter reminder that she was wrong may have caused her to look within and glimpse the truth that even she was not above what Lovelace calls the 'disgraceful' weaknesses 'of sex and nature'. 1 With such a belief poisoning her mind, the need to be delivered from the body becomes imperative; she must act out in a very literal fashion the words of St. Paul in Romans: 'I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'

In a historical perspective, it seems clear, Clarissa's tragedy reflects the combined effects of Puritanism's spiritual inwardness and its fear of the flesh, effects which tend to prevent the development of the sexual impulse beyond the autistic and masochistic stages. Freud and Horace are agreed that Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret -- a sentiment, incidentally, which was familiar to Richardson since Lovelace quotes it -- and it is not surprising, therefore, that Clarissa's Liebestod should suggest that the erotic impulse has been channelled in varied and divergent directions. The perverse sensuous pleasure which she takes in every detail of the preparations for her coming death is primarily due to the feeling that she is at least about to meet the heavenly bridegroom: 'I am upon a better preparation than for an earthly husband', she proclaims. 'Never bride was so ready as I am. My wedding garments are bought the easiest, the happiest suit, that ever bridal maiden wore.' But her pleasure in her own approaching demise also has a strong narcissistic quality. Belford reports that 'the principal device' she chose for her coffin 'is a crowned serpent, with its tail in its mouth, forming a ring, the emblem of eternity': emblem of eternity, doubtless, but also emblem of an endlessly selfconsuming sexual desire. 2

Opinions may well vary over the details of the meaning of the psychopathological aspects of Clarissa, but there can at least be no doubt that this was one of the directions which Richardson's imagination took, and that he there demonstrated a

I, 49; III, 476; see also II, 420.

II, 99; IV, 2, 303, 256-257.

remarkable insight into the by now notorious sophistries of the unconscious and subconscious mind. Further evidence of this is to be found in the scenes after the rape, and in Clarissa's incoherent letter to Lovelace: Fielding praised it as 'beyond anything I have ever read'. 1 Another great contemporary admirer, Diderot, specifically pointed to the exploration of the deeper recesses of the mind as Richardson's forte -- a testimony which carries considerable authority in the light of his own treatment of the theme in Le Neveu de Rameau. It was Richardson, Diderot said, 'qui porte le flambeau au fond de la caverne; c'est lui qui apprend à discerner les motifs subtils et dshonnêtes qui se cachent et se drobent sous d'autres motifs qui sont honnêtes et qui se hatent de se montrer les premiers. Il souffle sur le phantme sublime qui se prsente à l'entre de la caverne; et le More hideux qu'il masquait s'aperoit.' 2 Such certainly is the nature of the voyage of discovery which we take in Clarissa ; and the hideous Moor is surely the frightening reality of the unconscious life which lies hidden in the most virtuous heart.

Such an interpretation would imply that Richardson's imagination was not always in touch with his didactic purpose; but this, of course, is in itself not unlikely. The decorous exterior, the ponderous voice of the lay bishop, expresses an important part of Richardson's mind, but not all of it; and, his subjects being what they were, it is likely that only a very safe ethical surface, combined with the anonymity of print, and a certain tendency to self-righteous sophistry, were able to pacify his inner censor and thus leave his imagination free to express its profound interest in other areas of experience.

Some such process seems to have occurred in Richardson's portrayal of Lovelace as well as of Clarissa. There was probably a much deeper identification with his rake than he knew, an identification which left traces in such a remark as this of Lovelace: 'Were every rake, nay, were every man, to sit down, as I do, and write all that enters into his head or into his heart, and to accuse himself with equal freedom and truth, what an army of miscreants should I have to keep me in countenance!' Elsewhere, the prodigious fertility of Lovelace's sexual imagination surely suggests a willing co-operation on the part of his creator's far beyond the call of literary duty: Lovelace's plan, for instance, of wreaking his revenge on Anna Howe, not only by ravishing

'New Letter from Fielding', p. 305

Œuvres, ed. Billy, p. 1091.

her, but in having her mother abducted for the same fell purpose is a monstrously gratuitous fancy which is quite unnecessary so far as the realisation of Richardson's didactic intentions are concerned. 1

The ultimate effect of Richardson's unconscious identification, however, would seem to be wholly justified from an aesthetic point of view. The danger in the original scheme of the novel was that Lovelace would be so brutal and callow that the relationship with Clarissa would be incapable of supporting a developing and reciprocal psychological pattern. Richardson, however, diminished the disparity between his protagonists by supplying their personalities with psychological undertones which do something to qualify the apparently diametrical opposition between them. He mitigated Clarissa's perfections by suggesting that her deeper self has its morbid aspects -- a suggestion which actually increases the pathos of her story but which brings her closer in a sense to the world of Lovelace; and at the same time he led us to feel that, just as his heroine's virtue is not without its complications, so his villain's vices have their pitiable aspect.

Lovelace's name -- in sound as in etymology -- means 'loveless'; 2 and his code -- that of the rake -- has, like Clarissa's, blinded him to his own deepest feelings. From the beginning one side of his character is continually struggling to express its love for Clarissa openly and honourably, and it often almost succeeds. Clarissa, indeed, is aware of this undercurrent in his nature: 'What sensibilities', she tells him, 'must thou have suppressed! What a dreadful, what a judicial hardness of heart must thine be; who canst be capable of such emotions as sometimes thou hast shown; and of such sentiments as sometimes have flown from thy lips; yet canst have so far overcome them all, as to be

II, 492, 418-425.

See Ernest Weekley, Surnames ( London, 1936), p. 259. Names are often a guide to unconscious attitudes, and those of Richardson's protagonists tend to confirm the view that he secretly identified himself with his hero -- Robert Lovelace is a pleasant enough name -- and even unconsciously collaborated with Lovelace's purpose of abasing the heroine: ' Clarissa' is very close to ' Calista', Rowe's impure heroine; while Harlowe is very close to 'harlot'. This verbal association seems to be on the verge of consciousness in a letter of Arabella's to Clarissa: she tells her that James will treat her 'like a common creature, if he ever sees you', and then, referring to her doubts as to whether Lovelace will ever marry her, adds in a frenzy of contempt: '. . . this is the celebrated, the blazing Clarissa -- Clarissa what? Harlowe, no doubt! -- And Harlowe it will be, to the disgrace of us all.' (II, 170-171.)

able to act as thou hast acted, and that from settled purpose and premeditation.' 1

This division in Lovelace between conscious villainy and stifled goodness provides yet another satisfying formal symmetry to the conduct of the narrative. For, just as Clarissa began by loving Lovelace unconsciously and then was forced to see that, in truth, he did not deserve it, so Lovelace begins with a feeling in which hate and love are mixed, but comes eventually to love her completely, although only after he himself has made it impossible for her to reciprocate. Clarissa could perhaps have married Lovelace, very much on her own terms, had she known her own feelings earlier, and not been at first so wholly unaware, and later so frightened, of her sexual component; so Lovelace need not have lost Clarissa, if he had known and been willing to recognise the gentler elements in his personality.

The ultimate reason why this was impossible is, indeed, the exact complement of that which causes Clarissa's virtual suicide: both their fates show the havoc brought about by two codes which doom their holders to a psychological attitude which makes human love impossible, since they set an impenetrable barrier between the flesh and the spirit. Clarissa dies rather than recognise the flesh; Lovelace makes it impossible for her to love him because he, too, makes an equally absolute, though opposite, division: if he wishes 'to prove her to be either angel or woman', Clarissa has no alternative but to make the choice she does, reject her physical womanhood, and prove, in Lovelace's words, that 'her frost is frost indeed'. At the same time for him also the only possibility of salvation lies in the rejection of his own illusion of himself which, like Clarissa's, is ultimately a projection of false sexual ideology. 'If I give up my contrivances', he writes in a moment of heart-searching, 'I shall be but a common man.' But, of course, he is, like Clarissa, so deeply attached to his own preconceptions of himself that he cannot change; the deadlock is complete, and, as he confesses, 'what to do with her, or without her, I know not'. 2

For Lovelace also, therefore, death is the only way out. His end, it is true, is not a suicide, but it is like Clarissa's in the sense that he has in part provoked it, and that he has been forewarned in a dream, a dream where, thinking at last to embrace her, he sees the firmament open to receive her and then, left

III, 152.

II, 208; III, 190, 229.

alone, the floor sinks under him and he falls into a bottomless Inferno. His unconscious premonition is confirmed by the event, but not before he has made expiation, admitting to his slayer Colonel Morden that he has provoked his destiny, and imploring Clarissa's Blessed Spirit to look down with pity and forgiveness. 1

So ends a relationship that, in this at least like those of the great lovers of myth and legend, endures beyond death. Clarissa and Lovelace are as completely, and as fatally, dependent on each other as Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet; but, in keeping with the novel's subjective mode of vision, the ultimate barriers that prevent the union of Richardson's star-crossed lovers are subjective and in part unconscious; the stars operate on the individual through varied psychological forces, forces which are eventually, no doubt, public and social, since the differences between the protagonists represent larger conflicts of attitude and ethic in their society, but which are nevertheless so completely internalised that the conflict expresses itself as a struggle between personalities and even between different parts of the same personality.

This is Richardson's triumph. Even the most apparently implausible, didactic or period aspects of the plot and the characters, even the rape and Clarissa's unconscionable time a-dying, are brought into a larger dramatic pattern of infinite formal and psychological complexity. It is this capacity for a continuous enrichment and complication of a simple situation which makes Richardson the great novelist he is; and it shows, too, that the novel had at last attained literary maturity, with formal resources capable not only of supporting the tremendous imaginative expansion which Richardson gave his theme, but also of leading him away from the flat didacticism of his critical preconceptions into so profound a penetration of his characters that their experience partakes of the terrifying ambiguity of human life itself.

IV, 136, 529.

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