Clarissa, Week 3 (410-883): Abduction to Rape

Excellent work, everyone.  As we approach the next 400 pages of Clarissa this week, I’m going to focus the assignment squarely on the thematic clusters.

This week, while you are reading, please pick one of the thematic clusters:

A.  Love, Sexuality, Property

B.  Class, Rank, Legitimacy

C.  Morality, Sensibility, Indifference

D.  Happiness and/or Pleasure

While you are reading, trace this particular cluster across the next 400 pages, so that you’ve developed a small group of passages that you can comment upon in your reflection for this segment.  You don’t need to quote extensively from the passages, but do list the letter/page numbers so that others can retrieve them.  Reflections should be about a paragraph or so.  Thanks, and good luck.


(Still Missing: Maillet, Robinson)


Author: Dave Mazella

I am an Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston, Department of English, specializing in 18th-century British literature.

12 thoughts on “Clarissa, Week 3 (410-883): Abduction to Rape”

  1. I’m interested in Lovelace’s morality—or lack thereof. He seems to have very strong feelings about morality, often resenting Clarissa’s. Does he think himself immoral? Or maybe amoral? I think Clarissa has him pegged pretty well, though, when she seems to accuse him so often of pridefulness. As she notes in writing to Anna, “He is constantly accusing me of over-scrupulousness. . .The man who is fond of being thought more or better than he is, as I have often [observed], but provokes a scrutiny into his pretensions: and that generally produces contempt” (L173, p560). This, combined with his own confession to Belford that he has “more than once, twice, or thrice been tempted to make this trial upon young ladies of name and character: but never yet found one of them to hold me out for a month; nor so long as could puzzle my invention” (L110, p429). As a rake, of course, we know that Lovelace deplores the bondage of conventional moral living—it seems as though at least some of his libertine schemes are designed to prove that even “the good” and “the moral” are as base at heart as he is, given enough of an excuse to behave so.

    When he comes up against Clarissa, though, he’s certainly met his match: she is as good as he is bad. It confounds him, often, but just as often seems to anger him for its inconvenience as he does value it for its potential to redeem him. He resents it when he talks of his uncle’s pre-nuptial threats: me that if I prove not a good husband to her, he will leave all he can at his death, from me, to her—Yet considers not that a woman so perfect can never be displeased with her husband but to his disgrace; for who will blame her? Another reason why a Lovelace should not wish to marry a Clarissa” (L207, p669). We can kind of see his problem here: he desperately wants her, but cannot accomplish the task through his usual route of seduction and corruption; he also desperately does not want her, for he recognizes that marrying her would place him into a position of lifelong moral inferiority. She will always have the moral high ground. Lamenting this in a letter to Belford, he confesses: “Do not despise me, Jack, for my inconsistency—in no two letters perhaps agreeing with myself—Who expects consistency in men of our character?-But I am mad with love—fired by revenge—puzzled with my own devices—My inventions are my curse—my pride my punishment—drawn five or six ways at once—Can she possibly be so unhappy as I? Oh why, why was this woman so divinely excellent!—yet how know I that she is?” (L216, p694).

    Clarissa’s insight into his motivating pride—she writes, “I am truly afraid that his very generosity is more owing to his pride and his vanity, than to that philanthropy which distinguishes a beneficent mind. . . his generosity would not have stopped at pride, but would have struck into humanity; and then would he not have contented himself with doing praiseworthy things by fits and starts, or, as if relying on the doctrine of merits, he hoped by a good action to atone for a bad one” (L217.2, p698). We can see this pride in action eight letters later, when Lovelace congratulates himself for not raping her on the spot after the fire: “But seest thou not, that I have a claim of merit for a grace that everybody hitherto had denied me? And that is, for a capacity of being moved by prayers and tears: Where, where, on this occasion, was the callus, where the flint, that my heart was said to be surrounded by?…Because I had never before encountered a resistance so much in earnest: a resistance, in short, so irresistible” (L225, p727).

    This is getting too long, so I’ll sign off with Lovelace’s own recognition of their circumstances: mutually assured destruction. She is perfectly designed to test the limits of his humanity and his morality; he is so obsessively driven that he will exploit any weakness to prove his masculine glory, even her defenseless body. In doing so, he seems only to make them more of what they were before, but he seems unwilling to retreat, even when he sees the danger: “Why was such a woman as this thrown in my way, whose very fall will be her glory, and perhaps not only my shame, but my destruction?” (L246, p848).

    -Amandelin (in case my user name hasn’t changed like I told it to)


    1. I forgot to mention that it’s interesting that he keeps writing detailed letters about his schemes to Belford, who is not particularly on board and thinks it’s awful. Why write to this particular friend, if not working through a complicated and ambivalent relationship with one’s own morality? Why not write to a friend who is more into it and would give pro-manipulative advice and admiration?


      1. I also had some thoughts about Belford. In a passage about his uncle’s poor health, he observes that his uncle has “bewailed the dissoluteness of his past life” but “has not to accuse himself in sixty-seven years of life, of half the very vile enormities which you and I have committed in the last seven only” (715). This, among other details, serves as an indicator that Belford has exhibited behaviors just as morally questionable as Lovelace’s in the past. Where he might have facilitated Lovelace’s behavior in other instances, however, he balks at encouraging his friend’s designs for Clarissa.

        I’ve marked these two selections, in particular:

        “Let me once more entreat thee, Lovelace, to reflect before it be too late, before the mortal offence by given, upon the graces and merits of this lady. Let thy frequent remorses at last end in one effectual one. Let not pride and wantonness of heart ruin thy fairer prospects. By my faith, Lovelace, there is nothing but vanity, conceit, and nonsense, in our wild schemes. As we grow older, we shall be wiser, and looking back upon our foolish notions of the present hour, shall certainly despise ourselves (our youth dissipated), when we think of the honorable engagements we might have made […] For thy own sake, once more I conjure thee, for thy family’s sake, and for the sake of our common humanity, let me beseech thee to be just to Miss Clarissa Harlowe.” (604-605)
        “Make a toy, if thou wilt, of principle, with regard to such of the sex as regard it as a toy. But rob not an angel of those purities which, in her own opinion, constitute the difference between angelic and brutal qualities. […] Of this, devil as thou art, thou canst not be capable. Thou couldst not enjoy a triumph so disgraceful to thy wicked pride, as well as to humanity.” (713-715)

        In the above, he suggests that both he and Lovelace will come to resent their past behaviors. This sentiment is echoed in both the discussion of his ailing uncle and of the plight of their mutual friend, Belton; remaining committed to the libertine lifestyle will ultimately make them miserable. Concepts like pride and vanity are put on equal footing with nonsense.

        Clarissa is equated to an angel and Lovelace to a devil. In both passages, an offense against Clarissa does not simply reflect poorly upon Lovelace himself, but on those who have associated with him, and upon humanity as a whole. The rape of Clarissa, because of the extent of her merits, threatens to be a point of no return.

        Belford’s role for Lovelace seems to echo Anna’s for Clarissa. He provides an avenue for Lovelace to relay recent events and express his thoughts; like Anna, Belford is also unwilling to spare his friend from criticism where such is warranted. He comes to represent the possibility for reform in a libertine, with Clarissa being one catalyst for critical reflection on the lifestyle. Reform, of course, is the option that Lovelace consistently undercuts, but Belford is unwilling to give up on him outright.

        It is interesting to consider what Lovelace gets from continuing to write to Belford (beyond our getting his perspective as a result). It’s possible that Lovelace’s continued writing to Belford, regardless of Belford’s responses, is indicative of their past relationship. But Lovelace does seem to wax back and forth, and filters those thoughts through his friend. Maybe he also wants Belford’s criticism, although he doesn’t act in accordance with it. He is clearly surrounded by individuals willing to aid him in his schemes (play roles, etc). Belford represents something else.


      2. Thanks, Amandelin. Lots of stuff here to address, but I just want to note right off the bat the rich array of issues you’ve brought together. First of all, consistency: L’s morality is as characteristically inconstant as C’s is constant: this is part of how we recognize them as distinct yet entwined perspectives. Second, the paradoxicality, movement, and inversion of the moralities at play here: morality constantly travels or goes inside out, as when L toys with the notion of reform or C finds herself forced into less-honest or direct communication or acts because of her desire to escape. Third, the self-destructive or tragic tendency: both characters eschew safer, less risky strategies because of pride and belief in their own power. Finally, the reflection by proxy via letters to Belford: why does L need a character like B to observe and judge himself?


  2. Thanks, Alissa, for this: part of the realism of B is showing him to have been as bad as L (who else could be friends with L?), but with the potential for reform as a serious possibility. In this respect he serves similar didactic purposes as C does, but which L rejects. This raises the entire issue of didacticism in this novel: how important is it to the characters themselves, or their readers, that the audience find their acts worthy for imitation? And what larger didactic purposes could an anti-didactic character like L play in a largely didactic narrative?


  3. Like Amandelin, I have been mostly thinking about morality and Lovelace as I read. My take on Lovelace is that he finds self-value in some kind of power and control, particularly in the power he’s felt in his many “conquests” of women’s feelings (i.e. taking advantage of them or making them fall for him in some way). At continually failing to gain the same kind of power over Clarissa (she is not “falling for him” as other women have, neither is she letting herself be manipulated by him), he is both affected by her “virtue” and enraged that she might think herself better than he: he is often describing her as haughty (Letters 187.1-4, p. 601; p. 641). He wants to witness her “[thinking] herself the obliged, rather than the obliger” (558).

    It doesn’t help that his friends—people who formerly he thought of as fellow libertines—also are won over in admiration of Clarissa’s “virtue” [“There is something awful, and yet so sweet, in this lady’s aspect (I have done nothing but talk of her ever since I saw her)…. Belton, Mowbray, Tourville, are all of my mind” (555)]. For, in their admiration of her Lovelace sees her power, or her virtue’s power—the same virtue/principles that are keeping her from becoming the “swooning conquest” he wants to make of her. It also doesn’t help that the ladies of the whorehouse he’s tricked Clarissa into staying at are watching him, and that to fail to seduce Clarissa in front of them would be to lose face somehow, to lessen one of the main powers he’s managed to maintain for some time: “The women below say, She hates me, she despises me!…. I will not long [be]…laughed at by them!” (602).

    While I think a part of him is affected by a sincerity he sees in Clarissa’s virtue (“I was exceedingly affected…. But was ashamed to be surprised by her into such a fit of unmanly weakness,” p. 602), causing him to perhaps consider taking on a life of virtue himself, he doesn’t do so because he doesn’t believe he could ever actually obtain the kind of admiration-via-honest-virtue that Clarissa already has: in short, he does not think he would be able—with virtue—to attain the same level of influence he now already has over women, his rapist buddies, and the “down-and-outs” he employs in his schemes (Joseph Leman, for instance).


    1. Hi Annie, thanks for this. What your post really emphasizes for me is the way that this novel combines very deep psychological exploration with a complex family and social environment. Lovelace’s family, servants, and friends (in our 20c sense), for example, both aid and constrain him in different ways, as you note here. Similar observations could be brought to Clarissa, and in fact the obvious respect for Clarissa from his would-be allies serves as an important block to his usual urge to strike out quickly and impulsively. But the notion of control is important for all the characters, not just Lovelace. What are the sorts of resources that Clarissa and her allies have to control the responses of others to her unfolding story?


    2. I’ve been thinking something along the same vein here. Lovelace’s attitude toward women, particularly those he has “ruined,” is cruel and seems rather indifferent. I have lost the exact page numbers concerning the prostitutes’ description, but, if I recall correctly, they do not seem entirely lower class or uneducated. True, Lovelace has novels of substance and fine clothing brought in to disguise the women as proper ladies, but some of the women are capable of quoting from these works. Yet, despite their original but uncertain class or rank, Lovelace still employs them like minions in his schemes against Clarissa. This makes me linger on a quote by Lovelace, “Can education have stronger force in a woman’s heart than nature? – Sure it cannot. But if it can, how entirely right are parents to cultivate their daughters’ minds, and to inspire them with notions of reserve and distance to our sex; and indeed to make them think highly of their own? For pride is an excellent substitute, let me tell thee, where virtue shines not out, as the sun, in its own unborrowed lustre” (L216, p. 695). Then, going off on that quote of Lovelace’s reasoning, these women were brought to ruin not from a lack of education but from a lack of innate virtue, and thus Clarissa, being a pillar of virtue even if naive, is the one who appears resistant to his ways.

      And while Lovelace is moved by Clarissa, I find it hard not to question the sincerity of his newly found sensibility. He describes himself and his reaction to Clarissa’s tears: “I was – I want words to say how I was – My nose had been made to tingle before; my eyes have before been made to glisten by this soul-moving beauty; but so very much affected, I never was – for, trying to check my sensibility, it was too strong for me, and I even sobbed – Yes, by my soul, I audibly sobbed, and was forced to turn from her […] though I am out of countenance upon the recollection, that there was something very pretty in it; and I wish I could know it again” (L216, p. 695). This account, contrasting with the reoccurring schemes against Clarissa and his returning to reread her letters with Anna in order to excite the feeling of revenge within himself, is not entirely believable to me. Is Lovelace being sincere, or is he wishing for his reader or even himself to believe him? Or, if Lovelace is actually experiencing a positive moral pull, is it being overpowered by his rake nature or a conscious decision to reject morality? I believe these questions position well in the context of his other rake friends, some of whom seem to have had reservations about the plans against Clarissa or have found their own kind of downfall in immorality (Belton). Unfortunately, I have no answers here, only speculation, but it does seem as if Lovelace is intentionally forcing himself to be more rake-y than the other rakes.


      1. Hi Kelly, I think your focus on female education is very apt, because there is clearly a class distinction between Clarissa’s innocent (genteel, pious, chaste, intellectual) pleasures and Lovelace’s physical (aristocratic/lower class, libertine, rakish Restoration-era literature) pleasures. The kicker here is that female education ought to protect Clarissa, or at least her readers, from seduction, but the prostitutes at Mrs Sinclair’s may very well have had their own, unsuccessful education and one-time genteel status. This sexual and class degradation is literally the goal of Lovelace’s seduction, and a real possibility for Clarissa the moment she leaves the protection of her family.

        Having said that, Lovelace’s character is either consciously or unconsciously inconsistent enough that he seems affected by the violence and damage he continually threatens others with. This is caught up with his own aristocratic status and his feeling of literal entitlement. So the sensibility is there, along with all the haughtiness and threats. So is there a tipping point where he moves from this vacillation to a more definite identity?


      2. In tracking the thematic cluster of pleasure in the section from Lovelace’s abduction of Clarissa to her rape, I’m interested in how the reader is made aware of the indulgence of Lovelace’s pleasure formally in the ways his correspondence with Belford begins to eclipse Clarissa’s with Ms. Howe’s. Before unpacking how exactly his avowed pleasures wax and wane, I’d like to point out that the reader’s unchecked voyeuristic pleasure in Clarissa’s letters shrinks after her abduction. The reader’s imagination before the abduction had been mired in Clarissa’s immovability, the impossibility of going or of staying, of marrying one or the other man, but this structure of identification with Clarissa is disrupted by her abduction and her movement from one widow’s home to another, in which she, by turns, pines, worries, and writes, the plot of the narrative marching on entirely outside of the bounds of her consent and her knowledge, while she remains the heroine she is no longer what is referred to in “craft language” as the “Point of View Character”. Upon Lovelace’s discovery and theft of pieces of her correspondence this disruption is exacerbated. We are no longer merely innocent third parties, the fourth wall has been broken, we are complicit in Lovelace’s intrusion on her punctilio– this complicates the reader’s relationship to both Clarissa and to her incorrigible suitor. While the reader finds Lovelace and his schemes to be loathsome, we are indeed among his ranks, in that we are engaged in worrying over and imagining the means by which she will come to his ends, knowing them to be inevitable, and likewise victimized by desire, even if it is only to discover what will happen. Against the reader’s sympathies, by this narrative force, we realize we have been brought closer to Lovelace in fits and starts, reviling him in his correspondance with Joseph Leman, cherishing hopes for him in his correspondence with Lord M., and most often wondering in his correspondence with Belford at the ability of a man to vascillate so wildly in the way he reacts to a woman who is nothing if not totally steady in her character and demeanor. How can he take her to be sweet and innocent in one instant and ungrateful and cruel the next when the reader knows she is the least changeable character ever depicted in prose? While we know her principles animate her, are the only source of her pleasure (596), what animates him? It is of course, lust, but between the abduction and the rape the question of what Lovelace takes pleasure in (not only the consummation but the plot, not only the plot but the prey’s complicity in the very plot) becomes as tortured as the question of Clarissa’s principles.

        We first learn of his intention to seduce her before marrying her in letter 108– this is occasioned when she insults him by refusing to consider his proposal in the days following the abduction. He writes to Belford, “She took me down with a vengeance. She made me look about me. So much advantage had she over me; such severe turns upon me; by my soul, Jack, I had hardly a word to say for myself.” He vows to humble her pride and try her virtue in a setting more apt to the task, to see what can be done “by the amorous see-saw; now humble, now proud, now submitting– or acquiescing–til I have tired resistance” (424). These are the means he will take, and he is motivated: “what an immense pleasure for a marriage-hater, what rapture to thought, to be able to prevail upon such a lady as Miss Clarissa Harlowe to live with him without real change of name!” (431). But because she takes no pleasure in his regard or flattery, the “amorous see-saw” doesn’t beleaguer so much as baffle Clarissa. Even before going to London, she is aware that his outrage at her desire to be left alone is not sincere, but a “manageable anger, let loose to intimidate me”, in short a performance (396). In London, the performance becomes more elaborate, the cast players increases but Clarissa still has no appreciation for the show he’s putting on. What is most fascinating about Lovelace is that he is able to enjoy his schemes, whether they fail or succeed, he enjoys his own outrage and its justification in writing to Belford after she is disgusted by his friends that women “think themselves entitled to take any freedoms with us; while we are impolite, forsooth, if we don’t tell a pack of lies and make black and white in their favour– teaching us to be hypocrites, yet stigmatizing us for deceivers” (552). He enjoys not only reflecting on his actions but in plotting them, “Sally, little devil, often reproaches me the slowness of my proceedings. But in a play, doesn’t the principal entertainment lie in the first four acts? Is not all in a manner over when you come to the fifth?” (575).

        Indeed the happiness both Lord M. (letter 206) and Belford (letter 192) urge him to find in marriage to Clarissa is dismissed out of hand, even though he risks his wealth and honor in pursuing his pleasures and plots in spite of his friends wishes. He is aroused by the erect sullenness of her person, the flagging of her spirits under his own demands, and this arousal is not merely a relishing of his own strength, it is mingled with pity. He owns that, “this lady, the moment I come into her presence, half assimilates me to her virtue” (658). He is often nearly moved to reform. So while Lovelace attempts to seduce her with his “amorous see-saw” he is also involved in a similarly pleasing or compelling torture of his own conscience…. Yet his delight in plots is not abated, he literally poisons himself to enjoy a bit of empathy from her! When he finds her in her pyjamas he is similarly tortured about how far to transgress against her, I’m not sure what the exact nature of Lovelace’s pleasure is but it is wrapped up in liscentiousness as much as in self abnegation.


  4. Thanks, Madeleine, for this extensive response. The pleasure/happiness cluster seems particularly suited to reflections upon Lovelace, who seems to pursue all the varieties of pleasure without necessarily attaining happiness. One of the persistent arguments, though, about the Restoration libertine is whether the performative, poetic, or intellectual dimensions of these figures overwrites the rude, brutish, or self-indulgent aspects of their behavior. This, I’d argue, is one of the reasons why the novel contrasts Lovelace with the more malleable Belford but also the cruder and more bestial rake Belton (who dies a proper Rochester-like death).

    In some sense, the pleasures provided but also personified by Lovelace are closely associated with his peculiar forms of literariness. The schemes, the intrigues, the assumed identities, the elaborate lies, all these align him with Richardson and the reader, rather than the more consistent, integrated, and “monologic” (to use Bakhtin’s term) Clarissa. Clarissa, however, might have her own affinities with literature and readerly pleasure, even as a tragic figure. Where might we find those moments?


  5. I . . . completely forgot to post this last week. No excuses, totally my fault. But here it is anyway in case it is of interest to any of y’all.

    I looked at the “cluster” of love, sexuality, and property in this section of Clarissa, though it might be more accurate to characterize my thoughts as being about love, sexuality, and power (thought the two are linked; Lovelace refers to Clarissa as his property several times).

    Letter 97 (pp. 386–87) seems to foreshadow love—or at least Lovelace’s “love” (despite his repeated protestations, I have difficulty interpreting Lovelace’s feelings as love) —over the next few hundred pages. While much of the letter is concerned with his joy (“Oh ecstasy!—My heart will burst my breast, To leap into her bosom!”), there is also an aura of menace or threat to it: “For, let me tell thee, dearly as I love her, if I thought there was but the shadow of a doubt in her mind whether she preferred me to any man living I would show her no mercy.” This vacillation between love and revenge not only continues, but increases in intensity.

    Lovelace’s sexual desire/love seem tied up entirely in domination of Clarissa’s mind and body, and the degree to which his honorable or dishonorable thoughts are ascendant seems to be related to the amount of control he feels. He feels love when she is most vulnerable (or when he imagines her as vulnerable). As an example, in letter 226, when Lovelace peeks through her keyhole the morning after the fire and sees her in despair he “could not help being moved” (p. 729). Shortly after, however, when Clarissa flees, his revenge-lust becomes ascendant at her defiance and he vows “Here Mr Lovelace lays himself under a curse, too shocking to be repeated, if he revenge not himself upon the lady, should he once more get into her hands (letter 228, p. 741).

    Richardson, I must say, does an excellent job of rendering this creepy back and forth, so much so that being in Lovelace’s mind is at times so repellant to me that they’re difficult to get through.


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