[posted on AV’s behalf–DM]
Chaber, Lois A. “Christian Form and Anti-Feminism in Clarissa.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 3-4 (2003): 507 – 537.
In her strikingly reflective article, Chaber considers the complexity and ambiguity of Richardson’s representation of gender. She reviews the contemporary dogma of divine providence, bringing in Richardson’s own religious beliefs and correspondence to critique his gendered portrayal of Christian belief and worthiness. Particularly noting that, in this dogma, ‘suffering’ is understood as passively accepting the divine will of God and ‘acting’ is understood as working for one’s own aims rather than trusting to God, Chaber reveals Clarissa’s original sin as her defiance of her parents’ will and her temporary resolution to escape with Lovelace. Also employing an analysis of Richardson’s form as “an inversion of the classic tragic pyramid,” Chaber argues that Clarissa is ultimately redeemed when, faced with the imposed choice to either marry or prosecute Lovelace, she “does what she should have done earlier—nothing” (527, 532). Thus, while Richardson’s depiction of gender and credentials as a feminist or proto-feminist remain debated, Chaber argues that he puts forward a conflicted view of female agency that ultimately rewards Clarissa’s willingness to suffer and her devotion to the Christian path of ‘passivity’ with the highest of earthly esteem and heavenly reward.
Johnston, Elizabeth. “The Female Jailor and Female Rivalry in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.” Gender Forum, Köln Iss. 58 (2016): n.p.
Following a brief illumination of the history of Clarissa’s reception as a feminist, proto-feminist, or anti-feminist text, Johnston argues that it is not Clarissa herself, but rather the cast of villainous women around her, who best articulate the text’s negative view of women. While Clarissa is promoted as the feminine ideal, the women around her come up short—sometimes to disastrous effects, as Johnston demonstrates. She suggests that the novel indicts almost all of its women; from Clarissa’s own mother and sister, whose weakness and jealousy, respectively, alienate Clarissa from the family, to Mrs. Sinclaire and her sex workers, who resent and torture Clarissa, ultimately spurring Lovelace on to her rape. Though it is Lovelace who ultimately performs the act of rape and instigates Clarissa’s imprisonment, Johnston points out that he is allowed to be redeemed and humanized through the interiority and remorse of his letters; the Sinclaire house prostitutes have no such opportunity and, instead, confess their culpability and die unrepentant. Women—specifically fallen women—more specifically groups of women—are shown to be, as Johnston claims, “the root cause of all evil.” Women may be excellent, as Clarissa’s extreme virtue demonstrates, but they are more likely to be bad—and when they are bad, they are far, far worse than the men.