Clarissa

by: Samuel Richardson

Important Quotations Explained

5
Let me go, said she: I am but a woman—but a weak woman—but my life is in my own power, though my own person is not—I will not be thus constrained.

This is a speech of Clarissa’s, reported by Lovelace, delivered in the interval between the rape and her escape. It defines both the restrictions placed on women and their power that nonetheless remains inalienable. The constraint Clarissa refers to is a literal one: Lovelace is embracing her in such a way that she cannot move from her chair. It is also a metonym for the constraint that prevents Clarissa from leaving Mrs. Sinclair’s house: the women keep a close watch on her and keep the doors locked. Her body is therefore not in her power except at the mercy of Lovelace. These constraints also apply to all women of this society, who are bound by moral tradition to their families, to their husbands, and to legal and social systems that offer them no control over their fates.

What cannot be taken away from Clarissa is her life; when she is truly desperate, fearing that Lovelace will rape her again, she raises a penknife to kill herself, which frightens him into backing off. Her death can be seen as Clarissa’s exercise of the only power that she possesses, despite her insistence that although she wants to die she is not killing herself intentionally.