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Clarissa

Samuel Richardson

Letters 243–273

Letters 215–242

Letters 274–332

Summary

Tomlinson arrives at Mrs. Moore’s. He continues to pretend that Clarissa’s family is ready for a reconciliation if she is married to Lovelace and encourages her to forgive him for their sake. Although he plays his part well, Tomlinson is moved to tears by Clarissa’s grief. He asks Lovelace whether he has any thoughts of marrying Clarissa. Lovelace says that he will, if she passes what he calls the final test; that is, she must successfully resist his rape attempt. Clarissa tells him she will wait for advice from Anna before she makes any decision and insists that whatever happens she will not return to Mrs. Sinclair’s. Lovelace resolves to intercept the letter but cannot think how he will be able to do it.

The letter comes while Clarissa is at church. Lovelace convinces Widow Bevis to pretend she is Clarissa so the messenger will deliver it to her. In it Anna expresses surprise that Clarissa would think of marrying Lovelace after the information Anna has sent. She says that Mrs. Townsend, in Anna’s plot to rescue Clarissa, will arrive at Mrs. Moore’s the following Wednesday or Thursday. Once again, Anna’s letter stirs up Lovelace’s desire for revenge.

The marriage license is finally obtained. Lovelace sends a copy to Belford with sarcastic annotations, mocking its formality and pointing out all the loopholes left by its legalistic circumlocutions.

Lovelace tells Clarissa that Lady Betty and Charlotte Montague are coming to visit her, to express their eagerness to welcome her into their family. Clarissa is pleased. Lovelace explains to Belford that these ladies are actually well-trained whores, dressed in borrowed finery. The ladies arrive and succeed in their masquerade. They claim to be so charmed by Clarissa that they will stay at Mrs. Moore’s for a week, but they say they have to go to town first. They trick Clarissa into going with them and Lovelace, and into going to Mrs. Sinclair’s to pack her things while they take care of their errand. Of course, the ladies never return to Mrs. Sinclair’s to take Clarissa back to Mrs. Moore’s. When Clarissa finds herself stranded there she is distraught with fear. She tells Lovelace that she will not stay the night there and begs that he get her a coach so she can go anywhere else. Lovelace makes various delays, and finally Mrs. Sinclair comes in, angry at Clarissa for being so disrespectful to her house. She is so monster-like that Clarissa is terrified, and the process of calming both her and Mrs. Sinclair lasts well into the night so that Clarissa cannot go anywhere.

The next morning Lovelace writes a very short letter: “And now, Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives.”

Belford writes back in extreme distress and calls Lovelace a “savage-hearted monster” and says that he is now convinced that there is an afterlife that will provide justice. Some of it seems to be affecting Lovelace, as he is depressed and regrets his action. He reveals that Clarissa had been drugged and was unconscious when he raped her. This, he says, was Mrs. Sinclair’s suggestion. Clarissa has lost her senses. She writes ten “papers,” fragments that she throws on the floor after finishing with them. They are bits of letters to Anna, Lovelace, her father, and her sister, as well as some laments about her state and metaphorical stories of ruin. The final paper is made up of fragments from different poems, written at crazy angles all over the page. She also writes a longer letter to Lovelace, in which she says that she has “wept out all [her] brain,” and concludes that he and his cohorts have driven her mad. She calls Lovelace Satan and begs him not to set Mrs. Sinclair on her again. Clarissa recognizes her own insanity and instructs Lovelace to take her to a madhouse.

Before long Clarissa is recovering. She makes several attempts to escape but is stopped by the women of the house. She has a conversation with Lovelace, in which she remains composed and stern, and this reduces him to a sniveling apology and declaration of regret. He begs her to marry him immediately, and she refuses.

Lovelace’s uncle, Lord M., is very ill and calls for Lovelace to come to him. Lovelace is torn, feeling that he cannot leave Clarissa but knowing that he has to go to his uncle if he expects to inherit his wealth and title. He continues to press for marriage, and she continues to refuse haughtily and tries to escape once again. Lovelace admits to Belford that his whole plan has failed. Because Clarissa was unconscious when he raped her, her will has not been violated. The rape has therefore failed to put her in his power.

The women of the house try to ingratiate themselves with Clarissa. Dorcas succeeds to some extent, and Clarissa writes her a note promising her money for assistance with her escape. Dorcas gives the note to Lovelace, who plans to use it as a provocation for a fight. He comes up with a new contrivance, using Dorcas to suggest a means of escape to Clarissa in which she will go outside and be picked up by a strange woman in a carriage. The lady will offer to take her to her house. In reality, the lady will be another whore, and once she has put Clarissa to bed Lovelace will surprise her there. The plan fails: Clarissa does not wholly trust Dorcas and is wary of the strange coincidence of the lady passing in the carriage. Lovelace is disappointed, but his plots are not at an end. He constructs another letter from Tomlinson, which recommends the following Thursday for the wedding because it is Uncle Harlowe’s birthday and he will come to town to celebrate it with Clarissa’s marriage. Clarissa still refuses.

Analysis

The rape is the central event of Clarissa, its climax and turning point, and Lovelace’s confession to Belford is described more succinctly than anything else in this generally prolix novel. The form of Lovelace’s letter creates a space of silence and opacity around the rape, a moment of inscrutability in an otherwise exhaustively detailed novel. The threat and buildup of this event generates most of the suspense in the first part of the novel, and the consequences of it determine the action of the last part. Critics have focused much attention on the rape, and important scholarly works on Clarissa have titles like “Rape and the Rise of the Novel” and The Rape of Clarissa. Lovelace’s single-line letter to Belford says only that the end of the road has been reached, and that Clarissa is alive. Belford’s response balances this terseness with an overflowing of anguish and condemnation, so the reader cannot be in any doubt of what has happened, and cannot infer from Lovelace’s brusque letter that the rape was of little importance. The fact of Clarissa’s unconsciousness, as well as her subsequent madness, amplifies the obscurity of the event. This thing that changes everything happens in silence and shadows.

Clarissa’s refusal to marry Lovelace after the rape proves that her principles have passed his “trial.” In his view, rapes are in some way, sometimes retroactively, consensual: women must relax their virtue either before, during, or after their rape. No matter how much Clarissa fights beforehand, Lovelace thinks she will be subdued forever once he has raped her and prove him triumphant. However, because she had been drugged, and therefore unable to either consent to or prevent her attack, Lovelace has failed to gain purchase on her: she cannot accept any responsibility or guilt for it, and she therefore leaves with her virtue and will intact.

Perhaps if Clarissa were conscious during the rape things would have been different: she might have blamed herself for failing to stop it and been content to take whatever options were open to her, whether they compromised her principles or not. Marriage to Lovelace is the only option that will save Clarissa from the stigma of a ruined woman: if she marries him, she will be free of the fallen-woman designation and would be reinstated into society and deemed an acceptable citizen. However, the marriage would retroactively legitimize the rape and, since she had been drugged and unconscious, Clarissa has no reason to feel shamed for her inability to prevent it. This concludes that all women whose rapists do not drug them must accept blame for the action taken against them, since they failed to prevent their own desecration. This is true in the cases of Sally Martin and Polly Horton, who are left with no option but to become prostitutes, and in the case of Miss Betterton, who died tragically during childbirth.

Clarissa is changed by the rape and, in a way, freed from the burdens that have plagued her throughout her relationship with Lovelace. For the first time, she sees through one of Lovelace’s contrivances and so disappoints his plan to punish her for trying to escape. Furthermore, she is now trying to escape. She had tried once before, when she went to Mrs. Moore’s, but for most of the time at Mrs. Sinclair’s, Clarissa had tried to save herself through channels other than escape. She’s further liberated in the fact that the rape removes any possibility that she can reclaim a normal life: she sees that she can no longer hope for her parents’ forgiveness and so is no longer susceptible to Lovelace’s arguments for marriage. Marriage is no longer a possibility for her, as she now sees Lovelace’s true nature and is no longer fooled by his promises of reform. Furthermore, Clarissa considers herself a ruined woman, and as such an unfit wife for anyone. As a result of all this, Clarissa is able to act in a stronger way than she ever has before. Her only goal is to escape from Lovelace, and she does not waver in her resistance of him or her search for a way out.

In the letters and notes Clarissa writes after the rape, called her “mad papers,” she provides an unprecedented glimpse of herself. The writing here starkly contrasts with her writing in the first half of the novel, which is defined by careful thought and unrelenting discipline. Interestingly, her view of the rape focuses not on Lovelace but on the terrifying, monstrous figure of Mrs. Sinclair; while this seems peculiar, it’s possible that Mrs. Sinclair is the last person Clarissa saw while conscious. However, at least one critic has speculated that Lovelace is actually impotent and that it is in fact Mrs. Sinclair who rapes Clarissa. It is less of a stretch to suggest that Mrs. Sinclair embodies the wickedness that pulls Lovelace away from his love for Clarissa and toward the ruin of them both.

In the mad papers, Clarissa condemns herself as well as Lovelace and regrets the pride that has led her to this fall. At the same time, her virtue remains intact, although her reason is not. Her writing is in a very moral strain, seeking out lessons for herself and for others in her own story: in Paper VII, she writes of the “pernicious caterpillar, that preyest upon the fair leaf of virgin fame,” denouncing Lovelace’s predatory behavior with a nature metaphor. Her attachments to her family and to Anna dominate these papers, along with her condemnation of Lovelace and her sense that her life is over. The most famous of the mad papers is the last, Paper X. This is made up entirely of quotations, taken from well-known English poets including Otway, Dryden, William Shakespeare, Abraham Cowley, and Samuel Garth. The page itself is striking because the scraps of poetry are scattered over it at different angles, which was a very difficult thing for a printer to do. In showcasing Clarissa’s madness, Richardson also showcases his ability as a printer.

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