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Lovelace complains of Clarissa’s chilly attitude toward
him. Anna has repeatedly advised Clarissa to act more warmly toward
Lovelace, for diplomacy’s sake, but Clarissa says his behavior forces
her to keep him at a distance. Cousin Morden writes to Clarissa.
He advocates for Solmes, stressing the importance of morality in
a husband and warning her about the wicked sensuousness and profligacy
of the libertine character, apparently having firsthand knowledge
of it. Clarissa bemoans her lot and suggests that Anna ask Hickman
to intercede for her with her uncle. She will not take any step
until she hears from him.
In order to convince Clarissa that negotiations on a house
are indeed underway, Lovelace assigns a friend of his, “Captain
Mennell,” to play the part of house broker. Mennell meets Clarissa
and has qualms about deceiving her, but Lovelace convinces him to
continue. Lovelace is nervous about Clarissa’s correspondence with Anna
and wishes he could see the letters. One evening Clarissa drops
a letter without noticing, and Lovelace sneakily picks it up. She
catches him trying to hide it, seizes it back, and locks herself
in her room. She resolves to leave Lovelace if she gets any encouragement
from her uncle. Anna approves and comforts Clarissa by saying her
story will be not only a warning but an example to women who hear
Anna writes to Mrs. Norton and asks her to intervene with
Mrs. Harlowe. Norton replies that as much as Mrs. Harlowe’s heart bleeds,
she can do nothing for Clarissa. The request to Uncle Harlowe also
fails. Anna advises Clarissa to marry Lovelace as quickly as she
can. Clarissa agrees to see him the following morning. She tells
him that her application to her family has failed. Lovelace is offended
that she is willing to give him up and he frightens her with a violent
declaration that she must be his. He apologizes and offers to draw
up marriage settlements. Clarissa conveys these to Anna for consideration.
They are very generous, but the conclusion is cold and makes no
mention of a wedding day. Lovelace later presses for an immediate
wedding but at the same time suggests reasons for delay. They will
wait for the approval of Lord M., Lovelace’s uncle.
As usual, Lovelace exults in his cruelty but mentions
that he has been sincerely affected by Clarissa’s virtue and distress.
Belford criticizes Lovelace’s lack of feeling and respect for virtue.
Lord M. writes to Belford, asking him to persuade Lovelace to marry
Clarissa. Lovelace ridicules Belford’s arguments and ridicules Lord
M. for his use of proverbs.
Belford tells Lovelace about the sad situation of their
friend Belton: Belton is very ill and has just found out that his
longtime mistress has been diverting all of his money to a lover
for many years. Belton cannot get rid of her, because she has passed
for his wife for a long time, and he does not know what to do about
the two boys he had thought were his sons. Belford reflects that
“keeping” a mistress is a worse idea than marrying one, because
the mistress has no good reason to be faithful, with neither a reputation
to lose nor legal consequences to fear. Lovelace refuses to take
a lesson from this. He decides to get Clarissa to a play so Dorcas
can search for her letters.
Anna has formed a plan with a trader named Mrs. Townsend
to free and hide Clarissa. Anna is convinced that the Singleton
plot is still in effect because a mysterious sailor has been hanging
Uncle Antony has proposed to Mrs. Howe, in a pompous,
less-than-romantic letter. He sells himself on his health, money,
lack of children, and collection of knickknacks; he commends Mrs.
Howe on her frugality, fortune, and the fact that she has only one
child (whom he hopes will not live with them). He notes that he
is “none of your Lovelaces,” in that he is making his proposals
as plain and direct as possible. After running the matter by Anna
and getting only mockery for her pains, Mrs. Howe writes an equally
ludicrous refusal but confesses a desire to see the knickknacks.
Dorcas has found and transcribed several of Anna’s letters.
Lovelace reads them and is enraged by Anna’s insulting words about
him. He sees that Anna has influenced Clarissa against him and finds
out about the Townsend plot. Lovelace vows revenge on both girls. Egged
on by the women of the house, Lovelace resolves to take more liberties
with Clarissa. He treats her with enough anger and ardor to frighten
her but is held back by his admiration of her. He decides he will
have to surprise her at night. Clarissa had written a positive answer
to his settlements, but she tears it in half when she gets back to
her room. Lovelace reads this letter after Dorcas transcribes it and
is softened by its display of generosity and virtue.
Lovelace makes an excuse to give up on the house plot
when Mennell refuses to deceive Clarissa any longer. A strange man
comes to the neighborhood, inquiring about Clarissa and Lovelace.
Letters from Charlotte Montague and Lord M. pacify Clarissa. Lovelace decides
to make himself sick in order to test Clarissa’s love. He takes ipecacuanha
to make himself vomit, puts pig’s blood in the vomit, and instructs
the women of the house to act as though the illness were very grave.
Clarissa shows her love with her concern and tears; Lovelace is
charmed. Clarissa knows that she has been “detected” and is confused
about her position.
The man who has been hanging about is identified as Captain Tomlinson.
He explains that he has been sent by Uncle Harlowe to ask whether
Clarissa is married to Lovelace. If she is, Uncle Harlowe is ready
to start a process to welcome Clarissa back to the family. Lovelace
lets on that they are married, intending to get Clarissa to sign
a note with her married name. The more he can get Clarissa to go
along with this lie, the less leverage she will have in making him marry
her and the more difficult it will be to run away.
Clarissa insists on telling Tomlinson the truth about
her marital status. Lovelace explains that they have not yet married
because Clarissa awaits reconciliation with her family, but he offers
the settlements as evidence that the formalities have been put in
progress. Tomlinson seems won over and professes his desire to help
Clarissa be reunited with her family. Lovelace agrees to cooperate
in the reconciliation. Clarissa is overjoyed at the prospect. She
prophecies that her family will become warmer and warmer to Lovelace
until they wonder how they could ever have opposed him. Lovelace
is genuinely affected by her words and her happiness. He describes
the “odd sensation” of being moved to actual tears. But in the next
letter he confesses to Belford that Tomlinson is actually his friend Patrick
McDonald. Lovelace has set up this trick to get Clarissa’s guard
down, but he also says that he is being kind by giving her some
real joy before her inevitable defeat.
Lovelace often says that revenge and love are his two
dominant passions, and the complexity of his contrivances can be
seen as a way of keeping them in balance—that is, of keeping open
the possibility of happy marriage as well as of avoiding it and
“keeping” Clarissa as a mistress. Lovelace’s “ipecacuanha plot”
suggests that Clarissa can win him over with kindness, although
Clarissa herself is surprised that she does feel tender toward him.
However, she is also ashamed that she lets Lovelace see her feelings:
she doesn’t seem to recognize the advantage that this discovery
has gained for her. Nevertheless, things go on better between them
after this incident, and the preparations for marriage appear to
be moving forward, although, of course, Lovelace always leaves himself
Anna plays a complicated role in the plot: she is not
simply Clarissa’s foil, who by being bad shows off the goodness
of the protagonist. In some ways she seems wiser than Clarissa,
and she is certainly better at navigating the world they live in.
However, she does not always represent a wiser course. Her advice
often seems good: she encourages Clarissa to stand up to her family
when they are mistreating her and counsels a diplomatic approach
However, it is Anna’s angry letters that halt what had
looked like positive progress, and they renew Lovelace’s desire
for revenge. Anna’s treatment of her mother and of Hickman is not
presented as a model of good behavior; rather, her behavior seems
intended to demonstrate by contrast the superiority of Clarissa’s
policy of showing respect and kindness. Clarissa rarely takes Anna’s
advice, generally because it would require her to compromise a principle.
If she showed kindness to Lovelace, for example, he might be won
over and stop contriving against her, but this would mean seeming
to condone Lovelace’s bad behavior and possibly being dishonest
as well. Clarissa holds on to her purity of morals, but this keeps
her from getting out of trouble.
The interaction between Mrs. Howe and Antony Harlowe is comic,
and it acts as a foil to the Clarissa-Lovelace relationship. Mrs.
Howe is a rather silly, somewhat avaricious woman, who was a shrewish
wife while her husband lived. Antony is a stingy, self-important
old bachelor. He prides himself on being “none of your Lovelaces”
because he is explicit about his intentions, and he puts them in
writing to show that he intends to carry them through. Lovelace’s
reputation as an equivocator seems to be strong enough that his
name alone denotes the idea. Lovelace is very good at making promises
and then getting out of them: in this way, Antony seems to be giving
us a model of the right way to court a woman. But we cannot take
him seriously, as his letter to Mrs. Howe is pompous, silly, and
completely unromantic, and it seems clear that he wants to marry
her because it happens to be convenient, not out of any warm affection.
Mrs. Howe, too, fails to give us a good model for how to react to
a proposal. She refuses, of course; it was something of a joke in
the eighteenth century that a woman always had to refuse her suitor
at least twice before she accepted. But her refusal is not graceful
or dignified; it is just as silly as Antony’s letter.
Belton’s story is significant in two ways: it serves as
a lesson about the tragic consequences of rakish behavior and as
a reflection of the skewed gender politics of his society. In its
simplest interpretation, Belton’s demise is a warning to rakes that,
while the libertine life might be fun for a few years, it will end
in misery. It also gives Belford a chance to moralize on the ways
in which honesty and marriage are preferable to crime and “keeping.”
In addition to its transparent moral, the story re-emphasizes how
a woman’s ruined reputation in society affects her relationship
to the world around her. If Belton had married Thomasine, she would
have had legal incentives to remain faithful, and she would also
presumably have maintained her virtue. A woman who is ruined and
unmarried has nothing, neither law nor reputation nor morality,
to rein her in. A man who does not “do justice” to his lover can
expect a bad end not only because it seems morally right but because
his mistreatment enables and even trains his mistress to mistreat
him in return.
In this society, a woman’s morality is profoundly constrained:
it is first and foremost defined by sex, and her virginity is constantly under
siege by stronger and more experienced men. Virginity is equated
with virtue, and there is an implication repeated throughout the
novel that a woman who is seduced must have been morally corrupt
all along. This exempts men from taking accountability for their
manipulative, deceitful behavior, and it also rules out any possibility
of a woman, especially a fallen woman, having any moral strength
of her own. Clarissa’s virtue is what protects her from Lovelace,
and, if he succeeds in seducing or raping her, he will conclude
that there is no such thing as incorruptible virtue in women—that
no woman is inviolably chaste, and so no woman is truly moral. The
injustice of his philosophy (and of this society at large) is exemplified
by the Tomlinson plot, which allows Lovelace to manipulate Clarissa’s
attachment to her family, one of her most admirable qualities, to
gain even more power over her and carry out his plan to ruin her.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Clarissa!