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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
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.
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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Clarissa!