Lovelace’s Need for Attention and Confirmation of His Identity. Kendra Sheehan.

In his enactment of the relation between writing and identity, Lovelace differs from Clarissa, because Lovelace is already very sure of who he is. Nevertheless, Lovelace still needs someone to verify and give him attention—someone to confirm that he is indeed very clever. There are also moments when Lovelace is not necessarily as sure of himself as he pretends because, at least once in every letter to Belford, he notes the effects that Clarissa has on him and questions his own motives. He even admonishes Belford for complimenting and commending Clarissa by asking Belford if he is “able to say half the things in her praise, that [Lovelace has] said, and [is] continually saying or writing” (Letter 191, Richardson, 1748/1985, p. 608).

Lovelace writes to solidify who he thinks he is, and he thinks rather highly of himself. While Belford does not always respond to Lovelace’s letters, Lovelace writes numerous letters anyway and seems to be looking for some confirmation from Belford. His questions and oft repeated phrases to Belford also suggest that if he can put it into writing it will be true. Lovelace has also mastered body language and can even change his physical performance to manipulate others. These textual and physical metamorphoses suggest that Lovelace is so used to changing his identity and mannerisms that he does not know how to act authentically. Even when Lovelace tries to write a libertine self, he still depends on previous definitions of libertinism and borrows vocabulary from literary predecessors to assert his originality and methods (Turner, 1989, p. 75).

In Letter 191, Lovelace reminds Belford that he only would know nothing of his contrivances, “had I not communicated them to thee” (Richardson, 1748/1985, p. 609). He has to write his actions and thoughts down in order for someone else to legitimize and congratulate him on his cleverness, or at least acknowledge it. For instance, his plans to test Clarissa’s virtue suggest that he not only thinks that it is his place to test her, but also that he is the only one to test the virtue of all women.

A final interesting thing about Lovelace’s writing is that later letters are more emotional than his early composed and confident ones. Once he imprisons Clarissa, his letters change as he becomes first impressed with her and then later an emotional wreck after she leaves him and then dies. Nevertheless, he can claim that “‘tis impossible that Miss Harlowe should have ever suffered as thou hast made me suffer, and as I now suffer!” (Letter 335, Richardson, 1748/1985, p. 1069). Everything in Lovelace’s life is about him, even when someone else is suffering.