Lovelace gains access to Clarissa’s letters (L198)

I am too much disturbed in my mind to think of any thing but revenge; or I did intend to give thee an account of Miss Harlowe’s observations on the play. Miss Harlowe’s I say. Thou knowest that I hate the name of Harlowe; and I am exceedingly out of humour with her, and with her saucy friend.
What’s the matter now? thou’lt ask.
Matter enough; for while we were at the play, Dorcas, who had her orders, and a key to her lady’s chamber, as well as a master-key to her drawers and mahogany chest, closet-key and all, found means to come at some of Miss Howe’s last-written letters. The vigilant wench was directed to them by seeing her lady take a letter out of her stays, and put it to the others, before she went out with me—afraid, as the women upbraidingly tell me, that I should find it there.
Dorcas no sooner found them, than she assembled three ready writers of the non-apparents; and Sally, and she, and they employed themselves with the utmost diligence, in making extracts, according to former directions, from these cursed letters, for my use. Cursed, may I well call them— Such abuses!—Such virulence!—O this little fury Miss Howe!—Well might her saucy friend (who has been equally free with me, or the occasion could not have been given) be so violent as she lately was, at my endeavouring to come at one of these letters.
I was sure, that this fair-one, at so early an age, with a constitution so firm, health so blooming, eyes so sparkling, expectations therefore so lively, and hope so predominating, could not be absolutely, and from her own vigilance, so guarded, and so apprehensive, as I have found her to be.
Sparkling eyes, Jack, when the poetical tribe have said all they can for them, are an infallible sign of a rogue, or room for a rogue, in the heart.
Thou mayest go on with thy preachments, and Lord M. with his wisdom of nations, I am now more assured of her than ever. And now my revenge is up, and joined with my love, all resistance must fall before it. And most solemnly do I swear, that Miss Howe shall come in for her snack.
And here, just now, is another letter brought from the same little virulent devil. I hope to procure scripts from that too, very speedily, if it be put to the test; for the saucy fair-one is resolved to go to church this morning; no so much from a spirit of devotion, I have reason to think, as to try whether she can go out without check, controul, or my attention. 
I shall make great use of this letter. From Miss Howe’s hints of what passed between her uncle Harlowe and Hickman, [it must be Hickman,] I can give room for my invention to play; for she tells her, that ‘she will not reveal all.’ I must endeavour to come at this letter myself. I must have the very words: extracts will not do. This letter, when I have it, must be my compass to steer by. 
The fire of friendship then blazes and crackles. I never before imagined that so fervent a friendship could subsist between two sister-beauties, both toasts. But even here it may be inflamed by opposition, and by that contradiction which gives vigour to female spirits of a warm and romantic turn.
She raves about ‘coming up, if by doing so she could prevent so noble a creature from stooping too low, or save her from ruin.’—One reed to support another! I think I will contrive to bring her up.
How comes it to pass, that I cannot help being pleased with this virago’s spirit, though I suffer by it? Had I her but here, I’d engage, in a week’s time, to teach her submission without reserve. What pleasure should I have in breaking such a spirit! I should wish for her but for one month, I think. She would be too tame and spiritless for me after that. How sweetly pretty to see the two lovely friends, when humbled and tame, both sitting in the darkest corner of a room, arm in arm, weeping and sobbing for each other!—and I their emperor, their then acknowledged emperor, reclined at my ease in the same room, uncertain to which I should first, grand signor like, throw out my handkerchief!

6 thoughts on “Lovelace gains access to Clarissa’s letters (L198)

  1. Keri Mathis

    This excerpt contains several points that could lead to a compelling discussion. First, we see Lovelace has finally acquired access to Clarissa's letters; on this note, the letter shows interesting juxtapositions of the body and the letter (revisit Kvande). Furthermore, we see that Lovelace's desire for revenge has been rekindled primarily because of what he read in Anna's letters. In the highlighted portion at the end of this excerpt, we see more of Lovelace's violent tendencies and the extent of his desire for revenge against these two women. In your examination of this letter, I invite you to interrogate these points further: in what ways does Lovelace's acquisition of Anna's letters show the relationship between body and letter, as discussed in the Kvande piece? How might this transgression of privacy further isolate Clarissa and stifle her own voice and agency in the novel? How might we understand Lovelace's desire for revenge in the shaping of his identity?

  2. Megan

    Lovelace is the one making the leap from the written word to the body here. He is so upset by what Anna has written that he wants to exact revenge physically against both women. He starts by immediately wanting to continue going through Clarissa's things to find all of the letters. He gets upset when he realizes that he can only find letters written after April 27th, and he wants to find the ones written earlier. But as Lovelace's letter continues, he speaks of more physical retribution, specifically of subduing both Clarissa and Anna.

  3. Debra

    Lovelace is hoist on his own petard. He has continued his "tests" of Clarissa by objectifying her: his charmer, the fair one, etc. He has never seriously considered her feelings or even tried to enter into her point of view. Now he discovers that, surprise!. she is talking about him to her friend and that her friend is talking back. He puts himself in this position by reading what he should not read. And he is angry but can't explain why. I think his anger here, more than many other wretched things he has done, outlines his real limitation: he never understands Clarissa as a real person with real feelings and with real rights.

  4. Jessica

    "I must endeavour to come at this letter myself. I must have the very words: extracts will not do. This letter, when I have it, must be my compass to steer by."This passage reiterates what gaining access to Clarissa's and Anna's letters has always meant to Lovelace. He wants complete, unmediated access to Clarissa's private life (which, I think/wonder, Lovelace believes is directly represented in the two women's correspondence). Actually, he doesn't just "want" this access…his plans rely on it completely. The letter is a "compass," reliably steering and guiding. Yet he managed early on to make schemes without seeing her letters – what was his "compass" then? He's also insistent about having whole letters: "I must have the very words: extracts will not do." There is something about this phrase, "the very words." He means the entire or whole letter, but he elevates it with the term "very words." Seems like a synonym for the "truth." He doesn't want partial information (though we know all the letters, all writing, are partial). He wants what he sees as truth directly represented in writing.

  5. Rachel Gramer

    I thought this particular quote was telling, too, Jessica. Partly for its irony, if he indeed does think the "very words" hold Truth, since he doesn't seem to have One Truth or believe in such romantic notions of self. And partly for how I see this notion of language and truth relating to the interweaving of his agency with hers.Lovelace seems to need the "very words" from Clarissa–which we have established are often her only sense of individual agency or expression in the novel–in order to fuel his own revenge. In essence, he wants the "actual" evidence of her seeming agency in order to heighten his own agency in taking hers away.This agency battle between the two of them gets quite complex in Volume 5, and unfortunately, Clarissa's characterization of marriage–that men rise in reputation and independence while women's voice and ability to act wanes–seems to be enacted here even though they are not legally married.

  6. Keri Mathis

    All of the comments here reference the physicality and “realness” of Clarissa, Anna, and the evidence represented in the letters, making for a compelling discussion. I thought Megan's reference to Lovelace's desire to enact physical violence on both Clarissa and Anna as a result of these letters added an interesting layer to the body/letter paradigm that we have been referencing. In this case, the letter doesn't just represent the bodies of Clarissa and Anna, but the letter also serves as the catalyst for (violent) physical desires to become realized. Debra's comments about the “realness” of the communication between the women is also important here because it seems that Lovelace is (shockingly) just now discovering that Clarissa has been communicating her experience to Anna.

    Similarly, Jessica and Rachel's comments on the “very words” included in the letters is worth noting because to Lovelace, these words do represent the Truth and actual, real evidence that he can use in order to enact revenge and give him reason to take the last bit of agency Clarissa seems to have away from her. In other words, this evidence gives him reason to seek more control over her through intercepting her letters and seeing her “whole mind” as Anna has seen.

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