Lovelace and power–questioning the “test” for Clarissa (L201)

A strange apprehensive creature! Her terror is too great for the occasion. Evils are often greater in apprehension than in reality. Hast thou never observed, that the terrors of a bird caught, and actually in the hand, bear no comparison to what we might have supposed those terrors would be, were we to have formed a judgment of the same bird by its shyness before it was taken?
Dear creature!—Did she never romp? Did she never, from girlhood to now, hoyden? The innocent kinds of freedom taken and allowed on these occasions, would have familiarized her to greater. Sacrilege but to touch the hem of her garment!—Excess of delicacy!—O the consecrated beauty! How can she think to be a wife?
But how do I know till I try, whether she may not by a less alarming treatment be prevailed upon, or whether [day, I have done with thee!] she may not yield to nightly surprises? This is still the burden of my song, I can marry her when I will. And if I do, after prevailing (whether by surprise, or by reluctant consent) whom but myself shall I have injured?
O Mr. Lovelace, we have been long enough together to be tired of each other’s humours and ways; ways and humours so different, that perhaps you ought to dislike me, as much as I do you.—I think, I think, that I cannot make an answerable return to the value you profess for me. My temper is utterly ruined. You have given me an ill opinion of all mankind; of yourself in particular: and withal so bad a one of myself, that I shall never be able to look up, having utterly and for ever lost all that self-complacency, and conscious pride, which are so necessary to carry a woman through this life with tolerable satisfaction to herself.
She paused. I was silent. By my soul, thought I, this sweet creature will at last undo me!
She proceeded: What now remains, but that you pronounce me free of all obligation to you? and that you hinder me not from pursuing the destiny that shall be allotted me?
Again she paused. I was still silent; meditating whether to renounce all further designs upon her; whether I had not received sufficient evidence of a virtue, and of a greatness of soul, that could not be questioned or impeached.
She went on: Propitious to me be your silence, Mr. Lovelace!—Tell me, that I am free of all obligation to you. You know, I never made you promises. You know, that you are not under any to me.—My broken fortunes I matter not—
She was proceeding—My dearest life, said I, I have been all this time, though you fill me with doubts of your favour, busy in the nuptial preparations. I am actually in treaty for equipage.
Equipage, Sir!—Trappings, tinsel!—What is equipage; what is life; what is any thing; to a creature sunk so low as I am in my own opinion!— Labouring under a father’s curse!—Unable to look backward without self- reproach, or forward without terror!—These reflections strengthened by every cross accident!—And what but cross accidents befall me!—All my darling schemes dashed in pieces, all my hopes at an end; deny me not the liberty to refuge myself in some obscure corner, where neither the enemies you have made me, nor the few friends you have left me, may ever hear of the supposed rash-one, till those happy moments are at hand, which shall expiate for all!
I had not a word to say for myself. Such a war in my mind had I never known. Gratitude, and admiration of the excellent creature before me, combating with villanous habit, with resolutions so premeditatedly made, and with view so much gloried in!—An hundred new contrivances in my head, and in my heart, that to be honest, as it is called, must all be given up, by a heart delighting in intrigue and difficulty—Miss Howe’s virulences endeavoured to be recollected—yet recollection refusing to bring them forward with the requisite efficacy—I had certainly been a lost man, had not Dorcas come seasonably in with a letter.—On the superscription written—Be pleased, Sir, to open it now.

5 thoughts on “Lovelace and power–questioning the “test” for Clarissa (L201)

  1. Keri Mathis

    In this letter, we see Lovelace attempting to once again gain control of Clarissa, as he claims that he can marry her whenever he wishes (can he really?). Lovelace's remarks here again invite analyses of the power relationship between these two characters and whether or not Clarissa actually has agency in this relationship at all.In addition, at the end of this excerpt, we see Lovelace struggling quite a bit with his decision-making, which I found to be quite different from what we have seen from Lovelace in previous letters. He even questions here whether or not he has tested Clarissa enough already. What can we make of these deliberations? What do they say about Lovelace's character, and in what ways has his rhetoric and ability to reason changed from the earlier episodes where he immediately responded in rhetorically effective ways? Why do you think these transformations have occurred?

  2. Debra

    I found the remark "Did she never romp? Did she never, from girlhood to now, hoyden?" interesting. I think there is something unnatural about Clarissa, which Lovelace partially recognizes. "Sacrilege but to touch the hem of her garment!—Excess of delicacy!—O the consecrated beauty! How can she think to be a wife? That actually seems a real question: how can someone like Clarissa who is so "delicate" or who is so conscious of her self, her body, ever engage in sexual intercourse? Even if Lovelace didn't put her through all these trials, it is difficult to imagine their marriage, especially their physical relations. I think in his own odd way, Lovelace recognizes something about Clarissa. Clarissa must be completely perfect, completely closed off. I think that she lacks "agency" or "autonomy" in so many aspects of her life, the only place she might have control is her physical body. And that suggests Clarissa may have been not a very good wife to Lovelace, just as he would have been a wretched husband for her.

  3. Rachel Gramer

    I think Lovelace still seems committed to denigrating Clarissa both for his own pride or reputation and for the challenge of getting (read: destroying the virginity and happiness of) Clarissa as the "ungettable get." As Debra mentions, Lovelace sees this in Clarissa, as Anna does, that she is idealized, idolized, and seems to hold herself, physically and textually, as separate from others, whether Lovelace or her own family. (Of course, as she is violated in her letters and privacy, so too is she violated physically in Volume 5, and Clarissa as idol falls–a hard fall that she sees most denigrating of all.) Of course Clarissa would not make Lovelace a suitable wife–which I think they both realize–but their responses to this situation are different. Clarissa wants out; Lovelace still wants what he came for.And yet, for all their differences in reactions, there is something strikingly similar in their intelligence, their perception of the other, and their pride. Clarissa writes of hers: "conscious pride…so necessary to carry a woman through this life with tolerable satisfaction to herself"I think the word "satisfaction" is important here, in that they each know they would not satisfy the other in marriage. But Lovelace still aims for temporary conquest, not satisfaction in the more permanent sense that Clarissa might believe in (aligning with her conception of herself as a permanent self)–and so conquest it is.

  4. Keri Mathis

    I am really drawn to what you both reference here in regard to Clarissa taking control of her body (since that is essentially all she has left to control at this point) and this notion that she tries to hold herself “physically and textually, as separate from others,” as Rachel mentioned. This idea that there is something different or unnatural about Clarissa certainly seems to be one justification for Lovelace's relentless commitment to gaining control over her. Imagining their married life together also adds another layer to the analysis that enables us to characterize the Clarissa and Lovelace and their relationship with one another in a more “real” way, I think.

  5. Jessica

    I agree with the characterizations of Clarissa as “unnatural” or “unreal.” This is at least how others characterize her in the novel, and perhaps to some extent how Richardson wants us to see her. At this relatively early point in the novel, Lovelace's assertions about having Clarissa have an almost foreboding feel. The threat to her and to her body are very real, but it's her angelic nature and Lovelace's sense of her as unnatural that lead him to want to dominate her because, in Rachel's terms, she's the “ungettable get.”

    I'm wondering if the juxtaposition of Clarissa as “angelic,” other-worldly, with Lovelace's insistence on having her, is meant to convey a sort of impossibility. Perhaps literary scholars have drawn this sort of comparison, but Lovelace's relentless drive to have Clarissa despite the knowledge (that has to be in his head somewhere) that he could never really have her reflects something like Ahab and the white whale. The situation makes readers ask, “What are you *really* looking for? What are you *really* wanting?”

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