Lovelace steals Clarissa’s unsent letter (L202)

The original of this charming paper, as Dorcas tells me, was torn almost in two. In one of her pets, I suppose! What business have the sex, whose principal glory is meekness, and patience, and resignation, to be in a passion, I trow?—Will not she who allows herself such liberties as a maiden take greater when married?
And a wife to be in a passion!—Let me tell the ladies, it is an impudent thing, begging their pardon, and as imprudent as impudent, for a wife to be in a passion, if she mean not eternal separation, or wicked defiance, by it: For is it not rejecting at once all that expostulatory meekness, and gentle reasoning, mingled with sighs as gentle, and graced with bent knees, supplicating hands, and eyes lifted up to your imperial countenance, just running over, that you should make a reconciliation speedy, and as lasting as speedy? Even suppose the husband is in the wrong, will not this being so give the greater force to her expostulation?
Now I think of it, a man should be in the wrong now-and-then, to make his wife shine. Miss Howe tells my charmer, that adversity is her shining- time. ‘Tis a generous thing in a man to make his wife shine at his own expense: to give her leave to triumph over him by patient reasoning: for were he to be too imperial to acknowledge his fault on the spot, she will find the benefit of her duty and submission in future, and in the high opinion he will conceive of her prudence and obligingness—and so, by degrees, she will become her master’s master.
But for a wife to come up with kemboed arm, the other hand thrown out, perhaps with a pointing finger—Look ye here, Sir!—Take notice!—If you are wrong, I’ll be wrong!—If you are in a passion, I’ll be in a passion! —Rebuff, for rebuff, Sir!—If you fly, I’ll tear!—If you swear, I’ll curse!—And the same room, and the same bed, shall not hold us, Sir!- For, remember, I am married, Sir!—I am a wife, Sir!—You can’t help yourself, Sir!—Your honour, as well as your peace, is in my keeping! And, if you like not this treatment, you may have worse, Sir!
Ah! Jack! Jack! What man, who has observed these things, either implied or expressed, in other families, would wish to be a husband!
Dorcas found this paper in one of the drawers of her lady’s dressing- table. She was reperusing it, as she supposes, when the honest wench carried my message to desire her to favour me at the tea-table; for she saw her pop a paper into the drawer as she came in; and there, on her mistress’s going to meet me in the dining-room, she found it; and to be this.
But I had better not to have had a copy of it, as far as I know: for, determined as I was before upon my operations, it instantly turned all my resolutions in her favour. Yet I would give something to be convinced that she did not pop it into her drawer before the wench, in order for me to see it; and perhaps (if I were to take notice of it) to discover whether Dorcas, according to Miss Howe’s advice, were most my friend, or her’s.
The very suspicion of this will do her no good: for I cannot bear to be artfully dealt with. People love to enjoy their own peculiar talents in monopoly, as arguments against me in her behalf. But I know every tittle thou canst say upon it. Spare therefore thy wambling nonsense, I desire thee; and leave this sweet excellence and me to our fate: that will determine for us, as it shall please itself: for as Cowley says,
        An unseen hand makes all our moves:
        And some are great, and some are small;
      Some climb to good, some from great fortunes fall:
        Some wise men, and some fools we call:
      Figures, alas! of speech!—For destiny plays us all.
But, after all, I am sorry, almost sorry (for how shall I do to be quite sorry, when it is not given to me to be so?) that I cannot, until I have made further trials, resolve upon wedlock.
I have just read over again this intended answer to my proposals: and how I adore her for it!
But yet; another yet!—She has not given it or sent it to me.—It is not therefore her answer. It is not written for me, though to me.
Nay, she has not intended to send it to me: she has even torn it, perhaps with indignation, as thinking it too good for me. By this action she absolutely retracts it. Why then does my foolish fondness seek to establish for her the same merit in my heart, as if she avowed it? Pr’ythee, dear Belford, once more, leave us to our fate; and do not thou interpose with thy nonsense, to weaken a spirit already too squeamish, and strengthen a conscience that has declared itself of her party.

4 thoughts on “Lovelace steals Clarissa’s unsent letter (L202)

  1. Keri Mathis

    This letter introduces a layer of letter-writing we have yet to see in the novel — reading and interpreting letters that were not willingly given to the recipient. We see Lovelace grappling with this issue toward the end of this excerpt, as he attempts to understand whether or not Clarissa still had the same intentions included in the draft of her letter to him. Furthermore, we see Lovelace referencing Anna's letter (another letter he obtained without permission) in this excerpt. What can we make of the inclusion of Anna's commentary? How do these references to Anna's letters influence the relationship between Clarissa and Lovelace? In what ways does having this secret knowledge complicate Lovelace's intentions and/or highlight aspects of his identity we have yet to see?

  2. Kendra

    This secret knowledge that Lovelace possesses makes him all the more dangerous to Clarissa. He knows her at this point all but physically. Lovelace is now privy to her thoughts and feelings regarding him and her situation. The references to the letters influence the relationship between Clarissa and Lovelace because it shows that Lovelace almost has complete control of Clarissa. The letters allow him to know what she is thinking and give him time to think of a way to respond or act accordingly to change her opinion of him and to win her over. It also shows that Clarissa has lost what little agency she had (her own thoughts) and that Lovelace is close to having all of her.

  3. Debra

    I think his reading her letters is a despicable act, but sort of understandable. She has put him off, simply refusing to engage with him, and not allowing him any contact, physcial or intellectual, with her. He wants to get a fix on her. She is a kind of tabula rasa to him; the letters offer him some sense of who she is.I also thought the reference to tearing the letter in two was interesting. It brings up again the materiality of the letters.

  4. Keri Mathis

    What I am gathering from these comments from Kendra and Debra is that this act is both dangerous and understandable. Kendra suggests that Lovelace's acquiring the letters demonstrates complete control over Clarissa, and I wholeheartedly agree. Obtaining the letters certainly seems to represent Lovelace acquiring Clarissa's body, her story, and consequently her ability to construct her identity for herself.

    Debra's comment that this act is understandable is also compelling because we see Lovelace growing so desperate as he as so nearly lost his “subject” that he must stoop to these levels to repossess her. Calling Clarissa a “tabula rasa” here was also very intriguing because I can certainly see how Clarissa has become a blank slate for Lovelace to construct both his own identity and Clarissa's (or at least the image of Clarissa that Lovelace desperately desires).

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