Clarissa’s big escape and Lovelace’s big loss (L228)

O for a curse to kill with!—Ruined! Undone! Outwitted, tricked!—Zounds, man, the lady has gone off!—Absolutely gone off! Escaped!—
Thou knowest not, nor canst conceive, the pangs that wring my heart!— What can I do!—Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord!
And thou, too, who hast endeavoured to weaken my hands, wilt but clap thy dragon’s wings at the tidings!
Yet I must write, or I shall go distracted! […]
How she could effect this her wicked escape is my astonishment; the whole sisterhood having charge of her;—for, as yet, I have not had patience enough to inquire into the particulars, nor to let a soul of them approach me.
Of this I am sure, or I had not brought her hither, there is not a creature belonging to this house, that could be corrupted either by virtue or remorse: the highest joy every infernal nymph, of this worse than infernal habitation, could have known, would have been to reduce this proud beauty to her own level. […]
I have heard her story!—Art, damn’d, confounded, wicked, unpardonable art, is a woman of her character—But show me a woman, and I’ll show thee a plotter!—This plaguy sex is art itself: every individual of it is a plotter by nature. […]
I have been traversing her room, meditating, or taking up every thing she but touched or used: the glass she dressed at, I was ready to break, for not giving me the personal image it was wont to reflect of her, whose idea is for ever present with me. I call for her, now in the tenderest, now in the most reproachful terms, as if within hearing: wanting her, I want my own soul, at least every thing dear to it. What a void in my heart! what a chillness in my blood, as if its circulation was arrested! From her room to my own; in the dining-room, and in and out of every place where I have seen the beloved of my heart, do I hurry; in none can I tarry; her lovely image in every one, in some lively attitude, rushing cruelly upon me, in differently remembered conversations.
[…]If I lose her, all my rage will return with redoubled fury. The disgrace to be thus outwitted by a novice, an infant in stratagem and contrivance, added to the violence of my passion for her, will either break my heart, or (what saves many a heart, in evils insupportable) turn my brain. What had I to do to go out a license-hunting, at least till I had seen her, and made up matters with her? And indeed, were it not the privilege of a principal to lay all his own faults upon his underlings, and never be to blame himself, I should be apt to reflect, that I am more in fault than any body. And, as the sting of this reflection will sharpen upon me, if I recover her not, how shall I ever be able to bear it?
If ever—
Here Mr. Lovelace lays himself under a curse, too shocking to be repeated, if he revenge not himself upon the Lady, should he once more get her into his hands. […]
Again going into her chamber, because it was her’s, and sighing over the bed, and every piece of furniture in it, I cast my eye towards the drawers of the dressing-glass, and saw peep out, as it were, in one of the half-drawn drawers, the corner of a letter. I snatched it out, and found it superscribed, by her, To Mr. Lovelace. The sight of it made my heart leap, and I trembled so, that I could hardly open the seal.
How does this damn’d love unman me!—but nobody ever loved as I love!—It is even increased by her unworthy flight, and my disappointment. Ungrateful creature, to fly from a passion thus ardently flaming! which, like the palm, rises the more for being depressed and slighted.

10 thoughts on “Clarissa’s big escape and Lovelace’s big loss (L228)

  1. Kendra

    This letter shows some of the vehemence that Lovelace can have for women, but surprisingly he is now turning some of it towards Clarissa herself. He criticizes and belittles her, referring to his disgrace at having been outwitted by a novice but yet he is also turned on by the prospect that she managed to outwit him. Lovelace is clearly obsessed with Clarissa, he's in her room struggling with his love and hate for her. Can we read these emotions/emotional outbursts that Lovelace is displaying as some sort of commentary on libertines or rakes in general?

  2. anthony o'keeffe

    Nice point–the letter does express his deep frustration at being temporarily "outwitted" by her (the Turner article is very helpful on the meaning of wit within the rake's "code"), and in its vehemence gives an even stronger edge to the typical rake's valuation of women in general, both as corruptible and as vengeful themselves. ("There is not a creature belonging to this house that could be corrupted either by virtue or remorse: the highest joy every infernal nymph of this worse than infernal habitation COULD have known, would have been to reduce this proud beauty to her own level." That he grows more deeply set on vengeance makes this letter a signal marker of his own desire to reduce the "proud beauty" to the status of one of his trophies, and thereby reduce her to the status he–and his fellow rakes–assign to all women.

  3. Megan

    Thanks for the note about the Turner article, Tony. I haven't read it yet, but I'm sure it will be helpful when thinking more on this point. I was intrigued by this letter for a couple of reasons. I'll start with one that goes along with your discussion, Kendra, of how Lovelace's feelings for Clarissa are changing and being revealed in his letters. "For, as to substantial food, she, no more than other angels–Angels, said I!–The devil take me if she shall be any more an angel!–for she is odious in my eyes; I hate her mortally!–But oh! Lovelace, thou liest!–She is all that is lovely! All that is excellent!–" (L228). We are getting some odd contradictions here. He loves her. He hates her. He loves her. He doesn't know how he feels. I guess she at the very least stirs some strong emotions with him. This actually reminded me some of Clarissa's writing. Lovelace is here (maybe? it's hard to tell with him?) actually working through his feelings in writing. He clearly has very conflicted feelings about her. He believes he loves Clarissa and wants her to love him as well, but that love does not keep him from wanting her no matter her feelings. If he can't have her with her in love with him, he'll take her against her will. That's really clearly shown in these conflicting emotions here. Secondly, there is something interesting happening with the notion of writing in this chapter. I like that you included Lovelace's admission that he "must write…or go distracted," but I think it's interesting there that he goes on to discuss different types of writing. We've mostly been privy to thoughts on writing based solely on writing letters to friends as confidantes or letters as persuasive materials to get people to do what you want (ie Clarissa writing to her family members). Here, Lovelace is admitting that he must write to keep himself focused. But he isn't just writing to Belford. He says that he has spent two hours "dispatching messages to every stage; to every inn; to every waggon or coach, whether flying or creeping, and to every house with a bill up, for five miles round" (L228). He's been using his writing as a way to make sure he finds Clarissa. It's not just that writing is keeping Clarissa within his thoughts; it's also possibly bringing her back to him. There is a very specific purpose to this writing. Does that complicate our notion of Lovelace as a writer at all? Perhaps it doesn't since we don't get to see the writing, but it, at the least, rounds him out as a man who relies heavily on writing for getting things done, whether that be personal writing or productive, action-oriented writing like he is describing here.

  4. Debra

    I believe Lovelace really does have ambivalent feelings toward Clarissa. I heartily agree that he wants to reduce her to a trophy. But I think, in some yet unspoken or unrealized way, he truly does have some kind of incipient love or awe of her. He wants her because she is the MOST beautiful, MOST virtuous, MOST intelligent, etc. woman–so the Biggest Trophy of them all. But that she is beautiful, and delicate, and smart, and virtuous also makes her appealing. For me, the ambivalence Lovelace repeatedly shows (though he always returns to rake ideas in the end) is part of why the novel is compelling. It explains, in part, why we read on (even if we know the plot): because he is a figure who can surprise us, who displays depths or hidden parts of himself. That he is not simply the devil.

  5. Jessica

    A thought that just crossed my mind in response to your comment, Megan. You point out that he isn't just writing to Belford but to multiple people. It seems like a huge orchestration, as are all elements of his ongoing plot. Does anyone else wonder how the heck Lovelace has time for this? I don't know how he has time to live the events he recounts, let alone to recount the events. At first I thought, "Even if unrealistic, that's what Lovelace does because the plot demands it." But what if this isn't one of those moments where readers say, "I don't buy that someone is spending that much time and effort through writing, but I'll still go with it"? What I mean is, I've started to see Lovelace as someone with an astounding capacity to use writing as a tool. Even though I don't like some of the implications of the word "tool" (as if writing is just a hammer or a saw), I think one connotation of the word is accurate: that Lovelace has "mastered" writing (lots of problematic metaphors I'm throwing around), knows how to use it, and to do so swiftly, with little notice. Lovelace *makes things happen* with writing.

  6. Jessica

    One brief comment: the "show me a woman and I'll show you a plotter" remark stands out in this passage. Later Lovelace accuses Clarissa again of being a "plotter." It's fascinating that Clarissa's efforts to resist being harmed by Lovelace (efforts to maintain the integrity of her mind and body) are cast as "plotting" or "scheming."

  7. Megan

    I find that part really interesting too! I meant to talk about it in my earlier comment, but I forgot. It's a bit rich coming from Lovelace, right?

  8. Rachel Gramer

    Jessica, I have been thinking the same thing, trying to reconcile the amount of time we've seen his letters in this volume, with how much of Clarissa's letters we saw in volumes 1 through 3 particularly.

    I think it says something huge that he is willing to spend so much time writing, that they both do; when they're not “doing,” they're “writing” about doing, or done, or will do. Such a fascinating obsession to watch: the writing itself, the narrative weaving, and the reflection going on about both. They both comment, as does Anna, about staying up late, writing into the night or morning, with so many material references to paper and utensils.

    And you're absolutely right: Lovelace knows how to “do words” with “things.” (I think.)

  9. Rachel Gramer

    For me, I think it's both: I turn to the novel because Lovelace could be a surprise in the short-term, but much of what he does will probably not be a surprise, in the long-term.

    And I think Richardson probably exploited this tension well: hook readers with the possibility of change, but even when there's not a tremendous amount of dynamic change, catch readers with the cautionary tale element, which we know is always lurking in the narrative.

  10. Debra

    Many critics have noted that Lovelace would (physically) require more time than he has available to both perform the actions he describes and then write about them. The letters are unrealistic in this purely temporal sense. I kept wondering throughout this volume why Richardson wanted us to read these lengthy over-elaborated letters at this point in the book.

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