He is Proved a Villain (L230)

After my last, so full of other hopes, the contents of this will surprise you. Oh my dearest friend, the man has at last proved himself to be a villain! It was with the utmost difficulty last night, that I preserved myself from the vilest dishonour. He extorted from me a promise of forgiveness, and that I would see him next day, as if nothing had happened: but if it were possible to escape from a wretch, who, as I have too much reason to believe, formed a plot to fire the house, to frighten me, almost naked, into his arms, how could I see him next day?
I have escaped, Heaven be praised, I have! And now have no other concern, than that I fly from the only hope that could have made such a husband tolerable to me; the reconciliation with my friends, so agreeably undertaken by my uncle.
All my present hope is, to find some reputable family, or person of my own sex, who is obliged to go beyond sea, or who lives abroad; I care not whether; but if I might choose, in some one of our American colonies— never to be heard of more by my relations, whom I have so grievously offended.
Nor let your generous heart be moved at what I write. If I can escape the dreadfullest part of my father’s malediction, (for the temporary part is already, in a manner, fulfilled, which makes me tremble in apprehension of the other), I shall think the wreck of my worldly fortunes a happy composition.
Neither is there need of the renewal of your so-often-tendered goodness to me: for I have with me rings and other valuables, that were sent me with my clothes, which will turn into money to answer all I can want, till Providence shall be pleased to put me into some want to help myself, if, for my further punishment, my life is to be lengthened beyond my wishes.
Impute not this scheme, my beloved friend, either to dejection on one hand, or to that romantic turn on the other, which we have supposed generally to obtain with our sex, from fifteen to twenty-two: for, be pleased to consider my unhappy situation, in the light in which it really must appear to every considerate person who knows it. In the first place, the man, who has endeavoured to make me, his property, will hunt me as a stray: and he knows he may do so with impunity; for whom have I to protect me from him?
Then as to my estate, the envied estate, which has been the original cause of all my misfortunes, it shall never be mine upon litigated terms. What is there in being enabled to boast, that I am worth more than I can use, or wish to use? And if my power is circumscribed, I shall not have that to answer for, which I should have, if I did not use it as I ought: which very few do. I shall have no husband, of whose interest I ought to be so regardful as to prevent me doing more than justice to others, that I may not do less for him. If therefore my father will be pleased (as I shall presume, in proper time, to propose to him) to pay two annuities out of it, one to my dear Mrs. Norton, which may make her easy for the remainder of her life, as she is now growing into years; the other of £50 per annum, to the same good woman, for the use of my poor, as I had the vanity to call a certain set of people, concerning whom she knows all my mind; that so as few as possible may suffer by the consequences of my error; God bless them, and give them heart’s ease and content with the rest.
Other reasons for my taking the step I have hinted at, are these.
This wicked man knows I have no friend in the world but you: your neighbourhood therefore would be the first he would seek for me in, were you to think it possible for me to be concealed in it: and in this case you might be subjected to inconveniencies greater even than those which you have already sustained on my account.
From my cousin Morden, were he to come, I could not hope protection; since, by his letter to me, it is evident, that my brother has engaged him in his party: nor would I, by any means, subject so worthy a man to danger; as might be the case, from the violence of this ungovernable spirit.
These things considered, what better method can I take, than to go abroad to some one of the English colonies; where nobody but yourself shall know any thing of me; nor you, let me tell you, presently, nor till I am fixed, and if it please God, in a course of living tolerably to my mind? For it is no small part of my concern, that my indiscretions have laid so heavy a tax upon you, my dear friend, to whom, once, I hoped to give more pleasure than pain. […]
Oh why was the great fiend of all unchained, and permitted to assume so specious a form, and yet allowed to conceal his feet and his talons, till with the one he was ready to trample upon my honour, and to strike the other into my heart!—And what had I done, that he should be let loose particularly upon me! […]
And after all, are there not still more deserving persons than I, who never failed in any capital point of duty, than have been more humbled than myself; and some too, by the errors of parents and relations, by the tricks and baseness of guardians and trustees, and in which their own rashness or folly had no part?
I will then endeavour to make the best of my present lot. And join with me, my best, my only friend, in praying, that my punishment may end here; and that my present afflictions may be sanctified to me. […]
I wrote early in the morning a bitter letter to the wretch, which I left for him obvious enough; and I suppose he has it by this time. I kept no copy of it. I shall recollect the contents, and give you the particulars of all, at more leisure.
I am sure you will approve of my escape—the rather, as the people of the house must be very vile: for they, and that Dorcas too, did hear me (I know they did) cry out for help: if the fire had been other than a villanous plot (although in the morning, to blind them, I pretended to think it otherwise) they would have been alarmed as much as I; and have run in, hearing me scream, to comfort me, supposing my terror was the fire; to relieve me, supposing it was any thing else. But the vile Dorcas went away as soon as she saw the wretch throw his arms about me!— Bless me, my dear, I had only my slippers and an under-petticoat on. I was frighted out of my bed, by her cries of fire; and that I should be burnt to ashes in a moment—and she to go away, and never to return, nor any body else! And yet I heard women’s voices in the next room; indeed I did—an evident contrivance of them all:—God be praised, I am out of their house!
My terror is not yet over: I can hardly think myself safe: every well- dressed man I see from my windows, whether on horseback or on foot, I think to be him. […]
You will direct for me, my dear, by the name of Mrs. Harriot Lucas.
Had I not made my escape when I did, I was resolved to attempt it again and again. He was gone to the Commons for a license, as he wrote me word; for I refused to see him, notwithstanding the promise he extorted from me.
How hard, how next to impossible, my dear, to avoid many lesser deviations, when we are betrayed into a capital one!
For fear I should not get away at my first effort, I had apprized him, that I would not set eye upon him under a week, in order to gain myself time for it in different ways. And were I so to have been watched as to have made it necessary, I would, after such an instance of the connivance of the women of the house, have run out into the street, and thrown myself into the next house I could have entered, or claim protection from the first person I had met—Women to desert the cause of a poor creature of their own sex, in such a situation, what must they be!—Then, such poor guilty sort of figures did they make in the morning after he was gone out—so earnest to get me up stairs, and to convince me, by the scorched window-boards, and burnt curtains and vallens, that the fire was real—that (although I seemed to believe all they would have me believe) I was more and more resolved to get out of their house at all adventures.

9 thoughts on “He is Proved a Villain (L230)

  1. Kendra

    This is one of the few letters that we see from Clarissa in Volume V that is not presented via Lovelace. There is a lot going on in this letter. We see how clever Clarissa is, she knows to use an alias and has escaped from Lovelace's grasp. The letter is also decidedly more religious than earlier letters, as Keri pointed out in her posts from Volume IV. Finally, Clarissa finally figures out that Lovelace is a "villain" and even refers to him as the Devil incarnate. What does this letter tell of us of Clarissa? Is there a sense of foreboding that she is not long for world? Has the letter made the good and evil dichotomy between her and Lovelace even more obvious?

  2. anthony o'keeffe

    Good idea about a sense of foreboding, complemented by the sense of the fatality of her situation (seeing her father's curse being fulfilled, wondering if her life will be extended for further punishment, questioning what she has done to deserve having the now-satanic Lovelace "let loose particularly upon me!"). These musings grow nicely out of what she has already learned through her now-deeper experience of Lovelace's nature–and, I think, her own. They're both deepening as characters, and that does widen the dichotomy between them.

  3. Debra

    What really strikes me is how heightened Clarissa's diction has become. For example, "In the first place, the man, who has endeavoured to make me, his property, will hunt me as a stray: and he knows he may do so with impunity; for whom have I to protect me from him?" Her language is beginning to represent, more directly, the material conditions of her position. I think this phrase, "hunt me as a stray" is one of the first times Clarissa moves beyond her personal sense of her situation or the social perception of her plight, to imagine the world in the kinds of terms Lovelace understands her. I am not saying that he thinks of her as a stray dog, but his lack of empathy, his sense that she is not a real person, is echoed in a really ugly way in her phrase.

  4. Debra

    I also want to note that Clarissa's sense of Lovelace as the devil incarnate is understandable but (I think) wide of the mark. Lovelace is interesting (to me) because he is not a devil. He is a complex person who sees the world through a misogynistic frame, and does not understand that other people are not simply tools to be employed in a game or narrative play. He is despicable, but he is also very human. I think Richardson's ability to imagine a person like Lovelace: someone who, despite his psycopathology or whatever we want to call it, can nevertheless be charming, witty, and even self-deprecating. I think this makes him way more scary as well as way more interesting than dismissing him as the devil. (Though I quite understand why Clarissa feels that way.)

  5. Jessica

    I really appreciate this point that Lovelace is human. The terms devil and evil seem to be "screens" that enable or prevent us from engaging him as a human being.

  6. Meghan Hancock

    Maybe Clarissa now describes Lovelace as the "devil incarnate" because it gives her the strength she needs to leave him. Her earlier attempts to try to find Lovelace's (few) redeeming qualities didn't really get her anywhere. After placing him in a neat little box–that he's evil, and that's all–she has the gumption to run away. It might also explain her increasingly frequent religious language as well–"What has happened to me is terrible, but at least God is on my side."

  7. Keri Mathis

    You have all quite thoroughly addressed several of the dichotomies and religious references included here. I would like to jump into this lively discussion and call attention to another quite interesting line: “I will then endeavour to make the best of my present lot. And join with me, my best, my only friend, in praying, that my punishment may end here; and that my present afflictions may be sanctified to me.” As I mentioned in class last week, I am really becoming fascinated by this idea of fate/fortune in the novel and the ways Clarissa perceives her own agency at the hands of fate. Clarissa claims here that she will attempt to “make the best of [her] present lot,” and I am trying to sort through these contradictions between fate and divine Providence that are so prevalent especially in these later letters. The juxtaposition of the two, as seen in this quote, deserves some attention, I think. At the risk of taking this too far (please bear with me here), I think medieval ideas of Fortuna (or Lady Fortune) and Providence might be helpful in undertaking such an analysis. Much of the medieval understanding of these two figures stem from the ancient philosopher Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. In this text, Boethius discusses this complicated relationship between Fortuna and Providence, carefully situating Fortuna under the guidance of Providence by making her usually fickle, changeable nature a positive one. In Boethius’ view, however, Fortuna can only be controlled by Providence if the individual places all of his/her trust in Providence and not in material goods that are often governed by the fickle Fortuna. Medieval writers used this understanding of the two figures in writing many different versions of Fortune’s game, which I think relates quite well with Clarissa’s musings about her fortune in some of her letters, and more obviously in Lovelace’s game-playing throughout the novel.I am not going to attempt to take this further at the moment, but I have been trying to sort through these contradictions while reading the novel, and I thought maybe Boethius’ Consolation would offer a helpful lens through which to view these issues in Clarissa.

  8. Rachel Gramer

    I can understand how Clarissa feels, too. We all need to make villains and devils in our lives seem like extremes (and she has to do less of that than some people, considering what Lovelace has done).

    I wonder how much of this is Clarissa writing herself into vilifying him to authorize herself to have these kinds of feelings. We so often see her vacillate between trying to think the best of him and wanting to stay on guard against him at the same time. Here, she is, as Debra notes, losing her careful control over pleasant diction and descending to far stronger words: vile, wicked, fiend, vicious, specious, trample, strike, etc.

    Previously, Clarissa seemed to be herself aware of her own precarious position on the pedestal of angel, and here, she demonstrates the need to secure Lovelace a strong position in the pit–to solidify the opposition that we have seen for quite some time.

  9. Steve

    Yes, yes, and yes. I think not just Clarissa, but Richardson is deepening the dichotomies between Clarissa and Lovelace here. But it strikes me that, if you read the novel as a rhetorical enterprise (which I don't think is a stretch, given that Richardson himself expressed that he's writing a didactic document meant to provide “lessons” for young girls and their families) an interesting question about this passage might be to ask ourselves what are the 'lessons' we're supposed to be learning here?

    If what Richardson is trying to do, aside from prescribing behaviors to the families of eligible young bachelorettes, is to prescribe behaviors to those bachelorettes themselves, then I think Clarissa's question “what have I done?” becomes particularly salient. If what's happening to Clarissa is a lesson, then what is the lesson? What has she done?

    I think it's possible that Richardson can't provide a great example here, that telling a story and delivering particular lesson are working at cross-purposes for him. On the one hand, he holds up Clarissa as a model, while on the other (for the sake of the story) a model of feminine behavior is unjustly punished. It seems absurd that the lesson we're meant to draw from this is that “bad stuff happens to good people.” It doesn't seem enough.

    I think Keri's point about understanding the difference between Fortune and Providence could provide a key to this question, and maybe she's already answered it, in a way. But, if the goal is for Richardson to convince people to behave the way he wants them to, it seems like a particularly dicey move to show that the lives of people who behave in admirable ways can be as difficult as Clarissa's, due faith in Providence or no. It just doesn't strike me as very persuasive.

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