Clarissa confronts Lovelace on her ruin (L266)

Pity me, Jack, for pity’s sake; since, if thou dost not, nobody else will: and yet never was there a man of my genius and lively temper that wanted it more. We are apt to attribute to the devil every thing happens to us, which we would not have happen: but here, being, (as perhaps thou’lt say,) the devil myself, my plagues arise from an angel. I suppose all mankind is to be plagued by its contrary.
She began with me like a true woman, [she in the fault, I to be blamed,] the moment I entered the dining-room: not the least apology, not the least excuse, for the uproar she had made, and the trouble she had given me.
I come, said she, into thy detested presence, because I cannot help it. But why am I to be imprisoned here?—Although to no purpose, I cannot help——
Dearest Madam, interrupted I, give not way to so much violence. You must know, that your detention is entirely owing to the desire I have to make you all the amends that is in my power to make you. And this, as well for your sake as my own. Surely there is still one way left to repair the wrongs you have suffered——
Canst thou blot out the past week! Several weeks past, I should say; ever since I have been with thee? Canst thou call back time?—If thou canst——
Surely, Madam, again interrupting her, if I may be permitted to call you legally mine, I might have but anticip——
Wretch, that thou art! Say not another word upon this subject. When thou vowedst, when thou promisedst at Hampstead, I had begun to think that I must be thine. If I had consented, at the request of those I thought thy relations, this would have been a principal inducement, that I could then have brought thee, what was most wanted, an unsullied honour in dowry, to a wretch destitute of all honour; and could have met the gratulations of a family to which thy life has been one continued disgrace, with a consciousness of deserving their gratulations. But thinkest thou, that I will give a harlot niece to thy honourable uncle, and to thy real aunts; and a cousin to thy cousins from a brothel? for such, in my opinion, is this detested house!—Then, lifting up her clasped hands, ‘Great and good God of Heaven,’ said she, ‘give me patience to support myself under the weight of those afflictions, which thou, for wise and good ends, though at present impenetrable by me, hast permitted!’
Then, turning towards me, who knew neither what to say to her, nor for myself, I renounce thee for ever, Lovelace!—Abhorred of my soul! for ever I renounce thee!—Seek thy fortunes wheresoever thou wilt!—only now, that thou hast already ruined me!—
Ruined you, Madam—the world need not—I knew not what to say.
Ruined me in my own eyes; and that is the same to me as if all the world knew it—hinder me not from going whither my mysterious destiny shall lead me.

6 thoughts on “Clarissa confronts Lovelace on her ruin (L266)

  1. Kendra

    For once we see Lovelace at a loss for words. At the beginning he notes that Clarissa does not apologize for “the uproar she had made, and the trouble she had given [him].” He expects Clarissa to be submissive and weak at this point but instead he finds her righteous and angry. Lovelace, who notes himself as the Devil and Clarissa (again) as an angel, is knocked down a few pegs while Clarissa begins to emanate some sort of divine strength. It's like Clarissa has invoked God and is now truly filled with something that Lovelace cannot fathom or touch.

  2. anthony o'keeffe

    What an insightful way to put it–Clarissa “now truly filled with something that Lovelace cannot fathom or touch.” As well as being a lovely description in itself, the phrasing reminds us of the essential human mystery of Clarissa's deepening strength of mind and will after she has come through the first mind-destroying response to the outrage of Lovelace's actually raping her. This gives grandeur to every future confrontation with Lovelace, assuring us as sympathetic readers that we WANT to see these encounters.

  3. Debra

    From this point, I think Lovelace is completely defeated. He cannot get his mind around the fact that now that she is “ruined” she won't marry him. They are arguing from two completely different sets of assumptions. She bests him, over and over, because she does not acede to his logic. This is where I think she has real agency. Even though she can't escape his clutches, she has completely escaped his claims to her. He is at a loss.

  4. Rachel Gramer

    I thought her use of “ruin” was particularly powerful–she can even exercise agency in the strength of the terms she chooses, and how resolutely she holds onto them, repeats them, despite his attempts to rearticulate or appropriate her words into something “lesser” in view of his own logic.

    As others have mentioned, Lovelace seems at an ultimate loss here because he STILL does not understand what “a Clarissa Harlowe” is.

    Even after the violation of sexual penetration, after she recognizes that her body (like her letter to Anna) has been torn, Clarissa maintains her initial ideal of what a self still should be: inviolate, whole, no division between public and private, just one unified whole. So, of course, to Clarissa, “Ruined me in my own eyes; and that is the same to me as if all the world knew it”–because the public and private self are the same and should remain that way.

    I see that, in a sense, as part of the source of her “madness” here, the forced separation of her whole self from her inviolate body. And–remarkably–even after her body has been violated, she reasserts her sense of self here, and her agency in the language and stance of resistance shine through despite what Lovelace has taken from her.

    (Ultimately, they also remain entrenched in the same arguments about marriage because of their fundamentally conflicting views on both law and marriage: Lovelace sees marriage as man's law to resist, and Clarissa sees marriage as God's law to revere.)

  5. Keri Mathis

    I also wanted to comment on the “public and private” self that you mention here, Rachel. From very early on we have several juxtapositions of private thought and public opinion, and I think that it is important to note that Clarissa sees herself just as the she thinks the world sees her now at this point in the novel. I had marked a quote in one of her very letters to Anna where she says, “I have sometimes wished, that it had pleased God to have taken me in my last fever, when I had every body's love and good opinion.” Clarissa obviously cares (or cared) about how the world viewed her; however, here she has come to recognize that how she sees herself, the world must also see her, and she seems to have come to terms with that realization. I wonder if this realization gives her some peace of mind?

    I also find the “ruin” that you all have mentioned here particularly interesting when thinking about Clarissa's role in the novel as this exemplar for women and a model of perfection. I wonder what we can make of role in the novel now? In thinking about the novel as a didactic one, what lessons might Richardson have wanted us to learn from Clarissa after she has been “ruined”?

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