Clarissa confronts Lovelace and the women (L281)

Now, Belford, see us all sitting in judgment, resolved to punish the fair bribress—I, and the mother, the hitherto dreaded mother, the nieces Sally, Polly, the traitress Dorcas, and Mabell, a guard, as it were, over Dorcas, that she might not run away, and hide herself:—all pre-determined, and of necessity pre-determined, from the journey I was going to take, and my precarious situation with her—and hear her unbolt, unlock, unbar, the door; then, as it proved afterwards, put the key into the lock on the outside, lock the door, and put it in her pocket—Will. I knew, below, who would give me notice, if, while we were all above, she should mistake her way, and go down stairs, instead of coming into the dining-room: the street-door also doubly secured, and every shutter to the windows round the house fastened, that no noise or screaming should be heard—[such was the brutal preparation]—and then hear her step towards us, and instantly see her enter among us, confiding in her own innocence; and with a majesty in her person and manner, that is natural to her; but which then shone out in all its glory!—Every tongue silent, every eye awed, every heart quaking, mine, in a particular manner sunk, throbless, and twice below its usual region, to once at my throat:—a shameful recreant:—She silent too, looking round her, first on me; then on the mother, no longer fearing her; then on Sally, Polly, and the culprit Dorcas!—such the glorious power of innocence exerted at that awful moment!

9 thoughts on “Clarissa confronts Lovelace and the women (L281)

  1. anthony o'keeffe

    The scene about to unfold here, marks a major turning point in the novel–how did you respond on first encountering it, and what do you make of Lovelace's reaction to Clarissa?

  2. Debra

    I agree that this is a major turning point. Here we see Clarissa, in complete control of herself, asserting her own autonomy against Lovelace et al. The scene is both heroic and extremely funny. The point where Clarissa invokes God's Eye and they all look at the ceiling is hysterical. That Richardson could make this scene so magnificant and yet so human is extraordinary.

    I think Lovelace is so taken aback by her because it is finally sinking in that he has been completely defeated. I LOVED this scene.

    Clarissa now has nothing to lose with this crew. They have passed the Rubicon and must live with the consequences. It's not to say that they cannot continue to harrass Clarissa and frighten her. But anything now would be anticlimactic to the great betrayal.

    Clarissa's power is in her absolute trust in her self. She upbraids herself for leaving her father's house, but in everything else she was vigilent. Since she will not marry Lovelace, all she has to do now is figure out a way to get out of the house.(certainly a plot complication) but she no longer has to worry about Lovelace deceiving her (since she will not engage him at any level). This is an amazing way for Richardson to show the”majesty of her person and manner.”

  3. Kendra

    This scene was powerful because we see that Clarissa is once again a paragon, only this time we can add strength to her list of virtues. The scene in this letter which struck me most is when Clarissa presses the penknife to her chest. She was heroic and I was reminded of Lucretia, a prominent legendary figure in the Roman Republic and a popular subject for literature, art, and music — even Shakespeare referenced her numerous times (Titus Andronicus, Twelfth Night, and so on). She committed suicide after her rape, both events leading up to a revolution that formed the Roman Republic. Clarissa grabs the penknife and tells Lovelace “I offer not mischief to any body but myself. You […] are safe from every violence of mine. The LAW shall be all my resource: the LAW.” This moment made me realize that Richardson was launching Clarissa into a legendary figure much like the figure of Lucretia. Clarissa's power is so much that the word “law” becomes something powerful, and I wondered if she meant both religious and man's law or if she was invoking some holy power/strength. While Clarissa essentially has nothing left to lose, she has not yet lost her faith and her dignity stupefies everyone in the room. As much as Lovelace thinks and wants to be a Romantic hero, it is Clarissa who is the true Romantic/tragic hero(ine).

  4. Jessica

    I felt a bit awed by this scene. This is what Clarissa looks like when she has power. I'm also saddened by this scene, knowing BY WHAT MEANS she claims this power over Lovelace – by threatening to kill herself. I suppose she's using what's available to her. Lovelace says, practically breathless afterward, that she didn't threaten him with the penknife, or any of the other people in the house, but rather threatened to kill herself. Perhaps more accurately, Clarissa threatened Lovelace with her death – after all, she is more than assured that her death would be a major blow to him, and in some ways a relief to her.

  5. Rachel Gramer

    True, Jessica–so sad that she has here been able to lay claim to greater power over Lovelace both after her rape and because of her threats of self-harm. Truly–what kind of quandary would Lovelace have been in, if she had harmed herself, and he would've had to seek medical attention for her?

    Clarissa here proves, by action, to be what she has often been throughout the novel only by circumstance or implication: a problem. So often, in Volumes 3, 4, and 5, we see Clarissa speaking/writing for herself, in her defense, but we know Lovelace has anticipated her moves so that her attempts to act often fall flat.

    My favorite part about these scenes is how she uses her body, the tool of the penknife, and her words of conviction to keep Lovelace et al at such a physical distance. Unable to keep him away previously, to keep him from advancing on her so often before, she now knows how to keep him at a distance–and exercises that knowledge.

    To Richardson's credit, he portrays her here as so terribly strong–but, in some ways, too terribly late. A great narrative tension for us as readers.

  6. Keri Mathis

    Clarissa's agency in this scene is unparalleled in any other part of the novel, I think. As many of you have already noted, Clarissa has defeated Lovelace, so much so that it causes him to reflect on his previous schemes. He cannot make himself do it – he is utterly ashamed of the way he has acted and boasted about his supposed mastery of his schemes. One of my favorite lines from Lovelace thus far comes immediately after the scene in this excerpt. He writes to Belford: “Success, success in projects, is every thing. What an admirable contriver did I think myself till now! Even for this scheme among the rest! But how pitifully foolish does it now appear to me! — Scratch out, erase, never to be read, every part of my preceding letters, where I have boastingly mentioned it. And never presume to rally me upon the cursed subject: for I cannot bear it.” (952, emphasis mine).

    I feel compelled to repeat these lines: “Scratch out, erase, never to be read, every part of my preceding letters, where I have boastingly mentioned it.” This statement marks a distinct transformation in Lovelace’s character and in his relationship with Clarissa. He notes here that he wants to erase and forget his previous prideful remarks on his schemes. He even calls himself “foolish” for his actions. This reflection shows a side of him that we have yet to see to this extent. Thus, this scene is where I find Clarissa’s agency has reached its absolute highest peak. The whole scene contains so much power and forces us to view both Clarissa and Lovelace through entirely new eyes, and I would even venture to argue that they have completely swapped roles in the novel at this point. While Clarissa lacks the agency to change her situation, her knowledge of Lovelace’s character and of his contrivances gives her a power over him that traps Lovelace and makes him vulnerable and weak. It is possible that she knows Lovelace better than he knows himself.

  7. Megan

    My personal favorite part was at the end of the letter where Lovelace writes, “Thou never sawest people in they life look so like fools upon one another, as the mother, her partners, and I did for a few minutes.” I just really love the idea of Lovelace being completely dumbstruck by Clarissa's audacity and agency in her own situation. He really does not know what to do once she truly takes control. You see him outwit her earlier attempts at escape (whether escaping his letter writing or his physical presence), but he really does not know how to handle her at this point. So much so, that he writes earlier in the letter: “But, oh Jack! Jack! Jack! I can write no more!”

    Do we think that his ability to write, his ability to perform, and his ability to act are in some ways all tied up in Clarissa? Does this letter show us some evidence toward the assertions that Lovelace has no real sense of self?

  8. anthony o'keeffe

    Wonderful comments on so many important developments in Clarissa, in Lovelace, and in their still-unfolding connection. Not very much to add to the depths already revealed here. Just to mention that the letter does end, of course, with Lovelace's relentless resolution: ” I MUST have her. I WILL have her still–WITH honour, or WITHOUT, as I have often vowed. . . . she is not GONE; shall not go.”

  9. Steve

    I'd like to pick up on what Jessica said about Clarissa using the means “available to her.” This, I should say first, is by far my favorite part of the novel. Seeing Clarissa finally in control of a situation was an overwhelming relief for me — I felt like I'd been waiting for her to take an action like this for years.

    But then I was troubled by the nature of that action. Here's where I get to the “what's available” part. Clarissa, as an eighteenth-century protagonist lives in a very different world with very different ideas about violence against women and I get that, but I couldn't help being really saddened by the means she's forced into in order to control her physical space. Powerless to threaten any of the women or Lovelace himself, her only recourse is to threaten further violence to her own body, and to remind them all that, as Kendra noted, “the Law” (of whatever kind) can generate justice in a way that she can't hope to.

    I should say that the way that she goes about reminding them all of “the Law,” using the penknife and her own body, is clearly Clarissa all over. She seems as masterful of visual and embodied rhetorics as she does of letters — her presentation of her physical self is always soooo carefully considered — and here that mastery is displayed better than at any other point in the story.

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