Anna’s First Judgmental Response to Clarissa (L310)

Need I to remind you, Miss Clarissa Harlowe, of three letters I wrote to you, to none of which I had any answer; except to the first, and that of a few lines only, promising a letter at large, though you were well enough, the day after you received my second, to go joyfully back again with him to the vile house? But more of these by-and-by. I must hasten to take notice of your letter of Wednesday last week; which you could contrive should fall into my mother’s hands.
Let me tell you, that that letter has almost broken my heart. Good God! —What have you brought yourself to, Miss Clarissa Harlowe?—Could I have believed, that after you had escaped from the miscreant, (with such mighty pains and earnestness escaped,) and after such an attempt as he had made, you would have been prevailed upon not only to forgive him, but (without being married too) to return with him to that horrid house!—A house I had given you such an account of!—Surprising!——What an intoxicating thing is this love?—I always feared, that you, even you, were not proof against its inconsistent effects.
You your best self have not escaped!—Indeed I see not how you could expect to escape.
What a tale have you to unfold!—You need not unfold it, my dear: I would have engaged to prognosticate all that has happened, had you but told me that you would once more have put yourself in his power, after you had taken such pains to get out of it.
Your peace is destroyed!—I wonder not at it: since now you must reproach yourself for a credulity so ill-placed.
Your intellect is touched!—I am sure my heart bleeds for you! But, excuse me, my dear, I doubt your intellect was touched before you left Hampstead: or you would never have let him find you out there; or, when he did, suffer him to prevail upon you to return to the horrid brothel.

8 thoughts on “Anna’s First Judgmental Response to Clarissa (L310)

  1. Anna Howe

    anthony o'keeffeNovember 2, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    I was really shocked by Anna's response here. What do you think it tells us about our usually sagacious Anna, and about how people construct Clarissa within the narrative of their own lives?

  2. Debra

    Anna addresses this letter to “Dear Clarissa,” rather than her usual salutation “Dear Miss Harlowe,” showing, I think, how low Clarissa has sunk in her esteem.

    It is extraordinary that Anna so quickly jumps to the conclusion that Clarissa has succumbed to Lovelace. We do remember, I think, how quickly she writes, and “in a satirical vein.” That is, we have seen many instances of her anger bubbling up in her letters. I guess we could put it down to worry over an extended period of time. But I agree it's shocking and disappointing. And I don't quite know what to make of it

  3. Debra

    Eagleton suggests Anna is part of Clarissa's “unconscious,” articulating those parts of herself she doesn't admit. Insofar as Clarissa writes to her and reads her with fervency, I think that it's not unreasonable to speculate that Anna can say things Clarissa might feel but not admit. Perhaps Anna's reckless reading of her situation parallels some part of Clarissa that does believe she is to blame. (Or is that too psychoanalytic?)

  4. Rachel Gramer

    It's shocking that we read how cold Anna can seem–and yet, I think she serves as an interesting filter/layer for us as readers. Imagine what we would think if we read only Anna's letters as they'd been written–including the revelations about Tomlinson and Mrs. Sinclair's house–and then saw Clarissa stay, continue to believe Lovelace, etc.

    I think we see here how disappointed Anna's ego must've been–to consider that her knowledge, her warning, was ignored, that her trust in Clarissa's judgment was misplaced. Because even Anna did not imagine how crafty and malicious Lovelace was: she assumed that, if she wrote Clarissa and sent the letters, Clarissa received them as is.

    It all comes back to the letters, to writing and identity. Anna and Clarissa both invest so much value in writing, they assume their letters maintain/contain a unified whole that will be, is, should be undisturbed. Anna assumes that her correspondence with Clarissa was delivered as it was sent; and because she hears nothing back from her, assumes that Clarissa sent nothing in return.

    Their letters reveal the depth of their emotion for each other, and their love of writing, yes–but their act of trust in the conveyance and delivery of those letters reveals their naivete.

    Did neither of them truly consider and believe that Lovelace could've intercepted their letters and brought about foul play? That their servants and messengers–all men–were also corruptible human beings?

  5. Megan

    “What an intoxicating thing is _this love_? — I _always_ feared, that you, even you, were not proof against it!”

    I found this comment by Anna particularly telling in how fearful she was during the time where her correspondence with Clarissa lapsed. It reminded me a bit of when you send an email or a text message, and after waiting a bit of time for a response, you start freaking out about the possible responses or reasons for not yet receiving a response. Anna has spent ages waiting for Clarissa to write, as she has only received short notes from Lovelace-as-Clarissa about why she hasn't been writing. I'm sure that she has spent a great deal of time assuming that Clarissa has finally fallen for him, even as Anna is warning her of his true nature.

    While the letter is shockingly cold and angry, it makes a lot of sense when considering Anna's intense love of Clarissa and genuine worry for her situation. Anna would be much less invested in the possibility of another woman falling for Lovelace, but she appears to have been quite terrified that this is what happened to Clarissa.

    Rachel, I like your point about the naivete of the two women, but really, why would they assume that their letters had been tampered with? They've been corresponding with one another for so long without incident that I doubt they would think that something could go wrong. Of course, Clarissa is now realizing to what extent she has been duped as she writes so many letters to ascertain exactly what Lovelace has been up to. This correspondence with Anna (in just a few more letters) reveals the true extent of Lovelace's lies and treachery.

  6. anthony o'keeffe

    I think part of what I find so shocking about the letter is how much Anna “triumphs” about her sagacity, taking up phrases from Clarissa's own letter and tormenting her with them: “You your BEST SELF have not escaped! Indeed I see not how you could expect to escape.” (Has she no sense here of how painful a loss this is for her closest friend?) Clarissa's own tale is silenced by Anna' superior acumen: “You need not unfold it, my dear: I would have engaged to prognosticate all that has happened . . .” As to Clarissa's destroyed peace–“I wonder not at it: since now you must reproach yourself . . . (Truly a bad stab there.) And the letter's close! To remind Clarissa of a time when she could comment accurately on a moral issue, “very prettily”–but she has now (“excuse me my dear”) made it out more prettily in her presumed bad behavior.
    Finally, I must admit it never occurred to me so strongly until this letter just how very deeply other people invest in and construct Clarissa in ways that give their own lives meaning and even power. And she is as trapped by this as she has been in Mrs. Sinclair's house. I can't help but feel that Richardson knew this letter would be necessary to us as readers, to forward more deeply this idea.

  7. Keri Mathis

    I was also really struck by Anna's comments on the individual lines from Clarissa's letters included here. For some reason, taking apart Clarissa's letter in this way and then chastising her for these words seemed harsher and more critical than commenting on the content of the letter as a whole. Again, I can't help but think of Clarissa's letter as a part of her self and body, and so picking it apart as Anna does here seems really severe.

    On another note, while Anna's letter is really critical, I don't think we can omit the justification Anna gives for this response (which I think Megan was touching on near the end of her post). Anna states outright in her addendum to the letter: “I doubt [my mother's letter] is severe enough. So I fear you will think mine: but you have taught me never to spare the fault for the friend's sake; and that a great error ought rather to be the more inexcusable in the person we value, than in one we are indifferent to…” This statement and others that follow show Anna's deep love for Clarissa and how much she values their friendship.

  8. Meghan Hancock

    We tend to talk a lot about how writing to Anna gives Clarissa's life a sense of purpose, or as you say, Tony, “meaning and power.” I think we often forget, though, that writing to Clarissa does the same for Anna. When her correspondence with Clarissa stops, Anna takes it personally and blames Clarissa for her negligence instead of assuming that Lovelace is behind it (I agree with Rachel that any of us would have considered this) because the interruption of communication between her and Clarissa is too shocking to consider or weigh such possibilities. Anna's connection with Clarissa has become part of her identity, and when that's not there anymore, Anna has not only lost her friend, she's lost a lot of who she is and what gives her purpose.

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