Lovelace “On Trial” (L323)

Now, Jack, have I a subject with a vengeance. I am in the very height of my trial for all my sins to my beloved fugitive. For here to-day, at about five o’clock, arrived Lady Sarah Sadleir and Lady Betty Lawrance, each in her chariot-and-six. Dowagers love equipage; and these cannot travel ten miles without a sett, and half a dozen horsemen.
My time had hung heavy upon my hands; and so I went to church after dinner. Why may not handsome fellows, thought I, like to be looked at, as well as handsome wenches? I fell in, when service was over, with Major Warneton; and so came not home till after six; and was surprised, at entering the court-yard here, to find it littered with equipages and servants. I was sure the owners of them came for no good to me.
Lady Sarah, I soon found, was raised to this visit by Lady Betty; who has health enough to allow her to look out to herself, and out of her own affairs, for business. Yet congratulation to Lord M. on his amendment, [spiteful devils on both accounts!] was the avowed errand. But coming in my absence, I was their principal subject; and they had opportunity to set each other’s heart against me.
Simon Parsons hinted this to me, as I passed by the steward’s office; for it seems they talked loud; and he was making up some accounts with old Pritchard.
However, I hastened to pay my duty to them—other people not performing theirs, is no excuse for the neglect of our own, you know.
      And now I enter upon my TRIAL.
The lady, it is plain, thought, that the reclaiming of a man from bad habits was a much easier task than, in the nature of things, it can be.
She writes, as your Lordship has read, ‘That, in endeavouring to save a drowning wretch, she had been, not accidentally, but premeditatedly, and of set purpose, drawn in after him.’ But how is this, Ladies?—You see by her own words, that I am still far from being out of danger myself. Had she found me, in a quagmire suppose, and I had got out of it by her means, and left her to perish in it; that would have been a crime indeed. —But is not the fact quite otherwise? Has she not, if her allegory prove what she would have it prove, got out herself, and left me floundering still deeper and deeper in?—What she should have done, had she been in earnest to save me, was, to join her hand with mine, that so we might by our united strength help one another out.—I held out my hand to her, and besought her to give me her’s:—But, no truly! she was determined to get out herself as fast as she could, let me sink or swim: refusing her assistance (against her own principles) because she saw I wanted it.—You see, Ladies, you see, my Lord, how pretty tinkling words run away with ears inclined to be musical.

8 thoughts on “Lovelace “On Trial” (L323)

  1. Megan

    This is a long letter that I had pretty heavily marked up, so I just picked out the beginning where Lovelace feels that he is being put on trial by his family members and the section where he discusses how Clarissa is equally at fault for his behavior.

    What do you make of this “trial” and especially the way Lovelace chooses to write about it, both the formatting and the content?

    And how do you see some of Lovelace's characteristic persuasive language coming back into play? I thought it was particularly evident in the section included above, but what were some other places where you guys saw him writing/behaving similarly?

  2. Kendra

    Lovelace certainly seems to be himself when he’s around his family and others. Then again, he is a performer and has a role to keep up. Once again, the letter reads like a play with his director annotations. The whole scene is written lightheartedly. For instance, when Charlotte begins to chide him he interrupts her and “chucking her under the chin” teases her about her own love life. He acts scandalous and charming. Lovelace downplays the claims Clarissa makes and even loosely quotes proverbs. Around his family, Lovelace is the same man that he presented himself before Clarissa’s rape and defeat of him. He talks in circles, spews rhetoric, and takes pleasure in manipulating them. He's not so much on trial as he is the ringmaster in a spectacle he seems to enjoy.

  3. Debra

    Up to this point, Belford has been writing to ask him for letters, and he says he has no subject. At the beginning of this letter he says he has a “subject with a vengeance.” This is an occasion for one of his great set pieces. It is meant to be funny (and for me it is). What this says about his state of mind is unanswerable, since he is obviously performing here as he was during the events he recounts (assuming the letter is accurate). It's interesting, I think, that he can now no longer write those long elaborate narrative letters, except when something happens like this in his family. Otherwise, without Clarissa, he has no subject (and probably no subjectivity).

  4. Rachel Gramer

    Yes! I wrote something similar in the margins here! Lovelace is back in the drama!

    Rather than dreaming of a “frolic” (as he was in Vol. 6 when keeping Clarissa locked up and facing her constant refusal was such a drag to him), he seems fully engaged here. There is drama coming to him, even outside of Mrs. Sinclair's house, and he is ripe for the challenge of toying with his family and pulling out all the stops.

    I wonder then: does this align with the notion of Lovelace as having no center? Or does it just mean he shines when there's conflict or drama? Anna wrote of Clarissa's “shining time” as one of suffering. By contrast, Lovelace's “shining time” is fraught with conflict, which he can then manipulate according to his will.

    And he doesn't even have to “win” (he agrees to marry her, for example, and then writes to Belford he can still change his mind, no matter what his family thinks). He just has to play. I'm not sure that fits my definition of empty; he seems far from a tabula rasa in this scene, but he does require external forces to be in play in order to feed the conflict and make it seem real, grounding him in the present rhetoric of argument.

  5. Rachel Gramer

    It is a very long letter, Megan! I particularly liked Lovelace's references to himself as masterful rhetorician–ugh:

    “They were all ready to exclaim again: but I went on, proleptically, as a rhetorician would say, before their voices could break out into words.”

    He is a master manipulator here, engaging in the drama and pulling out all of his rhetorical moves as needed. I love that he is willing to make himself look even worse to his family than he really is, attributing Clarissa's accusations to “female resentment,” for example, which sends them all into a frenzy–and which of course Lovelace does not believe any more than they do.

    But in the end, even when he tacitly confesses to nearly everything he did, he still has them right where he wants them: believing they have convinced him of the error of his ways, believing they have had some say or sway over him, which of course we know is false. Lovelace is not a man who changes his mind in the presence of others; alone, in his writings to Belford (read: to himself), perhaps, he will alter his reasoning or evaluation. But he will be damned before he changes his mind because of what his family has said or thought or believed.

    So of course, he survives the “trial,” which wasn't really a trial to begin with: it was just another game for Lovelace to enjoy playing, with no real consequence to himself.

  6. anthony o'keeffe

    All the comments convincingly argue for an unchanged Lovelace–he remains the performer, provoker, manipulator he has always been; he enjoys using specious “logic” to argue blame upon Clarissa. And he is determined, through his rhetorical skills and his determination to speak over people (interrupting, making his voice louder, nor permitting any interruption to his own speech), to win here (having not won as he had hoped when he staged Clarissa's “trial” before SInclair and the whores). Certainly there are funny moments here–he intentionally presents the scene as a comedy–but for me they can no longer cloak the ugly realities that have led to this moment. The harsh realities of the course through which he has put Clarissa are never that far from my mind while he's cynically “triumphing” over those to whom he owes so much.

  7. Megan

    “So of course, he survives the 'trial,' which wasn't really a trial to begin with: it was just another game for Lovelace to enjoy playing, with no real consequence to himself”

    We really do see a return to the old Lovelace here. He is back in the position of master rhetor and gameplayer, working to change and work within the opinions of his family members. But Tony is right, the entire scene, while comedic, is clouded by the knowledge of all that he has done to Clarissa by this point.

    Is this perhaps one of the last moments of rhetorical brilliance by Lovelace as he begins his downward spiral? Do the “ugly realities” lurking behind the scenes foreshadow what is actually coming next for him?

  8. Jessica

    Tony, I agree with the comment about an unchanged, unreformed Lovelace. This reminds me of the Turner article on libertinism, how Lovelace's identity is fluid and resists moral expectations placed on men in that age. Your comment makes me question the idea of Lovelace's identity as in-flux, though. To some extent his sense of self is shaped by his desires and how he responds to them, and he is coming to respond in predictable ways. Perhaps a behavioral pattern developed over time isn't the only indication of whether someone's sense of self is in flux. Sometimes, though, Lovelace seems just seems guided by a compass different from the one that guides Clarissa, but it is still a single compass.

Comments are closed.