Belford Explains Clarissa’s Situation (L333)

What a cursed piece of work hast thou made of it, with the most excellent of women! Thou mayest be in earnest, or in jest, as thou wilt; but the poor lady will not be long either thy sport, or the sport of fortune!
I will give thee an account of a scene that wants but her affecting pen to represent it justly; and it would wring all the black blood out of thy callous heart.
Thou only, who art the author of her calamities, shouldst have attended her in her prison. I am unequal to such a task: nor know I any other man but would.
This last act, however unintended by thee, yet a consequence of thy general orders, and too likely to be thought agreeable to thee, by those who know thy other villanies by her, has finished thy barbarous work. And I advise thee to trumpet forth every where, how much in earnest thou art to marry her, whether true or not.
Thou mayest safely do it. She will not live to put thee to the trial; and it will a little palliate for thy enormous usage of her, and be a mean to make mankind, who know not what I know of the matter, herd a little longer with thee, and forbear to hunt thee to thy fellow-savages in the Lybian wilds and deserts . . .
Looking about her, and seeing the three passages, to wit, that leading to Henrietta-street, that to King-street, and the fore-right one, to Bedford-street, crowded, she started—Any where—any where, said she, but to the woman’s! And stepping into the chair, threw herself on the seat, in the utmost distress and confusion—Carry me, carry me out of sight— cover me—cover me up—for ever—were her words.
Thy villain drew the curtain: she had not power: and they went away with her through a vast crowd of people.
Here I must rest. I can write no more at present.
Only, Lovelace, remember, all this was to a Clarissa!!! . . .
Then who can write of good persons, and of good subjects, and be capable of admiring them, and not be made serious for the time? And hence may we gather what a benefit to the morals of men the keeping of good company must be; while those who keep only bad, must necessarily more and more harden, and be hardened . . .
‘Tis twelve of the clock, Sunday night—I can think of nothing but this excellent creature. Her distresses fill my head and my heart. I was drowsy for a quarter of an hour; but the fit is gone off. And I will continue the melancholy subject from the information of these wretches. Enough, I dare say, will arise in the visit I shall make, if admitted to-morrow, to send by thy servant, as to the way I am likely to find her in.
After the women had left her, she complained of her head and her heart; and seemed terrified with apprehensions of being carried once more to Sinclair’s.
Refusing any thing for breakfast, Mrs. Rowland came up to her, and told her, (as these wretches owned they had ordered her, for fear she should starve herself,) that she must and should have tea, and bread and butter: and that, as she had friends who could support her, if she wrote to them, it was a wrong thing, both for herself and them, to starve herself thus.
If it be for your own sakes, said she, that is another thing: let coffee, or tea, or chocolate, or what you will, be got: and put down a chicken to my account every day, if you please, and eat it yourselves. I will taste it, if I can. I would do nothing to hinder you. I have friends will pay you liberally, when they know I am gone.
They wondered, they told her, at her strange composure in such distresses.
They were nothing, she said, to what she had suffered already from the vilest of all men. The disgrace of seizing her in the street; multitudes of people about her; shocking imputations wounding her ears; had indeed been very affecting to her. But that was over.—Every thing soon would! —And she should be still more composed, were it not for the apprehensions of seeing one man, and one woman; and being tricked or forced back to the vilest house in the world.

6 thoughts on “Belford Explains Clarissa’s Situation (L333)

  1. Megan

    What did you guys think of this letter and the entire “Clarissa in Jail” subplot? This part of the novel totally threw me for a loop, but I really like the way Belford has stepped in as the intermediary between Clarissa and Lovelace. What do you make of his role in all of this, and do you think his relationship with Lovelace is changing?

    I'm also curious to hear what people have to say about Clarissa in this letter. She seems to swing wildly between “strangely composed” and utterly distraught. What did you guys think?

  2. Rachel Gramer

    I have lots of exclamation points on these pages: I was excited something different was happening; in shock that Clarissa got yet another trial to add to her list of tribulations; and anticipating greatly Belford's face-to-face interactions with Clarissa (finally).

    Thematically, I thought the jail scenes were useful to play out many of the same ideas we've seen thus far. For example, Clarissa being mistreated in front of others, this time in front of the house. There is always a crowd for this–and seems so shocking to me as a 21st century reader that no one could successfully intervene for her.

    Clarissa is also forced to declare her aversion to men–“am I to go with _men_ only?”–revealing her terror of the physical threat she is now aware they pose to her.

    And when she asks them to carry her away, she says “Cover me–Cover me up–for ever,” which reminded me of her admonishment for Lovelace to bury a hole deep enough and put her in it. All very highly sexualized on her part–and invoking her desire that they should at least demonstrate remorse for what they've all done (Lovelace, the women in Mrs. Sinclair's, these people watching her demise, her family), by attempting to “cover up” the damage they have done rather than leave it for all the world to see. This would involve covering, burying Clarissa so that she is never “seen” again. So much to unpack even in a few short lines.

    But I thought the most interesting work done in this particular letter was not thematic (mostly bringing up old news), but narrative–at the narrative level, Richardson seems to push us even farther from the direct experience of Clarissa telling her own story in her letters. Here, we have Belford telling Clarissa's story to Lovelace–a story which has to be relayed to him from Mrs. Sinclair, Polly, and Sally, three highly unreliable sources with their own motives and biases.

    I'm not sure I can say why I think Richardson did this–for the obvious suspense? stalling us from getting the whole story from Clarissa? postponing the inevitable meeting with Belford? heightening our sympathy for her because she had not one friend to rescue her and was being persecuted from the very women who are now relating the story to her only 'friend' nearby?

    But what I love is that it creates a narrative web in which everyone is implicated in some way. This isn't about Lovelace anymore–Clarissa is still being persecuted by the women, her jailer (even unknowingly), the crowd, and even Belford himself becomes further implicated by trying to help Clarissa and pledge his allegiance to Lovelace at the same time. Everyone is implicated; everyone is guilty. Brilliant.

  3. Keri Mathis

    Belford’s role in this volume is fascinating to me. At first, I assumed he was going to be sort of a stand-in for Lovelace (even though he has often rejected Lovelace’s plots), but Belford so adamantly rejects his role in Lovelace’s plot and even begins to mock Lovelace in these accounts and others in the volume. For example, in the beginning of this letter, Belford proclaims, “I will give thee an account of a scene that wants but her affecting pen to represent it justly; and it would wring all the black blood out of thy callous heart.” His reasons for relaying this information are entirely to try to force Lovelace to see the consequences of his actions. It really is fascinating how much of integral role Belford is playing in protecting Clarissa and advocating for her since she cannot do so herself. To address Megan’s question more specifically, then, I think that Belford becomes more than an intermediary between the two characters, as he seems entirely devoted to Clarissa.

    Furthermore, in this excerpt, we also see Belford succumbing to emotions that require him to pause in the letter. He writes, “Here I must rest. I can write no more at present. Only, Lovelace, remember, all this was to a Clarissa!!!” Even though he must stop writing momentarily, though, he feels compelled to chide Lovelace once more (with several exclamation points) by drawing attention to the fact that he has injured “a Clarissa.” The emotional display and the incessant reprimanding throughout his letter and others serves as further evidence that Belford’s writing becomes Clarissa’s voice – he has become much more than a passive recipient of Lovelace’s narratives. He has gained a new control over the narrative that we have yet to see.

  4. anthony o'keeffe

    Fine phrase from Rachel–a “narrative web in which everyone is implicated in some way.” And now, as both Rachel and Keri point out, she has a new “narrator” through which her story will be told with full sympathy. Belford is wonderful at creating for us the deeper Clarissa who now inhabits the book, both through his retelling of her experience and his own developing maturity (which leads us to see her even more vividly and sympathetically).

  5. Megan

    Great comments, everyone!

    I really love Rachel's points about the way so many people outside of Lovelace are implicated in the story, though it seems none of them (including Lovelace!!) really understand the full measure of their guilt. Belford is definitely included in this. As Keri pointed out, he is becoming an intermediary between the two characters, growing to side more and more with Clarissa. But I was so frustrated when toward the beginning of this letter he writes, “I advise thee to trumpet forth everywhere, how much in earnest thou art to marry her, whether thou art or not. Thou mayest _safely_ do it. She will not live to put thee to the trial.”

    To give Belford a little credit, I think these type of suggestions are largely absent from his later letters as he grows to hold Clarissa more dear than Lovelace.

    As for thinking through why Belford is telling Clarissa's story, I, like Rachel, am not really sure, but I found it interesting how many times in this volume she seemed unable to write. That was all she could do early on, and it seemed impossible to get her to stop, but she is at times in this volume uninterested or unable to participate in writing.

  6. Steve

    There's an earlier conversation about the letter in which Lovelace “builds himself up” before the rape that's useful here. In that letter, Lovelace talks about the events he's set in motion as being bigger than him. All of his plots and the help he has enlisted have formed a machine that will run whether he wants it to or not. His machinations have outgrown him. Here, we see the result, and it recalls another earlier conversation about reputation. Mrs. Sinclair is taking action based on what she knows of Lovelace, what she thinks he wants, and how she expects he might go about things. She's basing her actions on her ideas of him — on his reputation (on some level). Here, we see circulating narratives about who Lovelace is and how he does things working against him.

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