Clarissa on writing her own story (L405)

I subjoin a list of the papers or letters I shall enclose. You must return them all when perused.
I am very much tired and fatigued — with — I don’t know what — with writing, I think — but most with myself, and with a situation I cannot help aspiring to get out of, and above!
Oh, my dear, ’tis a sad, a very sad world! — While under our parents’ protecting wings, we know nothing at all of it. Book-learned and a scribbler, and looking at people as I saw them as visitors or visiting, I thought I knew a great deal of it. Pitiable ignorance! — Alas! I knew nothing at all!
You will see by these several letters, written and received in so little a space of time (to say nothing of what I have received and written, which I cannot show you), how little opportunity or leisure I can have for writing my own story.

6 thoughts on “Clarissa on writing her own story (L405)

  1. Jessica

    Two things strike me about this letter. 1) Clarissa reflects on what she thought she knew in light of the realization that she actually knew very little. Is being “book learned and a scribbler” now associated with naivete for her? And 2) Clarissa realizes that other people's letters, rather than her few in this growing pile, will eventually be instrumental in telling her story. Seems that this states what many of us were discussing in past volumes: Clarissa is gradually losing the power to narrate her own story.

  2. Megan

    I noticed a lot of the same in the last volume, Jessica. Clarissa seems to waver between being unable to write and choosing to do so. There are several passages throughout volume seven where she explains (either in her own letters or through Belford) that she is too weak to write. It's unsurprising that this is continued into volume eight as she continues to weaken and move toward her death. Side note – that last sentence might be one of the most depressing sentences I've ever written.

    We are seeing Clarissa's writerly self break down as her body does. If she was using writing to shape her identity, I wonder to what extent her identity can no longer be shaped through writing as she can no longer participate in that act. As she moves toward death, her identity is becoming more and more fixed, and she is less and less able to write.

  3. Keri Mathis

    Clarissa’s ability to reflect here and determine that she knows very little was striking to me, as well. While she realizes that she knows less than she thought she did, her experience allows her an insight that she did not have before now. She cries, “Alas! I knew nothing at all!” This epiphany for her certainly indicates a loss of power and control over her story, as you suggest here, Jessica. I, however, really want to see this revelation as (somewhat) liberating for her. She seems to have some of these feelings, I think, because in a later letter in this volume, she writes, “And for the satisfaction of my friends and favourers, Miss Howe is solicitous to have all those letters and materials preserved, which will set my whole story in a true light” (emphasis mine). She can finally relinquish a little control over the narrative and put her story into others’ hands, hoping they construct her narrative in a way that represents the version of herself that she still holds to be her “true self.”

    On a slightly different note, while reading this letter and others in this volume, I could not help but think about our discussion last week about temporality and narrative and the notion of an “end” to the narrative. Is this Clarissa’s movement towards an “end” to her own story? I tend to think it is because here we see Clarissa taking part in a reflection of her larger story – not just the bits and pieces or the “micro-narratives” as she has reflected upon previously. This movement towards her narrative’s end is certainly a crucial point in the novel, and I think marking the places where we see her reflecting on the end of her story is certainly important for some of the larger questions about writing, identity, and the self we have been attempting to answer.

  4. anthony o'keeffe

    Every comment so very sharp already. As Jessica notes, it seems Clarissa is handing off the final narrative of her life to others–as she must, in light of her own expectation of premature death. Her weariness with writing and with the situations her life has trapped her in seem very connected. For so long, she expended so very much energy in constructing herself to others through her brilliant gift for writing; finding that not even the most brilliant of writers can create herself as she wishes to others, she must surely be tired of the effort (and disappointed with the eventual results: people either seeing her written identity construction as deceit or manipulation, or refusing to even to read that construction). As Megan comments, her writerly self breaks down as her body does. I'd add the suggestion that her writerly self also breaks down in light of the larger theological/eschatological realities she has begun to thoughtfully encounter. I think this ties in very directly with what Keri notes about Clarissa's very personal “sense of an ending.” Young as she is, Clarissa could hardly have been expected to think of her own narrative ending for a long time to come; faced with her illness, and her visceral sense of her irresistible bodily decline, she reacts with fresh and remarkable insight, emotional and intellectual.

  5. Rachel Gramer

    Jessica brings up a good point that Keri and Tony take up–this sense of Clarissa looking back now that she knows she's approaching her end and how she situates herself in relation to the larger realities of death in light of her faith. It is striking how maturely and thoroughly she plans her own end, especially considering how young she is, as Tony already noted.

    It's fascinating how, as Megan noted, as her body breaks down, so too does her ability to write. I marked the letters that ended up being her last written, her last written to Anna, her last signed, etc. And so from this point on, some of the narrative power lies in someone else's telling of what is still Clarissa's story–and lies, too, in her posthumous letters and the collections of letters that have carried us thus far.

    I think it was Eagleton in “The Rape of Clarissa” who talked about the letters as fetish, as objects that are wept over, torn, carried, treated as property, etc. And now that one of our primary authors is unable to put pen to paper, we realize how much we rely on the letters as narrative artifacts even moreso perhaps than we have discussed previously. How much the letters are part of Clarissa's “end,” just as they have acted as her “ends” all along.

    I do suggest an alternative to Jessica's statement, though, that “Clarissa is gradually losing the power to narrate her own story.” She is doing everything in her power to shape her story–right up to the end–including writing letters that will be delivered after her death, writing her will, inscribing her own coffin, and facilitating the circulation of letters already written. Just because she's not actually “writing” letters by the end of this volume doesn't mean she's not still “writing” her story. And in planning events out, as they will occur in the time after her death, she continues to have “narrative” power, too.

  6. Debra

    There are so many smart and insightful comments in this post. I just want to add one idea. I think one reason Clarissa might prefer to let Belford or Anna write her story is because Belford, in particular, has access to Lovelace's letters. Clarissa's story (or at least the one we have read) is dialogic. And while she would never use that term, I think she understands that her own actions and motives were being played out in a context she never realized. For that we (she) need(s) Lovelace's letters.

    I also think here we have a real “sense of the ending,” as Frank Kermode describes it. The ability of the protagonist to see her own death and plan for it, plus the ability to “see” (“believe” what will happen after that death gives Clarissa the kind of resolution Kermode says must always be fictional. I am not saying that Clarissa's idea of heaven is necessarily a fiction (I expect for Richardson and his readers it seemed quite real), but her movement towards it (and the physical reality of dying we will see next week) seem to me impossible in “real life.” Thus, she must turn over to others the narration of the end to construct it as the end she believes (wishes) she will meet.

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