Author Archives: dsjour01

Lovelace, Narrative, Writing, and the Self

In this section we respond to some of the questions about Lovelace that emerged from our reading and responding. These questions include:

  • What kind of self is, or may be, at the center of Lovelace’s astonishing textual abilities and love of performance?
  • Why does Lovelace seems so driven to write?
  • How is this narrative drive related to Lovelace’s self performance?
  • How does Lovelace use rhetoric, and what is the relation of rhetoric to power?

Blogs, Narrative, Writing, and the Self

In this section we respond to some of the questions about blogs thaat emerged from our reading and responding. These questions include:

  • How do blogs as communicative technologies highlight the interrelation of writer and readers?
  • How do blogs create different possibilities for autobiography?
  • In what sense can blogs present texts with narrative shape?
  • How is narrative agency exercised in blogs?

Remediating Clarissa as a Blog

In this section, we report how our reading of Clarissa was shaped by its remediation as a blog. Some of the affordances and limitations of blogging Clarissa include:

  • How collaborative writing on the blog enhanced collaborative reading strategies.
  • How the blog opened up a space for affective as well as academic response.
  • How the remediated Clarissa changed the act of reading, through new forms of accountability and affiliation.
  • How blogging Clarissa transformed the kinds of conversations we were able to have in class meetings.

Remediating Clarissa as a Blog: The Instructor’s Perspective. Debra Journet

The genesis for this course was my reading of Clarissa, about 10 years ago, and my new interest in personal blogs, i.e., blogs that narrate the on-going story of someone’s life. When I first read Clarissa, I was struck by its utter novelty: the depth of its psychological insight, its innovations in form. I kept thinking hypertext, stream-of-consciousness, gender politics. I had Clarissa in the back of my mind when I started reading blogs for a project in another class I was teaching. I was particularly drawn to blogs that seemed to be structured around the on-going narrative of someone’s life. My sense that the narrative actions of a blog and the narrative actions of Clarissa were somehow analogous was strengthened when I found Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s (2007) claim that “these two factors [epistolary form and concern with personal experience] combine to suggest that blogs that are interested in the ongoing production of a personal narrative are in fact poised to become a literary form with all of the resonance and sophistication of the novel.” Were blogs poised to be “novels?” Was a novel like Clarissa a harbinger of the blog? I tried to think through these questions by speculating on the blog-like features of Clarissa and on the novelistic features of certain blogs. In particular, I looked to blogs that had thematic content similar to that of Clarissa: blogs that detailed rape or violence against women.

Alongside this attention to analogies between Clarissa and blogs was a long-standing interest in narrative theory, particularly how narrative shapes experiences or events to afford them specific meaning. In this webtext, the affordances of narrative appear most directly in the textual analyses of Clarissa and blogs. But on a more fundamental level, I also saw narrative in the acts of learning that this webtext documents. Understanding learning as a narrative means seeing the learner as an agent who is motivated towards the end: completing the novel, building an interpretation, writing a critical argument. This sense of learning as narrative resonates with Peter Brooks’s (1992) concept of “narrative desire,” or a relationship to narrative that carries us “forward, onward through the text” (p. 37). It is this idea of movement onward or toward a satisfactory ending that transforms the action of reading or learning into an embodied act of narrative desire. Narrative desire enters this webtext, then, in at least two ways. One is the mimetic narratives participants created in the remediation and analysis of Clarissa and the contemporary blog they analyzed; the other is the performative narrative they enacted as they read, analyzed, discovered, and constructed their arguments. Both narratives are central to this webtext.

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Clarissa, Narrative, Writing, and the Self

In this section we respond to some of the questions about Clarissa that emerged from our reading and responding. These questions include:

  • Why does Clarissa continue to write to Anna, even when there is little possibility of response?
  • How is Clarissa’s sense of an autonomous and inviolate self reflected in her writing and her need to write?
  • How does writing help Clarissa gain agency in her life?
  • How are issues of authority and authorship entangled in Clarissa’s life?

Lovelace’s Blog

Robert Lovelace Preparing to Abduct Clarissa Harlowe

Here you will find the letters between Robert Lovelace and John Belford remediated as a blog. In these letters we find Lovelace performing a protean, almost postmodern sense of self. We see the novel’s characters’ (and reflect our own) difficulties in understanding just what is at Lovelace’s center.

All of the posts have comments; click on the post title to see the full post and all comments.

Clarissa’s Blog

Clarissa Harlowe in the Prison Room of the Sheriff's Office exhibited 1833 Charles Landseer 1799-1879 Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

Here you will find letters between Clarissa Harlowe and her correspondents, primarily Anna Howe, remediated as a blog. Within these letters, Clarissa narrates a view of the self as authentic and autonomous. We witness throughout her letters, as things go from bad to worse, the challenges of holding onto a coherent identity in the face of emotional and physical violence.

All of the posts have comments; click on the post title to see the full post and all comments.

The Self

In this section, we summarize our response to a set of related issues, including, self, identity, and agency.

Volume I

Letter 36 in Volume I contains Clarissa’s story of meeting Lovelace in the garden. Tony pointed to “one of the real satisfactions of encountering this letter—the chance to see Clarissa and Lovelace face-to-face, and to see them ‘trade’ language so vividly. She asserts herself against Lovelace as strongly as against her family, but with more of a belief that she has a receptive audience here—even to her criticisms. And of course, so early in the novel, we can still have some hopeful expectations about Lovelace, despite his reputation.”

Responding also to Letter 36, Jessica, however, became nervous, particularly about how Lovelace frames Clarissa’s options and how “masterful he is at rhetorically framing himself as a hurt party whose pain could be alleviated if only the object of his desire would just go along with what he wants. And Clarissa is so good at seeing and articulating the underlying bias of Lovelace’s construction of reality, even though she’s persuaded on some level that he is ‘suffering.’” Rachel agreed that “Clarissa has a weakness for Lovelace—is it her Puritan optimism that there is redemption for every rake? I’m not sure. Because I also think that Clarissa likes Lovelace with her mind and reasoning just as much as her soul and hope for redemption.”

Keri agreed, though pointed to the way “Clarissa is aware of her vulnerability to him. She tries to maintain an agency and approach Lovelace with authority, but she also shows concern that she has let her correspondence with him go on for too long.. . . All that to say, I think I am as confused as Clarissa is. I still can’t quite get a handle on her agency here. She seems very aware of Lovelace’s powerful mind and appreciates his ability to reason, and she also stands up to him at times letting him know that she wishes to marry no one. But she also submits to him because she feels a bit threatened and also sympathetic to him due to the hardships he has endured in trying to maintain correspondence with her.” Kendra too noted Clarissa’s ambivalence: “If she knows his postulations of devotion and love are suspect why does she let herself be drawn to him? . . . What is curious is that Clarissa is suspicious of him but, despite herself and her attraction to his mind, asks Anna ‘do you really think Mr. Lovelace can have a very bad heart?’”

Letter 37 continued to raise questions about Clarissa’s self-knowledge. Steve began by asking “I read this after the scene in the woodhouse thinking ‘is everybody crazy to trust Clarissa’s judgment?’” To which Rachel responded “I asked the same question, also wondering, though, how much Anna actually does trust it. Is their call for detail—always tell me everything, leave nothing out—really just a cry for empirical evidence so they can make their own judgments?” Jessica wondered the same: “Anna writes, ‘Let me add, that if you would clearly and explicitly tell me, how far Lovelace has, or has not, a hold in your affections, I could better advise you what to do, than at present I can.’ I don’t understand this. Clarissa has been so clear. Perhaps we’re supposed to be baffled that no matter how strongly Clarissa insists, she can’t persuade her family and friends that she isn’t in love with Lovelace—another way that Clarissa’s agency is gradually stifled. But the fact that Clarissa’s closest friend has doubts about Clarissa’s feelings for Lovelace makes me wonder what can’t be known through letters alone. We’ve watched how Clarissa’s discourse has its limits (her parents refuse to read her letters; and no matter how clear she is about her dislike for Lovelace, everybody thinks she’s deploying fancy rhetoric to distract from her true feelings). Is there a context we’re missing that is understood outside these letters? Or are Clarissa’s family and friends really this profoundly wrong?” To which Megan responded “The deep intimacy between the two friends has already been established. I wonder if Anna has a better understanding of Clarissa’s feelings and what she could be hiding in her letters. Despite the instructions to leave nothing out, these letters are a construction. Clarissa is purposely giving specific details at certain times. And perhaps some of her words let slip certain ideas that those who do not know her as well would not understand. Surely, her feelings for Lovelace are at least a bit more complicated than we can gather from her letters? Think about this statement from Letter 36—‘I fancy, my dear, however, that there would hardly be a guilty person in the world, were each suspected or accused person to tell his or her own story, and be allowed any degree of credit.’” This sense of the rhetorical constructed-ness of both writing and reading a letter is becoming a major theme for us.

In Letter 42, we also began to see more examples of Clarissa as an agentive self. Kendra saw Clarissa as a “growing character here, because for the first time she seems to delight somewhat in being vindictive and fighting back,’ whereas before she lamented and threw herself upon the floor.” And Meghan concluded by saying that “’Meow!’ is right, Steve. I love finally being able to see Clarissa get angry with someone! Previous to this, I’m reminded of Letter 29 when Clarissa tries writing to her sister from the confines of her room, since she has been ordered to stay there by her family. . . . imploring Arabella to ‘pity’ her. . . . Now, not only does Clarissa abandon the tactic she used before to appeal to Arabella’s love for her as a sister, she deliberately attacks Arabella using something that seems to cause her great pain (her unrequited love for Lovelace). Clarissa seems to have some remorse in retrospect (when she repeatedly asks Miss Howe whether she was justified in her actions and when she refers to Arabella as her “poor sister”), but the fact that she did something like this at all (for me) signals a turning point for her character in finally gaining some nerve instead of only feeling sorry for herself.”

Volume II

Volume II began some interesting conversations about culture and identity. In response to Letter 58, Megan thought that the novel was setting up both Clarissa and Anna in their desire for individuation against the understandings of their respective families of acceptable roles for daughters. Debra observed that Clarissa is stuck “between a rock and a hard place”—the rock being her father’s patriarchal values, and the hard place being the burgeoning role of “love” and the relatively new idea of freedom in choosing who one will marry.  There was also a productive conversation about culture and identity in response to Letters 59 and 60. Tony observed that as the novel progresses, Clarissa’s “untroubled” notion that she has the responsibility and the power to shape her own identity becomes more and more troubled as the novel progresses.