Michael McKeon, in
McKeon’s analysis can be applied to explain how “power” is largely defined as the “ability to make others accept one’s version of events as authoritative” (359). Thus, in
Despite the tragic rape, McKeon optimistically claims that Clarissa is victorious not only because she successfully resists Lovelace’s condescending scheme of marriage but also because she forsakes any possible “manifest material and social empowerment” and chooses to die. McKeon goes on to argue that Clarissa even gains a “new-found power” (365) in her spiritual “conversion” with her virtue in tact—that is, even if she has to choose to die to do so (380). The complicated theoretical machinery with which McKeon introduces his study claims that Clarissa wins in the “battle” with Lovelace. Whereas Pamela gains material rewards, McKeon states that Clarissa gains “new-found power,”
In comparison to Clarissa’s “new-found power,” McKeon cautiously acknowledges that Pamela’s victory, despite the subtitle of
In response to McKeon’s claim of the novel as progressive ideology, I would like to suggest that even before Clarissa’s escape from the Harlowe Place, the novel calls into question McKeon’s optimistic assessment of the heroine’s victory and even the success of her resistance to Lovelace, which forces the heroine to seek shelter in death—that is, in her “father’s house” in the afterlife. In contrast to McKeon’s claim that Clarissa gains “manifest discursive and imaginative empowerment,” I would argue that
Applying McKeon’s terms to
McKeon claims that Lovelace is not only defeated in the terminological battle with Clarissa because “language is her medium” but also forced to possess and control Clarissa’s version of “honor” by the brutal force of rape. Even Belford warns Lovelace against the use of any
Much to Richardson’s dismay, his contemporary friends and large audience of readers begged the author to let Clarissa live and accept Lovelace’s proposal of marriage, thereby securing Clarissa an aristocratic title and granting Lovelace her status of honor in marriage. One of Richardson’s closest friends and critic, Lady Bradshaigh, appeals to the author:
Richardson was exasperated by critics and readers who deemed Lovelace attractive and Clarissa over-scrupulous. Terry Eagleton even defends Clarissa by arguing that “Some of the charges against Clarissa—that she is prudish, dull, naïve, chronically idealizing or tediously meek—seem merely false” (72).
Much of McKeon’s analysis owes its impetus to a question prompted by the novel itself as it is implicit in the ongoing controversy as to whether Clarissa is a prude whose pride cannot accept Lovelace or, indeed, a saint who sincerely aspires to leave the secular world and seek truth and virtue in heaven.11 Eagleton outlines the conflict:
Even when Lovelace—“an avenging male iconoclasm”—rapes Clarissa, he surprisingly does not proceed to gloat or flaunt his victory but rather nervously apologizes and begs that Clarissa accept his proposal of marriage and legally make him a better man. Lovelace’s acknowledgment of his moral downfall and wrongdoings begins, what McKeon would define as, Lovelace’s “conversion,” which includes complete exposure of his crime of rape and the request for help from his influential relatives to persuade Clarissa to concede to marriage. Lovelace’s motives behind his gallant attempts to be forgiven and be able to finally claim Clarissa as his wife seem all too clear in contrast to Clarissa’s refusal to accept Lovelace as a husband and live in aristocratic luxury. If the advantages that accrue to Lovelace from his marriage to Clarissa seem substantial, Clarissa’s motives to shun Lovelace and steadily choose death seem less convincing in comparison.
Although selfish in its inception, Lovelace’s “ability to make others accept [his] version of events as authoritative” is uncomfortably convincing, as evidenced by the contemporary readership demanding a rewrite.12 In contrast to Lovelace’s largely non-material motives for his acts of abduction, attempted rape, and eventual marriage proposal to Clarissa, assessments of Clarissa’s motivation and determination to die in solitude—resulting in her tricking Lovelace to believe that she is going to her literal father’s house—have, as critics acknowledged, encouraged readers to question the extent of Clarissa’s virtue and even accuse Clarissa of being a prudish snob. Even Clarissa, after the rape, accuses herself of “spiritual pride,” and concludes that she was tainted by the capital sin of taking pride “in the applause of everyone,” while supposing “I had not that pride”—concealed as it was under the “thin veil of
My own analysis of
The central scene which accounts for Clarissa’s “conversion” from the secular to the spiritual becomes most apparent in her symbolic “father’s house” letter addressed to none other but Lovelace. In her choice of the allegorical phrase “father’s house,” Clarissa expresses both her resignation of ever returning to the Harlowe Place and her religious aspiration of retiring in her “father’s house” in the afterlife (1233). This letter accomplishes Clarissa’s “conversion” from the image of a fleeing rape victim escaping her persecutor to that of a Christian martyr preparing for a “joyful and long-wished-for-journey” (1233). Even more strikingly, I would argue that it is Lovelace’s reading of this letter which also accomplishes his abrupt “conversion” from the ruthless and dashing rake to the “forgiven” and grateful “penitent.” Lovelace, full of “thankful joy,” happily responds to Clarissa and anxiously tells Belford what he has experienced: “The dear creature cannot receive consolation herself, but she must communicate it to others. How noble!—She would not see me in her adversity: but no sooner does the sun of prosperity begin to shine upon her, than she forgives me” (1234).
Lovelace then goes on to relate how he wakes “in plaguy fright” because of a nightmare in which Clarissa ascends through a ceiling opening, while he descends “tumbling over and over” into a “frightful hole” which turns out to be a “bottomless pit” (1234). Unlike McKeon’s interpretation of Clarissa’s victory and empowerment, William Warner argues that Richardson succeeds in creating an interdependence between Lovelace and Clarissa, making both characters pathetic in their different ways and yet enabling both to elicit the reader’s sympathy. Warner further claims that Lovelace is ultimately as much a victim of Clarissa as she of him, or he of himself. Lovelace’s response in the first meeting after the rape is significant and shocking because it is Lovelace who is abashed, and Clarissa who is dignified and composed. Lovelace’s outcry: “Whose triumph now!” he exclaims, “HERS or MINE?” is indeed in accord with McKeon’s optimistic claim that Lovelace has been in danger from Clarissa all along (901). Even the rape only “dramatically advertises that Clarissa is in [his] power while stealthily signaling that Lovelace is in hers” (McKeon 367). But the language of Clarissa’s immediate response to Lovelace’s letter suggests that his “version of events,” far from signifying Clarissa’s victory over her persecutor, has in some fashion accomplished her ruin—that is, violated her “version of events” in the eyes of the public. For example, after the rape, Clarissa refers to her own body more than once as “nothing” (1413), which is a declaration that critics have read as no more than a “puritan repudiation of the flesh” (Wendt 484). Eagleton, however, argues that this denial “cuts deeper”:
Even the “puritan repudiation of the flesh” (Wendt 484) in the language of Clarissa’s “father’s house” letter to Lovelace and her letters to Anna and Dr. Lewen, far from signifying Clarissa’s victory over Lovelace, has brought about Clarissa’s discursive disempowerment and thereby accomplished her “imaginative” ruin. Just after the rape, Clarissa makes a statement which in any other context would certainly signify her defeat and the inevitable decision to relinquish all ties with the secular world of friends and family to which she once belonged: “But I have told you [Lovelace] as solemnly my mind, that I never
Even after the horrific rape, the reader is forced to agree that Clarissa is probably right in that by attempting to prosecute Lovelace for rape in public, she would be ultimately sealing her doom. Anna’s detailed account of the neighborhood’s ready acceptance of Lovelace, even by those who should be sympathetic towards Clarissa, indicates the likely outcome of a trial in court. The extent to which society will condone the rake is shown by Lovelace successfully presenting himself as a wronged potential husband and further portraying Clarissa as a prudish snob and cold bride. Unlike McKeon’s claim that Clarissa “wins,” Lovelace is successful in manipulating the public to believe in his version of truth and virtue. Even more shocking than McKeon’s analysis of Clarissa is Lovelace’s ready acceptance by a group of gentry from Clarissa’s own neighborhood. Although the neighboring, well-born women are familiar with Lovelace’s libertine wrongdoings, they sympathize with the rake and even choose to serve as his accomplice in the act of intercepting important letters between Clarissa and Anna. Although the public knows that Lovelace is guilty of rape, Anna is the only person who openly shows her disgust with Lovelace — other women’s flirtatious behavior with and the men’s careful respect of Lovelace show how Clarissa’s fears become reality, even without the painstaking legal process of prosecution in court. Anna is furious to see “how pleased half the giddy fools of our sex were with him, notwithstanding his notorious wicked character” (1136).
After the rape and Clarissa’s final escape from Lovelace, in contrast to the acceptance Lovelace receives, Clarissa is forced into hiding and shuns all interaction with the secular world—that is, all except for Jack Belford, a reformed libertine. Having been betrayed by one rake, Clarissa is nevertheless reduced to completely entrusting the legal execution of her posthumous will and her entire secular welfare upon another rake. Strikingly, Clarissa unambiguously believes in Belford’s complete reformation and persuades even Anna to place her trust in him, this going against her hard learnt lesson that one cannot reclaim a notorious rake and make a penitent of him. Lovelace sarcastically analyzes Clarissa’s attraction to him as “deriding her notions [of] how charmingly it would look to have [him] . . . dangling at her side to church, through an applauding neighborhood” (1019). Clarissa later admits to Lovelace’s aunt, Lady Betty, that she did hope that she might be a humble means in the “hand of Providence” to reclaim Lovelace: a motive she now regards as “
Clarissa’s defeat, then, can be analyzed and interpreted in three rather conventional ways. First, Clarissa’s sexual attraction to and confession of love for Lovelace both serve to strengthen Lovelace’s “ability to make others accept [his] version of events as authoritative,” while undermining Clarissa’s. One could argue that the use of language which would conventionally signify Clarissa’s involuntary affection for her persecutor may, as conventionally, signify sexual desire and ultimate rape of her “version” of truth and virtue. In fragment Paper III, written immediately after the rape, Clarissa concludes by asking who was most to blame, and answers, “The lady, surely! For what
In order to fully understand the implications of the language in Clarissa’s response, it is necessary to examine an earlier exchange between Clarissa and Lovelace in which the topics of punishment and death enter the conversation more directly. Just days after the rape, Clarissa argues with Lovelace about his right to demand with physical force that she
The two types of legal proceedings described in this passage include “compelling someone to consider” (i.e. threatening somebody to accept a different version of events) and “punishment worse than death” (i.e. imprisoning and physically restraining someone in order to extract a “promise” or course of action against one’s will).13 The act of threatening someone to accept a different version of events can be seen as a request for information to verify a version of events as authoritative; thus, this act can be designated as a “Question of Truth.” The second act of imprisoning someone to extract a promise against one’s will can be seen as a means of extracting through force a course of action which can be manipulated as innocent or guilty; thus, this act can be described as a “Question of Virtue.”
After the rape, Clarissa’s defiant refusal to marry Lovelace is her last attempt to deny him the satisfaction of “correcting” or “amending” his past wrongdoing through legal discourse of marriage, a discourse that would make his version of events ultimately authoritative. Clarissa appeals to her Cousin Morden and explains that she can forgive Lovelace but cannot—through the means of marriage—give “sanction to the most premeditated baseness” of his criminal act (902). Clarissa’s response is stern and unforgiving when she asks how Anna could think her “so
How then does an understanding of these legal methods inflect our understanding of Clarissa’s refusal to marry Lovelace and her refusal to prosecute him? Clearly Clarissa relinquishes her legal right to prosecute Lovelace in response to the second threat. For not only does she concern herself primarily with matters of “guilt” or “innocence,” innocence here for Clarissa being synonymous with “her” version of virtue, but she also wishes to avoid at all costs the threat implicit in Lovelace’s “version of events” of having her virtue “bandied about, and jested profligately with” in public. Her capitulation clearly takes on the aspect of a legal plea, thus giving “discursive imaginative disempowerment” to the legal word “prosecute” in her response to both Anna and Dr. Lewen; as a result, Clarissa explains how she must pay the painful price for having “disempowered” her version of virtue to such a rake as Lovelace. Clarissa writes describing her discursive imaginative disempowerment as becoming reality through public response: “a ready retort from every mouth that I ought not to have thrown myself into the power of such a man, and that I ought to take for my pains what had befallen me” (1253). Clarissa’s refusal to prosecute Lovelace then both signifies her disempowerment and provides evidence of her “unauthoritative” plea of “not guilty” or “innocent,” which is offered in order to avoid the threatened punishment for non-pleaders — public disgrace. Thus, Clarissa attempts to answer what she understands as a “Question of Virtue.” But for Lovelace the question of Clarissa’s guilt or innocence, at least as far as she defines these terms is not interesting. Lovelace is primarily interested in his ability to successfully control Clarissa’s virtue: the contexts and whereabouts of her letters, “the light that [she] puts things in,” and the minute details of her fear during her imprisonment. Lovelace uses threat of torture, “punishment worse than death,” in order to prove his version of events, thereby acquiring Clarissa’s “consideration” for his proposal of marriage, and thus seeks to answer, by all methods and at any risk, “Questions of Truth.”
What makes Lovelace’s demand for and forced acquisition of Clarissa’s “consideration” particularly nefarious, however, is his deliberate confusion of these legal methods in order to accomplish his ends. Lovelace, by substituting one torture for another, exchanging threat for threat, does indeed force Clarissa to “plead” for her freedom by kneeling “lifting up her clasped hands”—but without his ever having to “put her to the question.” In other words, Clarissa pleads and even surrenders to prosecute before she knows the charge; she implicitly declares herself “disempowered” before she has the knowledge to define the meanings of these terms and thus to distinguish the conditions of innocence from the conditions of guilt. Clarissa, consequently, along with her right to prosecute, not only surrenders to Lovelace any pretensions of judging her own guilt or innocence but also loses the discursive and imaginative power to convey her version of truth and virtue.
How then does this enable us to reinterpret the language of Clarissa’s response to Lovelace and her motives for refusing to marry the persecutor, whom she also refuses to prosecute? In order to explain this it is instructive to look at the balance of implicit accusation and exoneration of Lovelace in Clarissa’s letter. Clarissa’s words suggests in many ways that a metaphoric rape of her ability to represent her version of events has occurred; she writes that “GOD ALMIGHTY WOULD NOT LET ME DEPEND FOR COMFORT UPON ANY BUT HIMSELF”—a construction that emphasizes, in contrast, how Lovelace’s version of events control the secular world of opinions: “
It is important here to recognize both the implications and the indeterminacy of the justification. It suggests that Clarissa, on her escape from Lovelace, could be suspected of some “guilt” by her parents and neighbors—a possibility which could only be forestalled by the prosecution of her rapist in court for public opinion. Such an action, however, would only entail certain guilt of another sort for it is unquestionably a sign of criminal ingratitude for Clarissa to flee deliberately from her family and seek the protection of a renowned rake. Such a “version of events” and action, in the eyes of the gentry neighborhood, would mean forfeiture of innocence by a different means. Lovelace has, in effect, rendered it impossible for Clarissa to flee from Lovelace’s imprisonment without suffering some damage to her “innocence,” in terms of either public opinion or her “version” of truth and virtue.
Clarissa’s allegorical “father’s house” letter, then, explains why she writes as though the letter both accomplishes and informs her of her own rape of discursive imaginative power; informs her, that is, of the necessary forfeiture of her “innocence” should she return home to the Harlowe Place. We may read her letters as proof that she has made an escape from Lovelace only to be more a prisoner of public opinion. This also explains why Clarissa originally resolves, most uncharacteristically, to deceive Lovelace and seek spiritual freedom in the afterlife. Clarissa’s confessions of having experienced sexual attraction and personal pride, and her refusal to prosecute Lovelace for his crime seriously call into question her complete innocence during her earlier imprisonment and later seclusion until her death. In conclusion, this reading provides an inevitable motive for Clarissa to seek comfort in the afterlife where her version of truth and virtue is unquestionable.
Clarissa’s refusal to marry and prosecute Lovelace, however, does not put an end to all of her figurative trials and pleadings; rather it increases them ten-fold. For now Clarissa, still ignorant of the charges which may be brought against her and of the conditions which could determine her innocence or guilt, must either continue to “plead” to both Lovelace and the impromptu “jury” of the neighboring gentry or completely relinquish all ties with her previous life—that is, surrender her version of virtue and any possible discursive imaginative empowerment.
Consequently Clarissa, far from winning the battle “to define the meaning of these categories and to enforce acceptance of . . . terms upon the other,” ultimately loses even the capacity to assert her own innocence with certainty because that capacity resides in the legal powers of Lovelace—either through marriage or prosecution. Such a reading would further indicate that Clarissa’s “discursive imaginative empowerment” is not “fitfully acknowledged on the plane of discourse,” but rather steadily contradicted on the plane of discourse. Clarissa becomes, as she herself points out, “nobody’s,” which on the one hand, is a triumphant, radical refusal of any place within the “symbolic order” but, on the other hand, as Eagleton points out, a reduction of “the dying Clarissa” as “nothing, errant, schizoid, a mere empty place and non-person” whose version of events cannot exist within her secular world.
In other words, Clarissa’s position as defendant standing in trial before Lovelace defines and upholds his position as judge of Clarissa’s innocence in this novel. Far from being merely a passive reader of Clarissa’s writings, Lovelace acts as a relentless and powerful interpreter, capable of constructing letters that can simultaneously accomplish and inform Clarissa of her own rape—forcing her conversion and ultimate defeat of attaining “discursive and imaginative empowerment.” Thus, Lovelace eventually stands in for some of the most powerful figures associated with the novel—the figures of the reader, the interpreter, the judge, and the editor. Perhaps, in fact, the figure which most closely approximates Lovelace is essentially McKeon’s discursive and imaginative empowerment, which discriminates, conflates, and categorizes “Questions of Truth” and “Questions of Virtue” at will.
1See Michael McKeon’s “Part III: The Dialectical Constitution of The Novel,” in The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1987), 273-409. 2For a critical reading of McKeon’s analysis of Pamela, see Ewha Chung’s “The Test of Virtue in Samuel Richardson’s Andrews,” in Inmunkwahak: The Journal of the Humanities Vol. LXXIV Dec (1995): 367-84. 3All citations for Samuel Richardson’s novels are from the following edition: Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady, ed. Angus Ross (NY: Penguin, 1985). 4For detailed research concerning Richardson’s new epistolary narrative technique, see Paul Goring’s “Chapter 5. Polite reading: sentimental fiction and the performance of response” in The Rhetoric of Sensibility in Eighteenth-Century Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005), 142-81. 5Terry Eagleton in The Rape of Clarissa: Writing, Sexuality and Class Struggle in Samuel Richardson (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982) discusses the ideology of writing and examines how in Richardson’s fiction ‘experience’ can be conveyed in all its living immediacy by language. Eagleton states that the technique of “writing to the moment” reinforces the faith that writing and reality may be at one (40-53). For more extensive literature on Richardson’s technique of “writing to the moment,” see T. C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel in Samuel Richardson: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1971), 98, 100, 213-31, 242, 597. 6All references to Samuel Richardson’s novel, Pamela (1740), will refer to the Signet Classic edition of Pamela-Shamela (NY: New American Library Inc., 1980). 7For McKeon’s most recent analysis of the patriarchy in Pamela, see “Chapter 14. Secret History as Novel: Family Politics,” in The Secret of History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005), 640-46. 8For further study on how McKeon develops his theoretical paradigm of the novel, see John Richetti’s chapter, “The Legacy of Ian Watt,” in The Profession of Eighteenth-Century Literature: Reflections on an Institution (Madison, Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1992), 95-112. 9See deconstructionists William Beatty Warner’s Reading “Clarissa”: Struggles of Interpretation (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979); and, Terry Castle’s Clarissa’s Ciphers: Meaning and Disruption in Richardson’s “Clarissa” (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982). Warner (pro-Lovelace) and Castle (pro-Clarissa) have thoroughly demonstrated Lovelace’s and Clarissa’s control, lack of control, and complete manipulation of meaning. In both arguments, whether pro-Clarissa or pro-Lovelace, the analyses focus on struggle, which essentially evolve around the power to control and manipulate one another’s meaning. 10See “Preface” of Clarissa, p. 36. 11For further research on Clarissa’s allegorical letter concerning her “father’s house,” see Florian Stuber’s “On Fathers and Authority in Clarissa,” Studies in English Literature, 25 (1985), 574; Edward Copeland’s “Allegory and Analogy in Clarissa: The ‘Plan’ and the ‘No-Plan,’” ELH 39 (1972), 259-60; and, Allan Wendt’s “Clarissa’s Coffin,” Philological Quarterly, vol. XXXIX (October 1960), 483-97. 12See Eaves and Kimpel, “Chapter X. The Composition of Clarissa; Lady Bradshaigh,” and “Chapter XII. The Reception of Clarissa; Richardson and Fielding, 1748-1750,” pp. 205-34; pp. 285-321. 13John Bender in Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of the Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987) analyzes the concept of crime and punishment in the eighteenth century and further examines various forms of penitentiaries prevalent throughout the period.