Lodge Response

Samuel Richardson


Danny's report outlines very helpfully the changes Richardson made in _Clarissa_. Assuming that the additions were indeed intended to emphasize Clarissa's virtue, the question then becomes--why is this such a central concern? That is, why does Richardson deem it absolutely vital that Clarissa should be an unimpeachable exemplar of purity (as opposed to the more mixed bag of human faults and follies that the rest of us embody)? Other novels have found their interest in the psychological nuances of heroines as they struggle to be `good', but for Richardson it is clear that we are expected to take Clarissa as always already `good', as Goodness itself in fact: the plot then becomes not what Clarissa the individual does, but rather what happens to virtue in the embodied world.

In _Desire and Domestic Fiction_, Nancy Armstrong argues that as the novel came to the fore in the 18th century, the `feminine' became an ideological battleground. It is no coincidence, as Ian Watt seems to see it, that Richardson `solved the problem of plot' by using courtship: courtship--i.e., the pursuance and protection of female virtue--became _the_ plot overall. At the same time that the romance narrative individualizes (that is, depoliticizes), it also, in its insistence on female purity, creates the ever popular public/private split, with women (the private) acting as signifiers of morality. Domestic fiction (e.g. _Clarissa_) creates the female type that all women should aspire to, and, by redrawing battle lines along the gender split, neatly masks the classed aspect it reinstates--that is, that only women of the middle class and above could even hope to emulate this ideal. As women's symbolic value rises, their individuality diminishes: hence a Clarissa increasingly unsullied by human attributes, ascending neatly to sainthood.

The main actor in _Clarissa_ is Clarissa's virtue: it becomes a character in and of itself, the carrot that makes Lovelace (and thus the entire plot) run. Even as Richardson scripts the image of domestic perfection, he absents her from the world; the only place for a Clarissa is in the literary leavings of her letters, as an actual individual, the world has no use for her.