Ana Mitric Response

Richardson

Clarissa


"Man desires a world where good and evil can be clearly distinguished, for he has and innate and irrepressible desire to judge before he understands." (Milan Kundera, _The Art of the Novel_)

Apologies in advance for offering so many questions and so few answers.

Samuel Johnson wrote to Boswell: "Why, Sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment." I must admit that I don't know how to do this. And thus...

I'll start with a few brief responses to Liz's report. With reference to Lady Echlin's revision, in which no rape occurs, Liz writes, "Clarissa thus preseves her honor." I want to ask to what degree is honor somehting that can be taken by somebody else? In an earlier copy of the report, Liz asks if it is possible for Clarissa to live on as "damaged goods"-- "Or is her virtue destined to be rewarded only in heaven?" I want to get back to this issue of locating Clarissa's virtue-- where is it? Is it different from her honor? Is Clarissa actually "damaged goods" after the rape? In whose eyes? In her own? Clearly, virtue is used as shorthand at certain points in the novel for chastity and virginity, but it is also used to denote Clarissa's spiritual goodness. What does Lovelace actually take from Clarissa when he rapes her-- her virtue, her will, or something else? I know we've asked these questions before, but I'm still not satisfied-- Clarissa makes no error of the will, so it is difficult for me to see her virtue as anything other than intact even (or, especially) after the rape.

In _Seductions: Studies in Reading and Culture_, Jane Miller argues that the novel implicates Clarissa in her seduction (note: seduction, not rape). Lovelace quotes Dryden on p.609-- "It is resistance that inflames desire..." Miller claims that Clarissa is in some sense spared her own rape: "The rape is made Lovelace's own, for it leaves intact-- according to such an account-- Clarissa's body and mind, even though it strengthens her will to die. It is necessary to the rest of the novel that she be beyond charges of either complaisance or resistance at the time of the rape, and that she be disqualified even as a witness to it. The novel's strategies are designed to make rape compatible with seduction. Lovelace must be forgivable, just as Clarissa must remain uncontaminated by the passiona and the covetousness she inspires and provokes" (30). In her discussion of Clarissa's preparations for death, Liz asserts that Clarissa's body is a dead trunk after the rappe; but, in Miller's analysis (one with which I am sympathetic), Clarissa remains uncontaminated-- her soul is whole and holy, her intentions are good, the roots of her tree remain virtuous. If this is the case, I am unclear as to why she must die. Liz notes that in Lady E's revision Clarissa "dies from the shame of an attempted rape..." Do we think that Clarissa dies from the rape? Could we please unpack this?

In her discussion of deception, Liz asks, "Can one appropriate the devices of the wicked if the ends are just?" and wonders what Clarissa's minor deceptions say about her virtue. I would emphasize that it is the people and not the devices that re wicked-- there's no such thing as a wicked device: devices are tools which acquire meaning only in relation and in performance, i.e., as they are *used*. Devices are a *doing*. In _The Genealogy of Morals_, Nietzsche writes, "there is no 'being' behind doing, effecting, becoming; 'the doer' is merely a fiction added to the deed-- the deed is everything." Because I buy Nietzsche's assertion, I have a problem with this notion of Clarissa as virtue embodied-- she cannot *be* virtue, she must *do* virtue, which, in my opinion, is exactly what she does. For this reason, notions of her as being damaged after the rape seem nonsensical. Richardson, however, must have something else in mind-- and I'm not quite sure what it is. He portrays Clarissa's virtue as unconstructed, as a natural, essential "being,," rather than a (mere) "doing." She is shown to have different knowledges and competencies *not* because of her different and specific experiences and relations to culture (Mrs. Norton's and Dr. Lewen's instruction aside, because they are peripheral in the novel), but because of a set of inherent and intuitive qualities. Is this right?

Let me make a huge, and perhaps random, leap here. In the introduction to _The Poetics of Sensibility_ (excerpted on the web), Professor McGann makes the following remark: "But the power and value of art has nothing as such to do with morality. Art functions as representaion-- reflection-- and as revelation. Its office is to show and tell, nothing more." Maybe this is what the office of art is, but its certainly not the only role art plays in cultural and individual history and understanding. I have a hard time with this. In order to show and tell and nothing more something must be there in the first place to represent. So, when Liz asks, "Who is imitating whom?" (with reference to women's language and bodily performance of sensibility), the answer must be: Richardson is representing, reflecting, revealing what he sees around him. I ahve to say that I don't find this response especially compelling. I am much more compelled by the view of literature espoused by Nancy Armstrong (fiction as both document and *agent* of cultural history), Rita Felski ("... narrative constitutes one of the most important ways in which ideologies are concretized in relation to life experience.", and Martha Nussbaum ("Narratives are constructs that respond to certain patterns of living and shape them in their turn.") With this in mind, I want to ask what ideologies, what interests, are served by Richardson's depiction of Clarissa's virtue, in particular? Armstrong claims that "written representations of the self allowed the modern individual to become an economic and psychological reality" and that "the modern individual was first and foremost a woman" (thanks to the like of Richardson, among others). We leave _Clarissa_ (or at least I did) with the sense that Clarissa is naturally, organically good and virtuous (which is not to say perfect); if we leave the novel sensing that we have been given a representation-- that we, with Richardson's aid, have "discovered" something-- an identity, a virtue-- that was natural, that was already there, that is a "being," not a "doing," then we don't stop to ask the questions that I want to ask: how did Clarissa get that way? Who gains (and in what way) from viewing her goodness as some kind of transcendent, holy thing-- something she's born with, rather than something that gets constructed in practice? What social and political interests does the depiction of Clarissa (as such) serve? This novel is not proto-feminist, as some critics seem to think (deceived, I guess, by the portrayal of Clarissa as expert in all things [from legal documentation to embroidery to grooming to housekeeping to theological reflection] into thinking that the valorization of female virtue(s) is somehow a political move). As Mill notes in his _The Subjection of Women_: "we are perpetually told that women are better than men, by those who are totally opposed to treating them as if they were as good." Liz annotates an essay that argues that Richardson's novel contains a protest against the unjust treatment of women-- but does anyone buy this? Do the details of the story matter, or merely the sentiment they inspire or induce (as Johnson claims)? Does anyone think this novel is really about rape (and if so, what does it actually tell us)? Is _Pamela_ really about the threat to the chastity of a servant girl-- and if so, why would this topic loom so large for readers (especially in the 18th century)?

I want to end with a few big questions-- namely, with what truth is _Clarissa_ concerned? That is, what's this novel all about, anyway? To return to some of Helen's concerns from a few weeks ago, what is the relevance of or the reason for the "political and ideological centrality of a discourse of female 'chastity' to the formation of new social hierarchies in the mid-18th century"? (I get this question from Ros Ballaster's _Seductive Forms_). Clarissa notes at one point that "even persons who have bad hearts will have a veneration for those who have good ones." But this "truth" is not so much an answer-- it doesn't help to explain why it is that Belford or Mr. B in _Pamela_ are transformed by witnessing "good hearts" and Lovelace isn't. Why would Richardson want us to judge Lovelace before we can understand him?