Aesthetics and the senses / Eighteenth Century / Food and Culture

The Style of Clarissa and the Ignorance of Lovelace

“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.” — Dr. Johnson

Honestly, I was incredibly relieved when I read the quotation from Dr. Johnson that Krystal posted because, so far (I am only in Volume V), Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa is my least favorite book of the semester. Reflecting on his words, I am sure my opinion is from the story, which is one of the most heartbreaking, frustrating, and, frankly, disgusting stories I have ever read because of the rampant emotional abuse and constant malicious behavior – BUT, I think, my feelings illuminate his statement perfectly. That is, they demonstrate how Dr. Johnson is absolutely correct in that we must read Clarissa for the sentiment rather than only the story and, additionally, how we do this involuntarily. Now, it is safe to assume that sentiments are formed from everything we read, but I wonder if the story usually takes precedence whereas in academia we are taught to close read, which inherently requires sentiment since critical thinking comes from the reader’s mind that includes their previous education and personal experience. Therefore, if Dr. Johnson is correct in urging us to “consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment,” maybe Richardson wrote Clarissa for the close reader that is nowadays academia.

On a different note, in Krystal’s blog post she explains how “Clarissa’s insistence that she be allowed to skip dinner provides her with an opportunity to issue her agency in her relationship with Lovelace,” meaning Clarissa skipped meals to keep privacy and alone time. Therefore, an example of Lovelace’s ignorance of Clarissa’s suffering and the starvation she undergoes because of her unhappiness and desire for separation happens when he flew “down to her chamber-door” after Dorcas woke her because of the fire (402). The fact that HE describes how Clarissa had to “unbar, unbolt, unlock, and open” her door, shows that he was completely aware of her desire to keep him out, yet he immediately penetrates her only place of refuge in order to manipulatively comfort her (402). Although one could argue that he was only meaning to help, it would be an extremely ignorant reading because not only does Lovelace admit that he “shall for ever love the wench for” screaming at her Lady to wake, Clarissa is also immediately aware that it was a “disgraceful and villainous” trick (402, 404). I admit that Dorcas’ actions set up the situation, but because of Lovelace’s malicious personality, he immediately takes advantage and schemes his way into her room where he repeatedly gropes her under the façade of trying “to dissipate her terrors” (403).

Similarly, his lustful descriptions of her body show how ignorant he is of her starvation. For example, he raves about “her bared shoulders and arms, so inimitably fair and lovely . . . her charming neck . . . her admirable shape, and fine-turn’d limbs” that make up the “assemblage of beauties,” and never once notices that the body he praises is starving (404, 405). Additionally, he attributes “the half-lifeless Charmer . . . [and the] delicacy of her frame” to momentary distress rather than malnourished exhaustion (403, 404). Therefore, we can clearly see that he was never truly concerned since all his actions are part of his deceptive plots, and he was determined to get his way no matter the consequences, which influenced his ignorance of her declining health.

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2 thoughts on “The Style of Clarissa and the Ignorance of Lovelace

  1. I liked the way you broke down the idea of sentiment and compared it with the idea of critical thinking. Through the course it has been difficult for me sometimes to separate the ideas of what constitutes “mind” and what constitutes “soul”. In some instances, the two seem to almost mean the same thing, but when looked at in the way you describe them above, its obvious to see they are really quite different. One is concious and the other is something that is felt in an almost automatic way. So, if that is the case, how does one keep separate soul and human nature (which is also said to be an unconcious reaction)?

  2. I really liked some of the ideas you expanded upon in Clarissa. I share your sentiments about not enjoying Clarissa as much as some of the other texts we’ve read, but I think i just have a hard time with Epistolary novels more than the story itself. I think your quotes showcasing Loveless’s ignorance of what Clarissa is doing are important. I think it had to be this is the way it had to be just as a result of Loveless’ character. Its ironic that Loveless, who models himself as someone very controlling of all the aspects of his life is both brought down from his perch in his love for Clarissa, and loses her (in his mind) for being ignorant of the situation. I link this back to what CJ said in class the other day about believing everything in the novel had a specific purpose and I think that idea is really clear here.

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