Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Clarissa Report

It seems I am getting into a groove of reading Clarissa on weekends only. Perhaps that is because the book is so mammoth and on weekends I feel I have time to be pinned down by it. Whatever the reason, it continues to be delightful. Clairssa has now been confined to her room for refusing to marry Mr. Solmes. Her maid has been dismissed and she is forced to put up with her sister's personal maid, Betty Barnes. What a wonderful name! Contracts have been drawn up for the marriage and patterns have been ordered for Clarissa's bridal ensemble. The root of Clarissa's problem is her steadfast adherence to her own integrity. No matter how much she wants to obey her parents, she will not compromise herself. The more her parents urge her to compromise her integrity, the more stubborn she becomes. She knows that if she gives in and marries Mr. Solmes her entire life will have been compromised. Every day with the man will be a day in which she could not be true to herself. What is surprising me most about this book is how feminist it is. I did not expect it. Lovelace and now Mr. Solmes have not been Clarissa's only suitors, there have been several and she has turned them all down. She insists that all she wants to do is live an independent life, not tied to a husband. Clarissa's dear friend and clandestine correspondent Anna Howe agrees. In one of her letters Anna writes:

Upon my word, I most heartily despise that sex! I wish they would let fathers and mothers alone; teasing them to tease us with their golden promises, and protestations, and settlements, and the rest of their ostentatious nonsense. How charmingly might you and I live together and despise them all!--But to be cajoled, wire-drawn, and ensnared, like silly birds, into a state of bondage or vile subordination: to be courted as princesses for a few weeks, in order to be treated as slaves for the rest of our lives--Indeed, my dear, as you say of Solmes, I cannot endure them!
Is this not a risky idea for Richardson to put forth? Or did he write it from the perspective that the girls were being coy and that once married they would settle down? To me it appears to be written in all sincerity without satire or parody. These girls do not intend to settle down with a man. They are smart women and know how to run an estate of their own. As much as I would like to think mine a valid reading, I am having difficulty trusting it given the time period and gender of the author. It's almost too good to be true.