Annotated Bibliography: Dreams, Plots, and Authorship

Brown, Murray L. “Authorship and Generic Exploitation: Why Lovelace must Fear Clarissa.” Studies in the Novel 30.2 (1998): 246-59.

Brown’s main argument is that Lovelace is a character who asserts his own authorship. Created out of Richardson’s desire to write a truthful story that educates (“follow Nature”), Lovelace becomes a character who gathers his own readership (Belford and us), uses/subverts multiple literary formats, and makes us complicit through his intrigue and literary art that lure us into his tales. This authorial agency allows him to make use of young women’s naivete (that their worldview is influenced by romantic novels) to truthfully impersonate different characters (a talent matched only by Fantomina). He takes delight in his textual power before sexual conquest — describing his plans through poetry, making up stories, subverting other readings for his purpose. His penchant for surprises led to his hatred of married life or Lord M.’s hackneyed truisms.

Brown also discusses the differences between Lovelace and Clarissa. Whereas Lovelace is a fan of his own fiction, Clarissa fears fiction (her dream about the plot against Lovelace; her fear of “violent measures” taken by her family — a Gothic threat that Lovelace masterminded). Once she cedes authorship (follow along Anna’s suggestion to go anywhere to escape Mr. Solmes), she falls into Lovelace’s hands. Then there’s the fire scene — a major incident where Lovelace temporarily loses control over the plot. But then, Clarissa also loses the ability to tell fiction from real life. Lovelace is quick to recover: fearing that the fire “has consumed his own authority,” he works even harder to reassert it, leading finally to Clarissa’s madness.

After Clarissa’s death, however, we see scenarios where Lovelace’s power could be ended. First, as a character bent on asserting control, death is the “ultimate loss of power.” Lovelace implies a death wish when he blames Belford for not acting — “killed the giant” — to save Clarissa, but by branding Belford as a moral failure, he distances himself from Clarissa’s death. Death also means different things for Clarissa and Lovelace. While Clarissa’s death “must either diminish or infinitely increase her power,” Lovelace’s death is “rather hackneyed” as his will is finally bent by Richardson’s will, reminding us that his villainy — despite the greatest — is still fictional.

Castle, Terry. “Lovelace’s Dream.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Volume 13, 1984, pp. 29-42.,

Terry Castle discusses Lovelace’s waking dream in his letter to Belford: a “grave matronly lady” comes to Clarissa’s rescue, only to be revealed as Mother H., another brothel-keeper. Clarissa, unaware, is invited to sleep in the same bed with her; to her surprise, Mother H. transforms into Lovelace. The dream then gets more absurd as Lovelace marries both Clarissa and Anna Howe; even their babies grow up and marry incestuously. Castle describes how the dream-story transforms things into their opposites: “A jailer (Dorcas) becomes an accomplice in escape; a good old lady changes into a bad one; a woman turns into a man” and Clarissa’s imprisonment into freedom into imprisonment (and perhaps again into a twisted sense of freedom as seen in the happily-ever-after-polygamous-incestuous ending). Lovelace loves this kind of plot and devises his own plot. He is surprised, however, when his plot fails: Clarissa gets suspicious, refusing Mother H. as she comes to save her. She beats Lovelace at his own game and becomes a plotter herself. Castle also points out the third plotter, Richardson, whose plot Clarissa will never escape. He further claims that Clarissa’s flight from Lovelace “makes possible her final entrapment… by Richardson,” who could “transform her into his exemplary Christian heroine.”

One thought on “Annotated Bibliography: Dreams, Plots, and Authorship”

  1. After reading Brown’s and Castle’s texts, I think both authors agree that it is Lovelace’s unparalleled instinct for controlling the plot that makes him a unique character. To borrow Brown’s terms, he asserts his own “authorship.” His quest for authorship is carried out by devising increasingly elaborate plots to entrap Clarissa (including deception, counter-deception, impersonation, etc.) and by using the epistolary novel as a subversive genre to demonstrate his plotting talent. As if the narrative of Clarissa is not juicy enough, he invents a mini-narrative within the narrative in the form of a “waking dream.” This tells us how much Lovelace is “a fan of his own fiction”: by creating his waking dream, he is essentially claiming the inventiveness of a real dream and circumventing Richardson’s control to author his own narrative. The waking dream mars the boundary between dreams and reality, enabling Lovelace to add twists and turns to his plot (as the writer/reader) and maximize his reading pleasure. The waking dream also has an effect on us: the readers. As we follow through with Lovelace’s account and derive pleasure from it, we find ourselves as Lovelace’s accomplice, almost like his other faithful reader, Bedford. On the other hand, the epistolary novel, like the waking dream, walks on the dividing line between fiction and reality. It allows us to read other people’s letters as if they are genuine, while at the same time knowing their fictional nature. As we started with prior knowledge of novels as a genre, we anticipate the narrative to carry on, reach its climax, and end. We also know that novels derive their charm from their elongated plot, from the fullness of their settings and characters. It is, therefore, natural for us to assume, even welcome — albeit empathizing with the poor Clarissa — worse tricks from Lovelace (knowing the kind of person he is) and derive pleasure from his plotting and literary talent. I believe this is the paradox of the reader as voyeur: to continue reading a book like Clarissa, we have to enjoy and detest it simultaneously. This is, however, the charm (and victory) of Clarissa and what has kept it alive to its readers.

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