Final Clarissa Reflection: Courtship

Klotman brought up the idea of Clarissa courting death at the end of the novel leading up to her death, for she becomes obsessed with her death, planning out the details and buying a casket. All the things no normal person would go so far to do. If Clarissa shifts from “courting” Lovelace (a reluctant one at that) to death (one she actively involves herself in), then we must ask what Lovelace courts after Clarissa leaves him for good. He is still obsessed with Clarissa, but there comes a point where he stops actively scheming to win her back. Of course, he has ideas about how he will eventually marry her and he talks to her cousin, trying to make himself look to be an acceptable match, but he stays at his father’s house for a long time. Lovelace stops doing things, but he continues to think things. Separated from Clarissa both physically and from writing, a courtship between Lovelace and Clarissa cannot actually continue. Lovelace shifts from courting Clarissa to courting his reputation. He has gone too far in his pursuit of her to back down without disgrace. Everything Lovelace does after he and Clarissa separate for good is more to preserve his reputation and save him from the humiliation of admitting he was wrong and that he had lost her than to actively win Clarissa back. Of course, Lovelace still fancies the idea of marrying Clarissa, but he has already “conquered” her. The luster of having sex with her has faded, but not disappeared.

This reminds me of Fantomina with how the man she seduces over and over again grows tired of her mask not long after first conquering her. Lovelace does the same. I cannot recall how many times Clarissa tried to escape, but one time Lovelace disguised himself in order to find her and regain control of her. The last time Clarissa escapes, she finds herself in jail and this is where Lovelace stops his active, we might say physical, pursuit of her because freeing her from her imprisonment would bring disgrace on himself; it would stain his reputation. This is where Lovelace stops courting Clarissa and begins courting his reputation. He still mentally desires her, but his physical/active desire shifts to preserving his reputation.

In this transition, we see an interesting shift in Lovelace’s mindset. His idea of what love is separates from sex, for he still professes love for Clarissa, yet it is not followed up by some physical act, no sex. Binhammer’s article discussed how Lovelace’s idea of love was limited and bound to sex, which is true of most of the novel, but at the end it shifts to something new. The two become separated.

Concerning Stevenson’s discussion of types of marriage, Richardson begins to show an advocacy for companionship marriage with the arrival of cousin Morden, who desires Clarissa’s happiness above societal advancement or maintaining authority over her, as well as the growing closeness of Anna and her suitor and their eventual happy marriage. Richardson weaves in almost every type of marriage into this novel, effectively portraying an accurate depiction of courtship during this period.

Articles From Annotated Bibliography:

Binhammer, Katherine. “Knowing Love: The Epistemology of ‘Clarissa.’” ELH, vol. 74, no. 4, John Hopkins University Press, 2007, pp. 859-79. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30029601. Accessed 25 Feb. 2022.

Klotman, Phyllis R. “Sin and Sublimation in the Novels of Samuel Richardson.” CLA Journal, vol. 20, no. 3, College Language Association, 1977, pp. 365–73. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44329271. Accessed 25 Feb. 2022.

Stevenson, John Allen. “The Courtship of the Family: Clarissa and the Harlowes Once More.” ELH, vol. 48, no. 4, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981, pp. 757-77. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2872960. Accessed 25 Feb. 2022.

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