Final Clarissa Reflection: Verse Citation as Power

Clarissa recognizes Lovelace’s use of citations and revisions of verse to aid in self-elevation—a recognition she reflects in turn by citing verse. She muses that “[t]rue respect … lies not in words. Words cannot express it.” She asserts the authenticity of modest, physical expressions— “the silent awe, the humble, the doubting eye”—as opposed to confident and self-assured praise (p. 397). “Even the hesitating voice,” Clarissa furthers, “better show [true respect] by much, than, as Shakespeare says, ‘—The rattling tongue / Of saucy and audacious eloquence’” (p. 397).Clarissa’s citation of act V of Midsummer Night’s Dream (1605) strengthens her distinction between the “true respect” evidenced by humility and the disrespect signaled by “volubility.” In quoting male-authored verse to articulate her perception of Lovelace’s ways of speaking, Clarissa also visually dismembers and isolates his “rattling tongue”on the page of her letter.  

After the rape, Clarissa empowers herself by adopting and transforming Lovelace’s voice, style, and, in paper 10 of the Mad Papers, his tactics of verse citation. If citing stanzas of poetry provides Clarissa with a form of liberty in captivity, then paper 10—although clearly the height of Clarissa’s post-rape distress—also represents a scene of release, allowing her to begin to achieve the imaginative empowerment that characterizes her position at the end of the novel. Specifically, recognizing that her letters will be “written down”by Dorcas and shared with Lovelace, Clarissa renders her writing untranslatable by projecting his own voice back at him (p. 894).Paper 10 epitomizes that tactic as Clarissa fully exploits Lovelace’s trademark technique of verse citation (pp. 890–1). Five of her stanzas cite work by Cowley, Otway, or Dryden—authors Lovelace cites frequently as well. She repackages Lovelace’s sources and his speech—an act that, as he admits, leaves him incapable of both the interpretation and “transcriptions” of her letters in turn (p. 894). If Lovelace sees Clarissa’s prose as akin to her body, then the poetry of paper 10 embodies an impenetrable mind.

Clarissa not only adopts but also effectively transforms Lovelace’s sources and style in paper 10. While the disjointed appearance of paper 10 visualizes Clarissa’s mental disorder, her strategic placement of the stanzas also generates a multiplicity of possible readings that impede easy interpretation, exhibiting what Starr usefully describes as “regulated disorder” and “formal particularity”—a particularity that serves as self-protection. The positioning of each stanza in a linear as well as vertical format enables the stanzas to be read in isolation or in tandem. For example, reading “Cruel remembrance! —how shall I appease thee?” before “—Oh! you have done an act” makes the “you” “remembrance,” while following the question with the spatially adjacent stanza beginning “Death only can be dreadful to the bad” suggests that Clarissa will “appease” her “remembrance” with “Death” (p. 893). Both readings are true. Clarissa skillfully withholds prose context, impedes linear reading, and forces Lovelace to rely entirely upon the conversations between and among each stanza, a polyvocality that mirrors Clarissa as a whole. While Lovelace is easily the most prolific source of included verse in Clarissa, Clarissa’s verses have the most power.

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