Persuasion – Details of Time

The opening lines of Persuasion reflect several precise dates:

“‘Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.’

Precisely such had the paragraph originally stood from the printer’s hands; but Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information of himself and his family, these words, after the date of Mary’s birth–‘Married, December 16, 1810, Charles, son and heir of Charles Musgrove, Esq. of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset,’ and by inserting most accurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.”

Northanger Abbey’s opening gives no hints as to the date when the story is set, while Mansfield Park opens with “about thirty years ago.” Thus, there seems to be a clear progression in Austen’s concern for the setting as she grows more detailed as her writing develops. I think an important question to ask here is whether or not explicit details (like the exact dates she provides in the passage above) is an improvement in her writing, or whether the middle-ground of Mansfield Park (a ball-park date) or the completely ambiguous Northanger Abbey is the most effective.

Personally, I think the ambiguity suits Northanger Abbey specifically because of its tendencies toward the Gothic, and Gothic novels tend to be set in the obscure past. But, as for her purely Romantic works, I prefer not knowing the exact details, yet the progression in her novels seems to show that Austen saw this exactness as an improvement. Why do you think that is? Do these exact dates somehow make the story feel more real, more rooted to the audience’s reality?


Annotated Bib #2: The Dual Nature/Roles of Male Protectors UPDATED

Ellis, Kate Ferguson. The contested castle: Gothic novels and the subversion of domestic ideology. University of Illinois Press, 1989.

In this book, Ellis explores domestic ideology, specifically the imprisoning nature of domesticity and violence towards women in the family. She equates the castles of Gothic novels with failed homes permeated with danger and enemies scheming for entry into the fortress to extract their revenge. Ellis looks at a shift in the domestic ideology, paying particular attention to how this change affects women. She first explored ideas about this new domestic ideology in an article ten years earlier; however, this book has stood the test of time and has been referenced by scholars ever since. This text will be helpful in examining failed patriarchy, such as bad fathers like Manfred from The Caste of Otranto or flawed male protectors like Monsieur Pierre de la Motte from The Romance of the Forest, for the book specifically considers the works of Walpole and Radcliffe.

L. Andrew Cooper. “Gothic Threats: The Role of Danger in the Critical Evaluation of The Monk and The Mysteries of Udolpho.Gothic Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 2006, pp. 18-34. Literature Online (LION), Accessed 6 April 2022.

In this article, Cooper looks at four “threats” of Gothic literature to society, ones that have the potential to disrupt the social norms. The first two threats target young adults and gender norms, while the latter two evoke superstition and revolution. Although Cooper chiefly references Lewis’ The Monk and Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, his insights on Gothic literature as a whole, but in particular those pertaining to gender norms, will be useful in crafting an argument about the new domestic ideology of the eighteenth century. To open the discussion on Gothicism’s threat to gender norms, Cooper draws upon Ellis to set the stage for his claims, showing how important Ellis’ The Contested Castle is to any discussion on eighteenth-century domestic ideology.

Perry, Ruth. Novel Relations: The Transformation of Kinship in English Literature and Culture, 1748-1818. Cambridge University Press, 2004. ProQuest Ebook Central, Accessed 6 April 2022.

Perry picks up Ellis’ idea with an interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon both history and anthropology in addition to her literary analysis. Perry conducts her research between the works of Samuel Richardson and Jane Austen, noting a shift in familial relationships both real and fictional caused by a new understanding of what the meaning of family entails, one that puts an emphasis on marriage rather than kin. This change in ideas alters the male’s perspective of women and places new burdens upon them as a result. Perry counts Ellis among her extensive bibliography, noting her insights on the function of the Church and Catholicism in Gothic novels as well as indicating Ellis’ claims about the idea of the home in Gothic literature as the foundation for her own concept of the genre’s “terror of incest.” This book is an essential read among the modern scholarship about the eighteenth-century ideas of the domestic and presents a more wholistic survey of literature of the period, rather than focusing on the Gothic as Ellis does.

Shaffer, Julie. “Familial love, incest, and female desire in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British women’s novels.” Criticism, vol. 41, no. 1, 1999, pp. 67-99. Literature Online (LION), Accessed 6 April 2022.

In this article, Shaffer investigates the nature of the Gothic and sentimental novels through familialization and incest. Her discussion particularly looks at the relationship between father-figures and daughters and how the relationship can be disrupted or at the very least display a potential for disruption. While she principally utilizes Elizabeth Helme’s Louisa; or, the Cottage on the Moor and Sarah Sheriffe’s Correlia as source material, Shaffer often makes reference to other major authors of the period (e.g., Walpole, Radcliffe, Burney). Likewise, Shaffer draws upon a wide variety of scholarship to craft her argument, showing the larger conversation that has taken place about the correlation between familialization and incest. Shaffer cites Ellis as having marked this theme as conventional of Gothic literature, and places Ellis’ claim for a shift in domestic ideology as central to understanding the genre.

Clarissa’s Wit vs. Evelina’s Uncertainty

“As soon as the company dispersed, the ladies retired to dress. I then, unexpectedly, found myself alone with Lord Orville; who, the moment I rose to follow Mrs. Selwyn, advanced to me, and said, “Will Miss Anville pardon my impatience, if I remind her of the promise she was so good as to make me this morning?”

I stopped, and would have returned to my seat; but before I had time, the servants came to lay the cloth. He retreated, and went towards the window; and, while I was considering in what manner to begin, I could not help asking myself what right I had to communicate the affairs of Mr. Macartney: and I doubted whether, to clear myself from one act of imprudence, I had not committed another.

Distressed by this reflection, I thought it best to quit the room, and give myself some time for consideration before I spoke; and therefore, only saying I must hasten to dress, I ran up stairs, rather abruptly I own; and so, I fear, Lord Orville must think. Yet what could I do? Unused to the situations in which I find myself, and embarrassed by the slightest difficulties, I seldom, till too late, discover how I ought to act.” (Letter 67)

Here we see how different Evelina is from Clarissa. Clarissa was very sure of herself. Even though she falls prey to Lovelace’s scheme, she is incredibly witty, especially for a woman, and she conceives of plans to escape many of the pitfalls that line her destiny. Evelina, on the other hand, lacks confidence. She is very new to larger society and does not possess the knowledge of how to act and converse with anyone far beyond those familiars with which she was raised. Evelina never thinks she does anything write and always seems to lament her words and actions, while Clarissa believes that she has sometimes acted in the best way she could and other times laments her decisions.

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, 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, 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, Accessed 25 Feb. 2022.

Annotated Bibliography: Courtship

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

Binhammer explores the idea of love in Clarissa by analyzing the way in which Lovelace courts Clarissa with seduction and manipulation. Binhammer defines this courtship as Lovelace devising an elaborate plot to gain Clarissa’s consent to sex, in which love is limited to sex and is won by a mastery-level knowledge of sex, the limitations of which denies Lovelace the knowledge of Clarissa’s heart. She also explores Clarissa’s idea of a distinct disparity between love and sex. Binhammer sees the differing notions of love and sex as the driving forces of this courtship plot and the novel as a whole.

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, Accessed 25 Feb. 2022.

Stevenson explores the nature of a family’s influence in a young woman’s courtship in the eighteenth century, using Richardson’s Clarissa as his primary point of analysis. He denies the idea that the Harlowe’s propose a property marriage for Clarissa, arguing rather that the Harlowe family use this prevalent, though declining trend of the marriage institution, in order to disguise their intention to maintain authority over Clarissa for the rest of their lives through endogamy. She postulates that the Harlowes’ greed is more incestuous than pecuniary because of their desire to maintain possession of Clarissa. Stevenson’s careful analysis of Clarissa highlights the changing views and uses of the marriage institution across the eighteenth century.


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, Accessed 25 Feb. 2022.

Klotman provides a comparative analysis of Richardson’s Puritan and didactic driven novels, Pamela and Clarissa. His claims about Lovelace and Clarissa appear rather extreme next to other scholarship. He positions Clarissa as a masochist and a courter of death and Lovelace as a sadist. Klotman explores these perversions, comparing them to the psychological awkwardness of Pamela to show Richardson’s success with Clarissa through the limitation of the most important events (e.g., the rape and Clarissa’s death) to no more than two lines. According to Klotman, Richardson improved his style by promoting his exploration into the psychological more than the plot.