Persuasion: social mobility, mentorship

Persuasion, Ch. 1

“But now, another occupation and solicitude of mind was beginning to be added to these. Her father was growing distressed for money. She knew, that when he now took up the Baronetage, it was to drive the heavy bills of his tradespeople, and the unwelcome hints of Mr. Shepherd, his agent, from his thoughts. The Kellynch property was good, but not equal to Sir Walter’s apprehension of the state required in its possessor. While Lady Elliot lived, there had been method, moderation, and economy, which had just kept him within his income; but with her had died all such right-mindedness, and from that period he had been constantly exceeding it. It had not been possible for him to spend less; he had done nothing but what Sir Walter Elliot was imperiously called on to do; but blameless as he was, he was not only growing dreadfully in debt, but was hearing of it so often, that it became vain to attempt concealing it longer, even partially, from his daughter. He had given her some hints of it the last spring in town; he had gone so far even as to say, “Can we retrench? does it occur to you that there is any one article in which we can retrench?”—and Elizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first ardour of female alarm, set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposed these two branches of economy: to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new-furnishing the drawing-room; to which expedients she afterwards added the happy thought of their taking no present down to Anne as had been the usual yearly custom. But these measures, however good in themselves, were insufficient for the real extent of the evil, the whole of which Sir Walter found himself obliged to confess to her soon afterwards. Elizabeth had nothing to propose of deeper efficacy. She felt herself ill-used and unfortunate, as did her father; and they were neither of them able to devise any means of lessening their expenses without compromising their dignity, or relinquishing their comforts in a way not to be borne.

“There was only a small part of his estate that Sir Walter could dispose of; but had every acre been alienable, it would have made no difference. He had condescended to mortgage as far as he had the power, but he would never condescend to sell. No; he would never disgrace his name so far. The Kellynch estate should be transmitted whole and entire, as he had received it.”

Topic: Towards a New Imperial Order

Texts Examined: 

The Woman of Colour; The Asiatic Princess and/or The Female American

The Asiatic Princess constructs an interracial family in which Merje, a Native princess, is tutored by Lady Emma, an English lady. It appears to me like a prequel to The Woman of Colour, in which Olivia has finished her education and needs real-life experiences to resolve the issues brought by her mix-raced identity. The Female American, on the other hand, can be seen as a sequel to The Woman of Colour. Here the heroine becomes Robinson Crusoe, guides the natives on an island to Christianity, and maintains the island’s independence from the British.

Foundational Text: 

The Anglo-Indian Novel, 1774-1825: Ameliorative Imperialisms, by Samir M Soni.

Soni focuses on the idea of “ameliorative imperialism” to describes character in Anglo-Indian novels who seek amelioration rather than radical change in dealing with the colonial crises. He also discusses two related positions: “exploitative imperialists” who advocate maintaining existing colonial institutions (often with full knowledge of colonial atrocities) and “abolitionists” who advocate decolonization (though not necessarily the forced removal of British residents in India). Ameliorative imperialism is brought up under this context to advocate for the continuation of the empire while expressing sympathy for Indians. Soni’s paper helps me in understanding the heroines in The Woman of Colour and The Female American as they both aim to perpetuate colonial rule by becoming better masters than the British.

Supplemental Criticism:

The Exotic Woman in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction and Culture: A Reconsideration, by Piya Pal-Lapinski, University of New Hampshire Press

Piya Pal-Lapinski analyzes nineteenth-century British (and French and Italian) cultural production through the figure of the odalisque, a hybrid form that encompasses not just the Oriental/Asian stereotype of women but also the exoticized European woman. She argues that “the body of the odalisque … resists closure and implodes the imperatives of ethnography, threatening the coherence of ‘whiteness’ as a racial category.” (xvi) The odalisque is also “deeply linked to the tensions arising from the encounter between cultures of female libertinism and emerging bourgeois ideologies of domesticity throughout the nineteenth century.” (xvii) I wonder if the odalisque could be compared with Olivia (a mix-raced character and thus a biological hybrid of British/Non-British norms) and if Olivia — in an alternative ending — could become an odalisque. I am also looking for ways to better structure the odalisque in my discussion of feminist imperialism.

Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse, by Homi Bhabha

Colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite; a move towards the same while moving back to remain the difference. It is important to understand that the construction of the Other allows the empire to exist. If the Subject and the Other are completely different, that might justify decolonization (who are we to rule over a people completely different from us?) If they are completely the same, then the brutal colonial rule becomes unjustifiable (you cannot rule someone in such a way if they are exactly like you.) Therefore, a slight difference has to be maintained between the Subject and the Other to enable domination. “Human and not wholly human.”

Models of Morality: The Bildungsroman and Social Reform in The Female American and The Woman of Colour, byVictoria Barnett-Woods

Barnett-Woods discusses the Bildungsroman, a long-prose fiction genre developed out of the existing picaresque and adventure tales of previous literary generations. The protagonists of the Bildungsroman are traditionally male, but both The Female American and The Woman of Colour use the form to narrate the stories of colored women. Barnett-Woods’ major arguments are: first, the woman of color in the New World provides an alternative center of moral reformation in the British metropole; second, the Bildungsroman as an 18th-century literary form serves as a vessel for negotiating the transatlantic tensions of race, gender, and empire. I chose this article as it covers both Olivia and Unca and their development as new models of moral citizenry and femininity in a transatlantic Britain.

society and Evelina

Q: which role does society play in Evelina that it doesn’t play in Clarissa? Why is social life important for Evelina’s growth?


This house seems to be the house of joy; every face wears a smile, and a laugh is at every body’s service. It is quite amusing to walk about and see the general confusion; a room leading to the garden is fitting up for Captain Mirvan’s study. Lady Howard does not sit a moment in a place; Miss Mirvan is making caps; every body so busy!—such flying from room to room!—so many orders given, and retracted, and given again!—nothing but hurry and perturbation.

Well but, my dear Sir, I am desired to make a request to you. I hope you will not think me an encroacher; Lady Howard insists upon my writing!—yet I hardly know how to go on; a petition implies a want and have you left me one? No, indeed.

I am half ashamed of myself for beginning this letter. But these dear ladies are so pressing-I cannot, for my life, resist wishing for the pleasures they offer me,—provided you do not disapprove them.

They are to make a very short stay in town. The Captain will meet them in a day or two. Mrs. Mirvan and her sweet daughter both go; what a happy party! Yet, I am not very eager to accompany them: at least I shall be contented to remain where I am, if you desire that I should.

Assured, my dearest Sir, of your goodness, your bounty, and your indulgent kindness, ought I to form a wish that has not your sanction? Decide for me, therefore, without the least apprehension that I shall be uneasy or discontented. While I am yet in suspense, perhaps I may hope; but I am most certain that when you have once determined I shall not repine.”

Death and Authorship in Clarissa

In “Authorship and Generic Exploitation: Why Lovelace must Fear Clarissa,” Murray Brown discusses death as the “ultimate loss of power” for Lovelace. As a character bent on asserting control, death puts an end to Lovelace’s control over Clarissa and will likely send him into the underworld. But death is not entirely unpalatable to Lovelace. In letter 516, Lovelace sends out a half-hearted death wish to Bedford, blaming him for not saving Clarissa like a true “knight-errant.” (1440) By branding Belford as a moral failure, Lovelace distances himself from Clarissa’s death. Lovelace’s attitude toward death also seems ambivalent as he claims to use his death to “expiate” his crimes in his final death scene, but this is an unwanted result: he accepts the duel because he thinks he will win and will derive joy from it. This unexpectedness indicates Lovelace’s failure to write his own story: while he has been successful in destroying Clarissa physically, he could not destroy her spiritually. By dying in a “rather hackneyed” way, Lovelace also hands authorship back to Richardson, accepting his demise in a novel that serves to educate.

Clarissa’s pursuit of death, however, takes a different approach. While death is a likely outcome for her (especially as a raped heroine), Clarissa takes time to accept her own death. Her inaction for most of the story limits her ability to carve out an action plan for herself and reduces her to her bedroom, where she writes to defend her virtues. Death, however, gradually becomes the best outcome as she strengthens her position as a paragon of virtue. Her early dream about being blamed and buried by Lovelace for her family’s plots against him foreshadows her death. While she fears it back then, she welcomes death at the end of the novel as a way to write her own stories and educate others. Her references to death also imply her elevation to heaven: even in her early dream, she dies with “all her good deeds and prayers, and protestations of innocence.” I thought about Hamlet when I read this: Hamlet refuses to kill Claudius while he is praying; if he does so, Claudius will go straight to heaven. If we follow Hamlet’s theological view, then Clarissa seems to be implying her own elevation to heaven. While it is ungodly to seek death, Clarissa resolves the issue by becoming one with God. Her death is clearly portrayed as God’s will and triggers all the retribution and reward for the other characters. Here, Clarissa finally assumes authorship of the novel and goes on to heaven — a place where her virtues can find better appreciation.

Works Cited

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

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

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.”