Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"It is now Wretchedness!"

I am having an extremely stimulating and enjoyable time teaching Richardson's Clarissa this semester. It is an extraordinary novel, and it's giving me all sorts of ideas for the new critical book I'm contemplating, a sort of bread-and-butter investigation into some simple but puzzling facts about narrative style and the history of the novel. But it must be said that bits of it make me laugh....

Here, the villainous seducer Lovelace's evil minions (a gang of prostitutes) have unjustly had Clarissa arrested for debt (she has escaped from her imprisonment in the brothel, where she was drugged to unconsciousness and raped by Lovelace--this letter is written to Lovelace by his friend Belford, who has been won over to Clarissa's side):
[A]s she came out of the church, at the door fronting Bedford Street, the officers stepping to her, whispered that they had an action against her.

She was terrified, trembled, and turned pale.

Action! said she. What is that?--I have committed no bad action!--Lord bless me! Men, what mean you?

That you are our prisoner, madam.

Prisoner, sirs!--What--How--Why--What have I done?

You must go with us. Be pleased, madam, to step into this chair.

With you!--With men!--Must go with men!--I am not used to go with strange men!--Indeed you must excuse me!

We can't excuse you: we are sheriff's officers--We have a writ against you. You must go with us, and you shall know at whose suit.

Suit! said the charming innocent; I don't know what you mean. Pray, men, don't lay hands upon me!--They offering to put her into the chair. I am not used to be thus treated!--I have done nothing to deserve it.

She then spied thy villain--Oh thou wretch, said she, where is thy vile master?--Am I again to be his prisoner? Help, good people!

A crowd had before begun to gather.

My master is in the country, madam, many miles off: if you please to go with these men, they will treat you civilly.

The people were most of them struck with compassion. A fine young creature!--A thousand pities! some--while some few threw out vile and shocking reflections: but a gentleman interposed, and demanded to see the fellows' authority.

They showed it. Is your name Clarissa Harlowe, madam? said he.

Yes, yes, indeed, ready to sink, my name was Clarissa Harlowe--but it is now Wretchedness!
Hmmm, potentially a useful line in the case of extreme airport delays--"My name was Jenny Davidson, but it is now Wretchedness!"--only potentially it would court disastrous misunderstanding in the stringent days of modern airline security...


  1. "I am not used to go with strange men!" What a line!

    For a moment today at the bookstore, I had Pamela in my hands . . . only to opt for Trollope's Phineas Redux instead. But Pamela (and, to be fair, Shamela) remains on my stack of possible traveling companions for my trip to London later this month.

  2. Hahahahaha! Fantastic!