Authors Basing Characters on Real People: Some Examples from Classic Novels

I don’t know how much most authors base their characters on people they have known. I would guess that most combine various characteristics taken from numerous people in real life with some from those they have encountered in fiction to create something original.

A writer observes on this website

https://litreactor.com/columns/keeping-it-real-a-rough-guide-to-using-real-people-as-fictional-characters

‘Fictional characters, especially main characters, almost never behave exactly like real people would.  They’re smarter, more persuasive, more appealing, more sensitive, better looking, stronger, more hot-headed, braver and at least twice as sensual as anyone we’re ever going to share office space or an apartment with. Make your characters too real and the reader will soon lose interest. Give them some real characteristics and they’ll jump out of the page and into your audience’s mind with a single bound.’

As a matter of fact, I don’t agree with all of that. Most people do meet larger than life characters, people who are outstanding in all sorts of ways. It is merely that they are vastly outnumbered by the greater number of smaller than life characters one meets …

It is however true that they probably don’t combine all these fascinating characteristics together.

For instance, perhaps my own best looking character is Reynaud Ravensdale in ‘Ravensdale’ (though some might prefer the looks of Harley Venn in ‘The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns’).  Readers might imagine that I must have invented his appearance, or based it on some idealised portrait.

In fact, a man I knew looked exactly like that,  wide-set, heavy-lidded eyes, Grecian profile, waving chestnut hair and all. He was a petty villain I knew, who was a nice enough guy, but – to put it mildly –  rather stupid.

Reynaud Ravensdale is certainly more of a man of action than a studious type, and decidedly impulsive and given to theatrical gestures, but only stupid about his love object Isabella Murray and her predecessor Georgiana Toothill. Above anything, I wrote him as an ‘Ideal Type’  of the hero of the traditional robber novels like ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ and ‘Dubrovsky.

According to various books and websites, a fair number of writers of classic novels did base their main character roughly on someone they knew in real life, or sometimes, someone whom they knew only slightly. Or it could be, on someone the author had only glimpsed once.

For instance, it seems the appearance of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of d’Ubervilles’ is based on a farm girl Hardy saw, belabouring some unfortunate mount and swearing.

Various pieces of advice on writing such as the website above strongly advise aspiring authors not to make their characters recognisable as real people. Still,  I remember reading that Kingsley Amis deliberately made the ridiculous Professor Welch in his first novel ‘Lucky Jim’ a wounding portrayal of his first father-in-law.   I don’t know if the unlucky man recognised himself.

What is interesting, is that it is a witty portrayal. Many portrayals dictated by malice seem to read as savage rather than amusing.  Also in the same novel, I believe that the Jim character was based on Amis’s friend Philip Larkin.

It seems that Samuel Richardson said he based his character Robert Lovelace from ‘Clarissa’ on the conversation and attitudes of a man he encountered. I only read this in passing in some piece of literary criticism, and find it rather an astounding notion, given the puritanical notions of that author.

Did Richardson encourage this appalling conversation about the seduction and betrayal of a series of innocents?   Was the man possibly self-deluded, boasting of conquests and betrayals that never happened and persuading Richardson to believe his boastful anecdotes?

But, as the characters that authors create are after all a part of our  own psyches, surely a large part of Lovelace was  the dark part of the puritanical Samuel Richardson’s own unconscious mind?  That he managed to keep such a scheming, exuberant, emotionally abusive and finally rapist aspect to his psyche under control is, if so, evidence of what an astonishing job an effective conscience does.

As it was, all Richardson did was write novels which expressly designed to  oppress generations of women with false notions of purity…

I had wondered on whom Oscar Wilde based his infinitely corrupt Dorian Grey in his famous novel. It seems from this website:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/ten-famed-literary-figures-based-on-real-life-people-3537929

that his appearance at least was based on one John Grey, a minor member of his circle . If so, according to the website below,  the fate of this person was vastly different from that of Wilde’s character. John Grey later took holy orders.

Three inch high watercolour of Irishman Thomas Langlois Lefroy painted by leading English miniaturist George Engleheart in 1798

Critics are still undecided on who is the original of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy. Some think his appearance at least was based on the  Irish William Lefroy, who admitted in old age to having as a youth been in  love with Jane Austen.

Some authors seem to have shown naivety in believing that characters they had based on people important in their lives could not be recognised by readers as long as they changed a feature here or there…

For instance, when reading the  ‘Forstye Saga’ by John Galsworthy, I noted his besotted, partisan attitude towards the female lead Irene, whose physical and mental attributes seem to be admired by everyone.

I was unsurprised to find out later that the character of Irene, and her marital misfortunes, are based on Galsworthy’s wife (who was previously unhappily married to his cousin).  Galsworthy seems to have thought that if he changed her hair colour from dark to golden, nobody would draw any conclusions about her origin…

Advertisements

The Romantic Novel, The Happy For Now And The Traditional Happy Ever After

collection_nocturne_de_harlequinI saw some posts on Facebook recently on romantic novels and the HEA (for anyone uninitiated, that notorious Happy Ever After).

The posters said that there had been some romantic novels released recently without the obligatory HEA, and because of that, some Indie Authors of romantic fiction had included the assurance that ‘this novel has an HEA’.

Romantic novels, of course, are notorious as a genre where the readers insist on a happy ending. That is why, I gather, ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Rebecca’ are often precluded from them – one has the hero leaving the heroine, and it seems in the second the hero makes no explicit love declaration (I seem somehow to have missed that omission).

For my own part, I have long argued that this insistence on the HEA is one of the reasons that romances are not generally taken seriously as literature, that and the tendency to leave ugly details out of the stories.

This if often defined as a necessary part of writing a genre which is by definition escapist.

Personally, I have never seen why a conditional happy ending or what it seems is known as the ‘HFN’ – Happy For Now – is often regarded as unacceptable.

Georg_Friedrich_Kersting_005_detailAfter all, even in a Heats and Rainbows traditional happy endng it is impossible to depict a limitless timing.  One assumes that generally (not inevitably) the hero and heroine are meant to be mortal; therefore, they will in the future either die early, or age. Either way, they must eventually shuffle off this mortal coil. Presumably, the average reader would rather not envisage the hero and heroine in their declining years, with  the hero, perhaps, forced to bolster up his wild curly black locks with a toupe, and the heroine sneaking on ‘controlling’ underwear to give the illusion of a sylph like figure..

Joking apart, what actually strikes me most about the Happy Ever After is that it only has to apply to the hero and the heroine. That might seem a comment on the obvious; but in a way, perhaps it reflects the ideology of our era?

sir-galahad-the-quest-of-the-holy-grail-1870

Just as the Grail legends reflect the frames of reference of the mediaeval mind, the ideology that underpinned feudalism – perhaps the Happy Ever After for an individual couple in romantic fiction is an indication of the ideology of capitalism – individualism – and therefore is equally a finite form of literature, at least in its present form?

It is no accident, surely, that the first romantic novel – ‘Pamela’ by Samuel Richardson – was written during the era of the rise of the manufacturing class as the dominant force in society.

pamela-faintin

 

Love stories, of course, go back to ancient times and hopefully will still be about far in the future; but as society evolves, how long the modern romance will continue in its present form is an intriguing question.

At the moment, it certainly is the most popular form of fiction, accounting for something like fifty per cent of the sales of ebooks on Amazon. But what have often been seen as the rigid boundaries surrounding the genre may be changing, as is mentioned in this article: –

http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2016/03/happily-never-after-and-the-changing-nature-of-the-romance-novel

This is embarrassing! I have just tried to get that link to come out six times, and I think I’m going to have to admit defeat and ask anyone interested to paste it into the search bar…

 

 

 

Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, Calico Purity and Underclothes Excitement, Purelity and Mr B’s Supposed Reform

clarissaSamuel Richardson’s reputation, for so long as bad as it could be among critics, has in recent decades had something of a revival. This is generally among literary scholars, as the length of his works is enough to put off all but the most geekish or courageous of readers (count me among the said geeks). These days, the subtlety of his characterisation, and the complex significance of his use of incident, are now discussed as avidly as once were the scorn and disgust aroused in readers by his self serving Puritanical morality.

Typically awkward, I think this is a loss, because I fully agree with Coleridge’s conclusion about Richardson’s work:

‘I confess it has cost, and still costs, my philosophy some exertion not to be vexed that I must admire, aye, greatly admire, Richardson. His mind is so very vile, a mind so oozy, so hypocritical, praise mad, canting, envious, concupiscent.’

5pamelaRichardson writing has a compulsion which one feels has got little to do with literary value, or the creation of sympathetic characters, believable situations, or strong writing.

In fact, after ploughing through ‘Pamela’ ‘Clarissa’ and part of ‘The History of Sir Charles Grandison’ I can safely state that Richardson is devoted to purple prose.

Unfortunately, this may be why – with his favourite theme being that of female virtue besieged – in an age discovering ‘sensibility’, so many of his inner circle of toadying admirers and literary advisers were women. They wished to explore the ‘female sphere’ of the emotive that this male writer was prepared to take seriously in his writing and in their enthusiasm for this they seem to have blinded themselves both to the inadequacies of his verbose, florid style and the dismal limitations of the sort of respect for women offered by his attitude towards them.

thIt is intriguing that in their discussions, they often employed much the same arguments that are used today in defences on the literary value of the romance novel. In fact, current writers on the value of the romance novel such as Pamela (!) Regis take a stand against the ‘anti-Pamela-ists’ precisely because they define ‘Pamela’ as the first romantic novel.

Richardson wrote two hundred years before Freud’s discoveries of sexuality and the unconscious laid bare the source of his appeal, already hinted at by Henry Fielding and Eliza Heywood. In D H Lawrence’s words, he offered voyeuristic ‘Calico purity and underclothes excitement…Boccacio at his hottest seems to me less pornographic than ‘Pamela’ or ‘Clarissa’.

If this seems wonderfully biting, then the critic V S Pritchard in ‘The Living Novel’ goes further:

th‘Prurient, and obsessed by sex, the prim Richardson creeps on tiptoe nearer and nearer, inch by inch…he beckons us on, pausing to make every sort of pious protestation, and then nearer and nearer he creeps again…’

This is hilarious, and very apt.

Another critic, Frank Bradbrook in his essay on Richardson ‘The Pelican Guide to English Literature’ remarks trenchantly, ‘Pamela is sentimental and obscene; its obscenity is a direct result of its sentimentality.’

I have to agree with these criticisms, which makes me into an ‘anti Pamela-ist’. But I am even more of an ‘Anti Mr B-ist’ I don’t think Richardson’s heroine is alone in a hypocrite. Mr B is even more of one than Pamela.

Regarding Pamela’s hypocrisy, as soon as her master offers to marry her, he ceases to be a villain in her eyes, and she never asks for an explanation or apology for his abusive treatment of her. In elevating her to his own status, Squire B has put his late mother’s lady’s maid under such a sense of obligation that he can only be her ‘beloved Master’ even if he did attempt to rape her at least once, and sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions.

pamelaAs for M B’s hypocrisy, apart from his absurd earlier outrage that she has dared to defy him and write accounts of his attempts on her, there is his later astounding self complacency. He is supposed to have undergone a moral metamorphesis triggered by reading her journal. One might think that this would have made him a little confused and diffident about himself, and the value of his opinions. Far from it. As soon as he gives up his attempts on her and decides to marry her, he suddenly shows an incongruous tendency to express pompous views about marriage and a wife’s duty.

Here he is clearly Richardson’s mouthpiece. Still, the contrast between this new persona, and his former behaviour as a self confessed rake, are frankly ludicrous.

Clearly, he enjoys traipsing about with her giving the neighbours tedious moral lectures more than in jumping out at her from closets and thrusting his hand down her bosom.

The revival of Richardson’s reputation seems to have been partly promoted by the writings of the US academic Mark Kinkead Weekes, and in particular his 1973 book ‘Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist’.

I recently read this, having ploughed through ‘Pamela’ (read and detested in 1991; re-read and detested even more recently); ‘Pamela in Her Exalted Condition’ (hooted over in 1993; skim read again recently) and
‘Clarissa’ (ploughed through, and to some extent, grudgingly admired, two years ago).

pamela-faintinI found Kinkead Weekes’ book intriguing, though I disagree with his conclusions, while I found the parts which defend both heroine and the anti hero Mr B in ‘Pamela’, not only unconvincing but downright offensive to women readers.

It has to be said in Kinkead Weekes’ defence, that this book was written in 1973, when the views about the depiction of sexual violence against women in novels was very different.

It is an intriguing thing that Kinkead Weekes considers the scheming unrepentant Lovelace – the rapist anti-hero of ‘Clarissa’ – to be a very evil man. But Mr B, by dint of his facile reform is another case altogether.

200px-Pamela-1742In ‘Pamela in her Exalted Condition’ Richardson was later to have Mr B deny that his first seeming attempt on Pamela, where he leaps out of a closet, climbs into bed with her and the housekeeper,and thrusts a hand down her bosom was an atempted rape, and indeed, it is hard to see how he would have contemplated carrying one out in front of Mrs Jervis. However, that piece of punishment through sexual assault is ugly enough, and later in the novel, he does carry out a genuine rape attempt.

Kinkead Weekes goes on to say of Mr B’s second attempt (also made in the presence of another woman, this time the wicked housekeeper Mrs Jewkers: she holds Pamela down, as do the prostitutes in ‘Clarissa’; Richardson did seem to have a rather odd thing about exhibitionist rapes): –

‘The final attempt does begin with the intention of rape, though for revenge and subjugation, not desire- but it continues in stubborn pride, unwilling to give in to fear of wrongdoing, and trying hopelessly to salvage something. …It is the last kick of B’s pride, brought remorselessly to face its consequences in the ‘death’ (Pamela has a fit)
of the girl he loves. The result is tenderness, and there is no need for B’s subsequent change to seem surprising.’

IX: Pamela is Married 1743-4 Joseph Highmore 1692-1780 Purchased 1921 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03575
IX: Pamela is Married 1743-4 Joseph Highmore 1692-1780 Purchased 1921 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03575

I see; readers have been told that they are not ‘reading carefully’ if they find his subsequent reformation abrupt and unconvincing. We are also told repeatedly that Pamela is not a hypocrite for accepting such a man when he changes to making ‘respectable’ offers of marriage.

‘It is open to the critic to say that it is immoral to love a man who has behaved like B, even if he seems to have made a break with his past, and that it is immoral to be able to blot out that past in a forgiveness excessive enough to rank repentant sinners ‘in the rank of the most virtuous’. Only, if that is what we want to say, let us say it clearly, in awareness of what saying it implies. Let us not, on the other hand, talk too much about the jewel market.’

I see.  Kinkaed Weekes may dislike talking about ‘the jewel market’ ie, Pamela’s determination to keep her value as an untouched piece of goods on the market, as degrading, but that gives him no right to insist that others don’t, just because it weakens his arguments in favour of Pamela’s supposed integrity. What I would say in response to his implication that critics of her acceptance of Mr B are being uncharitable, is that of course, Pamela should have forgiven such a man as Mr B. But that she should not have married him.

Strangely enough, Kinkaed Weekes thoroughly endorses Clarissa’s combining forgiveness of Lovelace with an absolute refusal to marry him. While it might be argued that this is because Lovelace never really repents, he says he does. He is willing to marry Clarissa, believing that will put matters right.pamela

I see very little moral difference between the two rapist anti heroes, save that the first is less of a compulsive schemer, and more of a hypocrite, who decides he will obtain more pleasure in joining Pamela in ‘innocent pleasures’ with her as his servile worshipper, and in go about the country giving tedious moral lectures to the neighbours  than in jumping out of closets to thrust his hand down her bosom.

Tastes change, I suppose…

Complex Villains and Samuel Richardson’s Robert Lovelace from ‘Clarrissa’

imagesComplicated characters , whether heroes or villains (I’m applying the terms to both sexes) or a bit of both, are always fascinating.

As I see it, there’s only two problems with complex characters , good and bad: one is that they take so much work to envisage and the other is that, portaying them adequately will necessarily involve a bit more of a word count – and in this age of hurry where every minute is counted, that may be resented by readers.

To name only two examples from classic literature – Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony is intriguing, and so is Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Both combine admirable qualities with very inadmirable ones, a capacity for feeling, for magnanimity, mixed with an equal capacity for cold indifference.

I am particularly fascinated by the depiction of the wicked Robert Lovelace by Samuel Richardson. He is meant, of course, to be an arch-villain. I think, like some writers today, Richardson was dismayed, even shocked, when he found that too many readers – particularly women – found Lovelace so charming that they were prepared to fall over backwards and make excuses for the rape and even apportioned some of the blame to Clarissa herself.

I might not agree about many things with Richardson – as much an arch patriarch in his own way as the rakish Lovelace – but I do about this; there’s never any excuse for rape.

Still, I can see how the readership became fascinated by Lovelace. His letters do make fascinating reading; witty and debonair, his fiendish delight in his own machinations is often amusing. Sometimes the reader has to laugh along with him. He manipulates others as if they were, in his own words, ‘just so many puppets dancing on my wires’.

Robert_Lovelace_Preparing_to_Abduct_Clarissa_HarloweThis man is subtle and conniving; he’s got a flashy charm, and he’s clever enough to appear ingenuous; in fact, he’s always declaring how ingenuous he is and how he gets carried away by his natural ‘warmth of temper’ (or words to that effect). After a time, the astute and sharp-tongued Anna Howe begins to see through him; Clarissa, so honourable herself that she finds it hard to discern underhand, manipulative behaviour in others, takes longer. Without Ms Howe’s letters, she would soon be overwhelmed by Lovelace’s connivances and her own over fine moral scruples.

A lot of this is purely calculated; he has anger fits when he wishes to intimidate – he has something of the bully in him, as he can keep the said passions in check as well as anybody when he chooses to.

This is a point that ought to be bourne in mind in view of his later rape of the unlucky Clarissa, who has allowed herself to be drawn in by him and thrown into his protection, believing in his honour: if Lovelace has any honour, he has none towards women. They are to pay forever for his earlier betrayal by his first love. This is insane; Lovelace’s egotism and misogyny often border on the deranged.images

This calculating rogue, who defines himself as ‘as michevous as a monkey’ who ‘would have been a rogue, had I been a ploughboy’ loves bribery and corruption; he’s got a conniving tool in the hostile Harlowe’s manservant, his double agent Leman (wonderful name; I think it means ‘lover’ in old English) . He spins a complicated web to surround his victim, because he likes to make a woman fall into his trap, so he can look down at her and say: – ‘Aha, my charmer! How came you there?’ (Lovelace is often rather a stagey sort of villain: I believe he was based n the character Lothario in the play ‘The Fair Penitent’ and he often has the speech patterns and mannerisms of this stage villain).

This is the more fascinating, because the puritanical, diligent Samuel Richardson obviously had hidden depths in his psyche – we all have, of course, but rarely is there such a huge divide between the character depicted and the superficial personality of the writer. Richardson’s imagination must have been incredibly fertile, and I would love to hear what a post Freudian analysis of his psyche would make of his apparent sexual repressions.

Did Richardson’s model hero, Sir Charles Grandison, lock himself in his closet, concoct some noxious brew, and turn into Robert Lovelace on the sly? I wouldn’t put it past him at all. I never trust these too-good-to-be-true types.220px-Renoir23

Overall, the challenge of a creating a complex character, particularly a complex villain, or a complex anti-hero, is a tempting one for any writer. I’m tempted to delve further into it myself in due course.

My own Émile Dubois is a fairly complex character. He is apparently straightforward, and he doesn’t usually tell people lies (apart from the forces of law and order, that is) . His intentions towards Sophie are honourable and his courtship of her straightforward until he mistakenly believes that she is lying to him.

Still, neither does it always suit him to tell people quite the whole truth. He appears to be open-hearted – but he can outwit both the Committee of Public Safety over in Paris, living under an assumed identity for upwards of three years – and he is fully able to second guess the underhand machinations of Goronwy Kenrick. Bribing Kenrick’s servant comes as second nature to him, just as it does to Kenrick. This was all part of the eighteenth century aristocratic mentality, of course, particularly of those who had been connected with that hotbed of conspiracy Versailles.

This slightly tricky quality, demonstrated by his skill at chess, is lurking in readiness to come to the surface when he starts to turn into a monster. One part of him always remains as a tender lover, but another, the increasingly prominent monstrous side, revels in surrounding Sophie and driving into a corner just as he does in a chess game.

Émile, however, is – as his human self – generally a nice enough scoundrel despite this slight trickiness in his make up; he is extremely gallant to women generally, and has a sense of honour, being almost fanatically loyal to his friends. He is also shown – I’d like to emphasize here – as disgusted by the idea of rape.

Reading Clarissa has certainly tempted me to write about an out-and -out scoundrel without moral scruples – and just like Richardson, I won’t dream of letting him off; he’ll get the come uppance he deserves at the end.

Some More Ramblings About Protagonists and Antagonists

clarissaContinuing with my ramblings on the whole issue of protagonists and antagonists and point of view, there is the question of how much of an antagonist’s viewpoint should be revealed to the reader. How much sympathy for him or her can be engaged , before it becomes counter-productive, and the antagonist in fact becomes too much of a threat to the empathy with the ‘main character, the one the reader is supposed to be rooting for’. My apologies that I don’t remember the website on which I found that quote, and so can’t duly acknowledge it with a link.

On a personal note, someone recently pointed out that I seem to have a natural sympathy for the bad guy, and I thought this unfortunately true; it probably accounts for why I would always like to be given more of the inner workings of the antagonist’s mind in novels. It also accounts for why I’m so often disappointed in these characters as ‘not fully realised ’. It often seems to me that in classic novels especially, they are intriguing but finally disappointing, and could have stronger motivation, and greater depths and complexity.

But perhaps here I am wrong, and the authors knew exactly what they were doing in not revealing too much of the antagonist’s point of view and particular motivations. After all, too empathic an antagonist can detract from sympathy with the protagonist.

I also read somewhere recently words to the affect that ‘the best favour you can do the protagonist is to have a strong antagonist’ (again, I’ve forgotten the name of the link to the website; oh dear; this looks like singular absent mindedness) .

That is true; but it is obviously a question of balance. For instance, with regard to one of the greatest plays of all time, I always found the character of Edmund in ‘King Lear’ fascinating; why is he so scheming and eager to do evil? How much is his treatment of Edgar motivated by jealousy and resentment at being ‘a bastard’ and so debarred from his father’s inheritance, and how much by what might be called ‘inherent badness? Or rather, giving in to the bead side of his nature, the evil streak that we all have?

Of course, the motivation and fascination of Edmund – who ends up being either directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of all three of Lear’s daughters and of King Lear himself, and of the mutilation of his own father – has been discussed at great length. Does he overhear the Duke of Gloucester when he makes purile jokes to the Duke of Kent about Edmund’s mother and the circumstances of his conception? Does he hear the Duke of Gloucester when he says that Edmund will be sent abroad again? This is largely a question of stage direction, and what original directions Shakespeare made which would no doubt clear the matter up have been lost.

But even when the villainies of a antagonist can’t be to some extent explained if not excused through this sort of ambiguity, Shakespeare’s antagonists are still fascinating. For instance, there is Laertes, fond son of that interfering and pompous Polonious, and fond brother of his sister Ophelia. I had to sympathize with him; Hamlet has unintentionally brought about the deaths of both, and Laeertes’ smouldering hatred is fully understandable; Hamlet’s outburst at Ophelia’s funeral, where he accuses Laetrtes of ‘whining’ and stridently insists, ‘I loved Ophelia’ is enough to provoke a frenzy of violent vengefulness in any fond brother.

The infinitely less gifted but still innovative pioneer novelist Samuel Richardson found himself in unforeseen difficulties in his portrayal of his arch villain, Robert Lovelace in ‘Clarissa’.images

There is no doubt that the moral (if unconsciously hypocritical) Richardson intended Lovelace to be a complete villain and incorrigibly bad. He is a misogynist, scheming and underhand almost beyond belief and to the point of sabotaging his own self interest and finally, a rapist.

However, Lovelace is presented through his letters as so lively, playful and witty, that it is hard not to enjoy him and his appalling immorality up untitl the point when Clarissa’s sufferings become so severe, his duplicity so pointless and relentless, that the reader is finally disgusted even before the rape.

Here he is, for instance, unkindly singling out another household’s servant for ridicule to beguile the weary hour: –

‘O Lord: said the pollard headed dog, struggling to get his head loose from under my arm, while my other hand was muzzling about his cursed chaps, as I would take his teeth out. ..’

Lovelace’s prose is always racy and vivid; it is impossible not to laugh at his awful antics.

His behaviour, of course, is self defeating; this does make for a weakness in his motivation. After all, as the proud heir of an aristocratic family, he needs an heir. If he constitutionally despises all women, and is motivated by an evil urge to prove that all women are lascivious and fair game, why does he think he can prove it by raping Clarissa when all his attempts at seduction have failed? That is surely an admission of defeat.

In fact, Lovelace admits as much at the end, so the unfortunate Clarissa experiences a moral triumph beyond the grave as he dies in horrible agonies from the wounds inflicted by Captain Morden in the duel she sought so hard to prevent: ‘Blessed …Let this expiate.’Clarissa and Lovelace

From a practical point of view, Lovelace would have done far better to have married Clarissa after he had tricked her into literally running away with him, and made her life a misery from then with rakish ways and constant unfaithfulness; that seems to me an altogether more satisfactory conclusion to the story than Richardson’ s long drawn out  melodrama.

However, this is to wander from the point, which is that in depicting so charming and high-spirited an arch-villain as Lovelace, Richardson encountered unforeseen difficulties. As the volumes were produced, too many of his readers became too fond of Lovelace and insisted on seeing him as treated too harshly by both the author and his virtuous, but unfortunately stiff and humourless heroine, and suggested that the best thing all round would have been for Lovelace to marry Clarissa after the rape, thus ‘making amends’.

Of course, that was the conventional wisdom of the eighteenth century, disgusting as it seems to us, and in having his heroine reject him, Richardson was making a moral stand (as Gaskell was later to do in ‘Ruth) against this view that a rapist  or even a mean seducer in marrying his victim somehow put matters right.

Because of the charm of Lovelace’s presentation, many critics and readers ever since have adopted an over sympathetic view towards this arch-villain, and this stimulated Richardson to write indignant  prefaces and additions refuting such claims. Yet, however, much Richardson may have told his audience how his novel should be read, many persisted, as he saw it, in wilfully misunderstanding his intention.

And here, as I’ve said before, we come to a problem; as authors we can do our best to portray a character in such a way as to evoke a particular response. But when that book is published, it is finally up the reader to decide. They may find our antagonists altogether more intriguing than our protagonists, and the more human, complex and beguiling we make our antagonists, the greater the danger of that.

In my next post, I’m going back to one of my favourite novels to explore some problems when writing a novel where the antagonist, through sheer force of presentation, takes over from the hero as a protagonist and a main focus of interest – yes, it’s Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lover’s’ so you have been warned.

Another Sour (Though Hopefully Entertaining) Post : Those Seven Female Counterparts to Those Seven Most Annoying Heroes

Having posted about the seven ‘heroes’ I personally find most obnoxious in famous books by deceased authors, it only seems fair to list the seven female leads I thought most annoying, too. 220px-Waterhouse_a_mermaid

The problem here, as I said on that earlier post, was that I generally found these female leads provoking because the woman tended to lose most of her separate identity entirely once she got together with the hero, merging her personality with his and so losing ANY character traits of her own, obnoxious or otherwise. Either that, or she began and ended as a Mary Sue, like Richardson’s Pamela and Fanny Burney’s Evelina.

As an extreme example of a Mary Sue who submerges her identity into that of her man, there’s Lucie from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. I couldn’t dislike her because she doesn’t have any personality at all. She’s just Charles Darnay’s wife and mother to his child. I did however, find the vacuum that she represents dismal.

This being so, it’s difficult to remember all the separate examples of books where thr heroine does this; however, reverting to my previous Annoying Hero list, I try to remember their female counterparts. Were they masochists, Mary Sues, or what?

Number One Annoying Hero on my list was the Marquis Vidal in Georgette Heyer’s ‘Devil’s Cub’. Mary Challoner, I seem to remember (but I’m relying on the sad remains of a once good memory here) was quite witty, not at all vain, sensible, practical and resourceful. True, she did have to do daft things to fit in with the mechanisms of the plot, though, such as running off with the rebarbative Vidal to save her sister. Apart from her terrible taste in falling for a would-be rapist bully, she’s very likable. Far-fetched as Heyer’s escapism is, a woman with a lot going for her throwing herself away on an abusive man is true to life, I’m sorry to say…

Number Two of the Annoying Hero’s was Theseus in Mary Renault’s books ‘The King Must Die’ and ‘The Bull from the Sea’. I said then what I thought of the Apostate Amazon heroine of ‘The Bull from the Sea’, Hippoylata, and her extended case of Stockholm Syndrome once she becomes Theseus’ captive and joins him in spreading his patriarchal rule.

The book is, like the first, told from Theseus’ point of view and he sees her as being above criticism. The author who only reveals a character through the eyes of a besotted admirer runs the risk of making that character unsympathetic through such a biased viewpoint.  I suppose it could be done with irony, that wasn’t my impression here. If this story of her betrayal of the Goddess had been told by Hippoylata herself, perhaps she would have come across as more likable, despising herself, perhaps, for her passion for this enemy of female power, but as it is, I found her highly unsympathetic.

Number Three was Heathcliff, whom I’m sure everyone knows from ‘Wuthering Heights’ and whom I’m equally sure Emily Bronte didn’t intend as a hero at all, Byronic or otherwise. I didn’t find Cathy wonderfully sympathetic, but she  clearly was the only woman about seemingly savage and sadistic enough to stand up to Heathcliff’s bullying ways. Sadly, having failed to move either of the two men she wants to accept each other, she sinks into a decline altogether feminine. She is decidedly selfish, but given her dismal background, with her mother dying very early and her father turning against her for her high spirits, plus her brother Hindley’s wild antics, it’s not surprising that she isn’t exactly gentle. She did seem to feel for Heathcliff when Hindley forced him to be a servant.

I was interested in an article I saw mentioned, written by Patsy Stoneman, about Cathy’s wanting to have a ‘non possessive’ relationship of the sort for which Shelley yearned (and which, to be fair to those who advocate a set-up seemingly doomed to failure, probably can’t be properly envisaged or enacted within the narrow confines of our current society, anyway). A friend of mine on Goodreads was trying to trace this article, but hasn’t got back to me, but it does throw an intriguing new light on Cathy and her apparent selfishness in wanting two men at once. To be fair to her, too, she doesn’t show any jealousy when she thinks Heathcliff might desire Isabella, though we might think she is much too blasé about such a savage man when she says words to the effect  of; – ‘If you like her you shall have her – but I’m sure you don’t!”

She comes across as generally insensitive and overbearing, as when she taunts Isabella about her foolish infatuation for Heathcliff, and when she jeers about Edgar’s jealousy over her praise of the returned Heathcliff (she says she isn’t jealous of Edgar’s praise of Isabella’s beauty; but then, that can hardly be intended to be sexual, though in the quasi-incestuous atmosphere that surrounds the story, who knows?). On the whole, if anyone can be said to deserve the fate of being (temporarily) stuck with Heathcliff, she does for valuing the opinion of a man capable of doing such disgusting things. Of course, she’s extremely young; perhaps if she’d lived to maturity, she’d have outlived her strange  passion for him.

Number Four Annoying Hero for me was James Bond, so the heroines (if they can be called that; they aren’t allowed to take much initiative) are legion, with him being a compulsive Don Juan. Most of them have slipped my memory. As Mari Biella commented on the post, these women were largely lay figures created to be part of Bond’s male fantasy world of effortless conquest and hardly even meant to be anything other than desirable, worshiping conquests.

There was one called Honeychile Ryder in Dr No, whom I quite liked before she surrendered to Bond, an athletic woman who lived alone supporting herself by fishing. As a young girl, she’d been beaten unconscious, raped and her nose broken by a man whom she later killed by putting a scorpion in his bed. I don’t much like saying a kind word about Bond, but I seem to remember he thought her revenge fair enough. There was a Countess known – of all names – as ‘Tracy’ who had emotional problems. Bond was in the process of sorting ‘em out after marrying her, but she was murdered. I seem to remember she threw an alarm clock at him once, which I thought a waste of a useful object. I don’t remember much about her personality. There was one called Tatiana Romonova from the USSR who didn’t seem to have any personality at all even before she met him, and then there was one called Pussy Galore who was a lesbian. I do remember Bond’s explanation for lesbianism – he put it down to women wearing trousers too often. Presumably if he’d worn a kilt, then the problems of the heroines’ foolish worship would be at an end, and he’d have gone over to men…

Annoying Hero Number Five for me was Charley Kinraid from Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’. I didn’t blame the heroine Sylvia for despising the cousin who tricks her into marriage with him, and I sympathized with her love of being outside and working with animals and her love of the sea and her longing for adventure, so apart for her foolish worship of Kinraid, I found her generally sympathetic. As I said in an article I wrote about the novel for the ‘F word’, if Sylvia had been able to go to sea and have adventures herself, her tragedy would never have happened. As one critic, I think Jane Spenser, comments, it is only through her own lack of opportunities for adventure in her dull role as a woman and home-maker that she becomes so wildly infatuated with the superficial Kinraid (who could have adventures). This also encourages her to feel helpless after her father’s hanging and her mother’s insanity, so that she weakens and accepts Hepburn.

Number Six was Heriot Fayne from Charles Garvice’s ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’. The heroine, Eva, is a perfect example of a Mary Sue, admired by all. The author instructs the reader to ‘fall in love with her at once’ insisting that she is witty and independent minded. Sadly we never see any signs of either quality, as she spends most of the novel fainting, shedding tears over Lord Heriot Fayne for his ‘wasted life’ and sacrificing herself for her father or shrinking from the repulsive touch of the duplicitous Stannard Marshbank.

My Number Seven was the secondary hero from Georgette Heyer’s ‘’The Talisman Ring’ Ludovic Lavenham. He’s remarkably stupid and lacking in common sense. The secondary heroine, Eustacie, is similarly afflicted and undiscerning enough to think him wonderful, and on the whole I found her almost as tiresome as I did him.

So, there’s my list of the Annoying Heroes’ counterparts, and with a couple of honourable exceptions – Sylvia and possibly Cathy, they do seem to surrender their identities readily when they meet the dominant male.

I did actually forget someone who I should have put on my original list, ‘Mr B’ from Pamela. This fellow manages to be a rake and would-be rapist (I don’t believe his insistence that it was all a misunderstanding in Pamela In Her Exulted Condition; I think those to be  retrospective excuses by Richardson) yet later lectures sanctimoniously about proper conduct in  marriage and a wife’s duties. He gives a long ‘What He Expects’ lecture to Pamela: she must always look attractive, she must rise at five every day, she must entertain all his guests graciously etc, etc. This, presumably, was the bourgois coming out in Richardson incongruously through the voice of his supposed rake, but the sanctimonious tone is highly provoking, given his own history.

Pamela herself is also conceded to be annoying as the original Mary Sue, not just by me, but by many critics, and for an author to have made so many people dislike a servant girl imprisoned by a lascivious master is quite an achievement – but he succeeds. To be fair to Richardson, novel writing being in its infancy, and Pamela being largely told through her own letters, her apparent vanity in solemnly recounting one compliment after another is probably just clumsiness on the author’s part, but the effect, as in the later Evelina, isn’t attractive.

In fact, I can think of one ‘heroine’ – more of an anti-heroine – who does have a very independent character, and whom I didn’t like much anyway, and that’s Thackeray’s Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair. She is certainly tough, resourceful, dismissive of conventional morality and incapable of forgetting her own self-interest in her relations with men – but then, perhaps that’s not so surprising; Vanity Fair being a ‘novel without a hero.’ Still, I hardly think she’d do anything but exploit Vidal, Theseus, James Bond, Charley Kinraid, Lord Fayne or Ludovic Lavenham anyway – and Heathcliff she would not consider worth noticing, having no wish to live in a draughty farmhouse on the moors.

I can hardly blame her for exploiting the weaknesses of people  of higher rank, with no talent, but the money and power denied to her by birth, yet I don’t agree with critics like Seymour Betsky that ‘part of Becky’s superiority to others lies in the absence of ill-humor, meaness, or savage intensity in her self-interest.’ In her encouraging Rawden Crawley to get the foolish George Osborne to gamble away the few thousand pounds left to him after his father has disinherited him for marrying Amelia, she shows all of these qualities. She has a grudge against him because he prevented her marriage to Amelia’s brother Jos as he didn’t want a low born sister-in-law. You might think as that leads to her getting a baronet’s son for a husband, she might be almost grateful to him, but she does indeed show a good deal of savage vengefulness here. If she ruins George by seducing him to play with the cheating Rawden Crawley, she ruins his wife too, and Amelia has been up to that point her only staunch friend, but Becky doesn’t seem to worry about that. Instead she lures George to the gaming table by making him infatuated with her and so ruining the few weeks that he and Amelia have together before he’s killed at Waterloo.

Years later, she shows Amelia the letter George has written to her asking her to elope with him – presumably, she’s unaware that just before the Battle of Waterloo he repents of this and says he hopes if he’s killed Amelia never hears of it, but probablyn she wouldn’t care if she did know that  – and her having kept this note for years, which can hardly do her any good with George dead, seems to indicate a startlingly vindictive streak.

Fate pays Rawden Crawley back for his part in this piece of shabbiness, when he’s in turn betrayed and humiliated by Becky when she tries to get him out of the way so she can have a shockingly private meeting with the Marquis of Steyne. Steyne is  a man so physically repulsive, with his white face, yellow teeth and dyed red hair,  that Becky surely deserves an award for being able to endure physical intimacy with him. Well, this being a Victorian novel, we are never quite sure that she is physically intimate with him – but his words, ‘Every jewel on her body has been paid for by me’ might, if inverted, give the answer.

So, I found Becky Sharp equally, if not more, unsympathetic than some of those Identity Shedding heroines. Amelia Sedley, interestingly, I didn’t dislike, though she is very much a Victorian heroine, and portrayed as such by the author. I didn’t feel impatient with her as I did most of the others, perhaps because the poor girl’s infatuation with George Osborn turns out so dismally for her.

With the exception of Sylvia, Cathy  and Countess Tracy, all the other heroines, even the idiotic Eustacie in Heyer’s ‘The Talisman Ring’, are saved from the consequences their stupid actions by plot devices (and those heroes) but poor Amelia Sedley is made to suffer years of attrition. But then these are a mixed selection of books, with more serious works jostling with light romances, and in Thackeray only the unscrupulous generally thrive in Vanity Fair. We leave Becky flourishing.

Moral Complexities and Good and Bad Characters

12618f13Suzie and the Monsters - a fairytale of blood, sex and inhumanity...Robert_Lovelace_Preparing_to_Abduct_Clarissa_HarloweFrancis Franklin’s intriguing and disturbing book ‘’Suzy and the Monsters’, which is about a predatory bi sexuaol vampire who routinely abuses women as well as men , and her war on a far worse group of abusers, human traffickers, examines the moral complexities in this vendetta where Suzy displays ‘the rage of Artemis’. No punches are pulled in describing Suzy’s own awareness of her particular capacity for cruelty, or that of her hateful opponents.

This contrasted strikingly with the book I was previously reading where the moral boundaries between good and bad people are generally clearly if simplistically, drawn and where notions of good and evil, abuse and abuser are clear-cut – that is in Samuel Richardson’s ‘Clarissa’.

As I don’ t  myself share Richardson’s orthodox religious views, with hellfire and damnation awaiting the wicked and eternal bliss for the virtuous, or  his system of morality, it might be seem surprising that I agree with his definition of Lovelace as a man given to indulging remorselessly his taste for wickedness. However, I do, because he is a rapist., and not only that, but a serial abuser of women who thinks that their moral worth can be equated with their so-called physical virtue.

Richardson, it seems, took the view that if the repentant Belford and the incorrigibly scheming and immoral Lovelace had not been ostensibly believers, then their correspondence would have been ‘truly demonic’.

I’m far from believing this myself – it seems to me that Lovelace’s hypocritical refusal to listen to blasphemy, whist showing no mercy to so many of his fellow creatures, makes him seem far worse. He also comes across as a fool, for if he believes in damnation but works diligently for his admission to hell, he seems to me almost to suffer from some mental condition in which the sufferer can’t relate cause and effect.

Another writer whose attitude towards moral conflict is within the straightforward one of Christian morality is Elizabeth Gaskell. As such, one would rather expect her moral scheme to include a scenario where the wicked flourish in this world and the good and morally scrupulous lose out, looking forward to a reward in the next.

Sometimes in her stories, as in various short stories, for instance, ‘The Sexton’s Hero’ and ‘Half a Lifetime Ago’ this is clearly her thinking on this point, but in some of her novels she seems to be distracted by the conventional novelists’ need for a happy ending in this world, regardless of theology; for instance, in ‘North and South’ the happy reconciliation of the hero and heroine seems contrived to say the least, and comes about through a whole series of people conveniently dying or changing their accustomed patterns of behaviour.

In ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ as I have often said before in this blog, the author gets into difficulties of another sort, caused through her softness towards a morally questionable main character. She ends up by having two out of three very faulty characters suffer a dismal fate in this world, while the third seems to have an improbably charmed life.

The dishonest Philip Hepburn, who conceals from his idol Sylvia Robson that he knows that her preferred admirer Charley Kinraid has been taken by a press gang rather than having been drowned, suffers a miserable fate (and it is hard not to believe, deservedly). Rejected by Sylvia in front of the returned Kinraid, he goes to expiate his sins by enlisting as a marine. Horribly disfigured in an explosion, he comes home a beggar and finally dies dramatically in the arms of a repentant Sylvia, whose punishment as surely follows; tormented by guilt at her godless rejection of the man she married, she drags on a few more years before dying early herself.

Meanwhile, the thoughtless womanizer Charley Kinrad (who is blamed by Hepburn’s business partner William Coulson for causing the death through a broken heart of Coulson’s sister Annie, whom he once courted for a couple of years, and who has beguiled his cousin Bessy into believing that she is engaged to him at the same time that he is courting Sylvia) makes a brilliant match with a pretty heiress only months after he finds out that he has come back to find Sylvia married. As he does this after having solemnly sworn that he’ll have Sylvia for his wife or nobody, she is understandably peeved.

Not only that, but he has a glowing career in the Royal Navy open to him.
In the gun battle on his whaler through which he becomes Sylvia’s hero, he has shot dead two press-gang members, and it is only through being shot down and mistaken for dead himself that he escapes what would have been his punishment had it been known he had survived – hanging for mutiny.

This opposition to press gangs doesn’t prevent him from going in for heroics – this time on the Royal Navy’s side – when he is later captured by a press-gang. This is turn leads to his promotion to officer rank, and after some more heroics being promoted again to Captain.

As an officer, this shameless opportunist would be expected to use press gangs routinely to get enough men (never mind the regulations governing impressments) but we don’t hear about this sordid side to his glittering career as a Naval hero and we may assume that he and the woman who has replaced the unlucky Sylvia in his gadfly affections go on from strength to strength. Kinraid, who has survived yet another shooting through a fortuitous rescue at the hands of his old enemy Hepburn, doesn’t even have so much as limp following a broken leg as we leave him in Portsmouth, walking along vigorously with his adoring wife clinging to his arm.

As I have also said elsewhere, I think this strange contrast between the dismal fates of two of the three main characters in this novel, and the improbable luck of the third, is very likely due to Elizabeth Gaskell’s identifying all her sailor characters with her beloved lost brother John . The theme of the Returning Sailor is one of the landmarks of her work, and while she probably planned a less glowing fate for the caddish Charley Kinraid, sisterly affection must have taken over from authorial detachment.

Of course, I may be wrong. Elizabeth Gaskell was as frequently as subtle a writer as she could be one given to melodrama and even sentimentality, and it is possible that Kinraid’s good luck (the whaler on which we first encounter him is called the ‘Good Fortune’) is intended as a lesson on how the emotionally superficial and unscrupulous flourish in this world. One of the reasons this novel is one that I find particularly intriguing is because the moral lessons are far from as clear-cut as perhaps Elizabeth Gaskell intended them to be. Some people, for instance, read this and assume that Kinraid is meant to be regarded uncritically as a hero – but given the author was he devout wife of a minister I find this hard to believe.

This unintentional ambiguity in the moral message of this novel, where two characters are punished for their wrong doings in this world and another comes up smelling of roses,  makes me less amazed at the absurd amount of time that Richardson devoted to writing appendices and footnotes to his works – and to ‘Clarissa’ in particular – explaining to his readers exactly what moral point he wished to make, exactly how he was trying to portray a character.

But from Richardson’s day to ours, unfortunately, there are those who continue to admire Lovelace and despise Clarissa. Whatever our spiritual beliefs, whatever point, moral or otherwise, we may wish to make in telling our story and portraying our characters in a certain way, once we publish the reader is free to make up her own mind.

Review of Samual Richardson’s Clarissa

imagesclarissaI finally finished ‘Clarissa’ a couple of weeks ago.
It’s an incredibly long read, and sometimes a tedious one. Richardson never writes fifty words when five hundred will do,and he just loved to tell not show.

His moral expostulations that so amused Coleridge are even more in evidence here than in Pamela: the moral conflict between Lovelace and Clarissa has more at stake than the one between Mr B and Pamela, because finally Lovelace is shown to be too wicked to be capable of reformation.

In Richardson’s earlier novel, Mr B does, after his outrageous attempts on Pamela in the first half of the story, have an –  unconvincing –  moral turnabout and offers Pamela the marriage which, it seems, makes all these earlier, shabby attempts on a servant’s maid’s body all right.

To be fair to Richardson, Mr B supposedly clears himself of charges of attempted rape in ‘Pamela in Her Exalted Condition’ (one of the dullest books I have ever read), explaining away his dramatic leaps from cupboards and pinning her down with the help of the brutal Mrs Jewkes as apparent misunderstandings (!!!). Mr B, though debauched enough to be a seducer, is not finally to be seen as a rapist.

images

Lovelace was almost certainly a rapist before he ravishes the drugged Clarissa – (an act he blames on the prostitutes in the brothel, two of them girls he has debauched himself). We hear of his abducting a woman he admired before, and when he got her to the inn, as he blithely admits to his tool Joseph Leman, ‘It’s true I didn’t ask her for her permission. It’s cruel to ask a virtuous woman’.

He schemes to kidnap and rape Clarissa’s friend, his opponent Anna Howe, in a maritme raid in which he hopes to include his group of fellow debauchees, but this idea comes to nothing as his obsession with Clarissa leads to her own desctruction at his hands.

He also casually suggests drowning a treacherous mistress of his dying friend Belton, along with the two boys of doubtful paternity (it’s hard to tell from the context if he is serious or not).

The style of this shameless brute is throughout lively and amusing enough sometimes to beguile the reader almost into warming to him at times – until you remember his disgusting history of abuse of  women based solely on one disappointment in love, and an apparent conviction (shared with Richardson) that a woman’s ‘chastity’ is her only honour. He is a great believer in the rakes’ code that the only women worthy of respect are the ones who will reject his advances.

images

We see him being charming to his cousin Charlotte, winning her over with kisses, and entertaining his rakish friends. We see him scheming diabolically, excusing himself inadequately, and finally, being destroyed by Clarissa’s avenger Colonel Morden. His final words during his death throes are ‘Let this expiate!’ Presumably, this is addessed to Clarissa herself. What can expiate his behaviour to his other victims, and those he has made into brutes themselves, isn’t a question Richardson addresses.

His scheming is sometimes ludicrous – for instance, wishing to test Clarissa’s feelings for him, he doses himself with the emetic ipecacuanha, then sends out for blood from the butchers to mix with his vomit to convince Clarissa that he is dangerously ill ( of course, she is duly compassionate).

index

Lovelace can’t explain away his diabolical machinations when Clarissa comes to believe in them. The reader has access to them from the beginning through his detailed correspondence with his friend Belford, who later goes over to the Clarissa camp and lets her see his friend’s letters, thereby exposing the full extent of his pointless and elaborate schemes against her virtue.

I don’t believe anyone – even at the time – could possibly really have thought of this novel as true to life. There are domestic details which are, obviously, for Richardson, ever a vivid and lively writer when not launched on a moral homily, can bring his imaginative world to life admirably. His depictions of life in great houses, in a brothel and in eighteenth century shop, are colourful and interesting. Still, his story is in no way believable and most of his characters and their relationships are improbable, whether they are virtuous or debauched.

Clarissa is an impossible seventeen year old ( the more extraordinary as she ages two years in eight months and is nineteen at the time of her death). She is always virtuous and dutiful.

She does appear to give way, very early in the novel, to one fit of spite when she describes her sister Bella as having ‘a high fed face’ but even this may be a fault in his ‘epistolary method’. This remark is more suited to the acid pen of Anna Howe than that of the high-minded Clarissa. Her purity is such that nothing can soil even to her ruffles – these remain unsoiled in the grubby ‘spunging house’.

I don’t wish to give the impression that I in any way am decrying Richardson’s  achievement as a man who wished, in portraying the conflict between a virtuous woman and a rake, to warn ‘the inconsiderate and thoughtless of the one sex against the base arts and designs of specious contrivers of the other.’ He also wished to, ‘Caution parents against the undue exercise of their natural authority over their children in the great article of marriage’.

Richard was faithful to his scheme in showing the lurid and almost insane scheming of Lovelace to overcome Clarissa’s resistance to his seduction attempts after he has lured her away. In this, he is  helped massively by her family’s horrible insistence that she make an advantageous match with a man she finds physically repulsive.  Soon, Lovelace has Clarissa trapped in a brothel, from which she at last escapes.  He used an exciting, if incredible story, and vivid, if over the top characters, to make his points.

This novel has many weaknesses quite apart from the ones I have mentioned. For instance, Lovelace’s scheme to try Clarissa’s virtue to the point that he does, can’t  even make sense within his own frame of reference. Arguably, from his viewpoint,  having given her a short ‘trial’ rather than becoming embroiled in schemes that make acting honourably by her impossible, he should have married her. Then he could calmly refuse to reform. Still, it is, particularly given the undeveloped state of the novel in this era, an impressive achievement.

Richardson did what James N Frey calls ‘following through’ with admirable consistency, killing off Clarissa through a decline and causing Lovelace’s own death in a duel later on. We are left with little doubt of Lovelace’s final destination.

I’m glad to say I don’t believe in hell and damnation, but Richardson clearly did, and makes it obvious that Colonel Morden feels a good deal of guilt for having dispatched such a villain before he had time to repent. This is what Clarissa pleaded for him not to do in her posthumous letter.

While Richardson’s heroine and embodiment of virtue has become an anochronism, his dated but complex villain still gives inspiration and food for thought.

Clarissa -Richardson’s Saintly Heroine – Rounded Heroine Minus Bodily Urges

clarissaimages

When it comes to a complicated main character, a character who is according to E M Forster’s categorisation rounded as distinct from flat, I don’t need to look any further than the novel I’ve been reading recently, ‘Clarissa’ by Samuel Richardson..

She is a fascinating creation, in some ways a rounded character, vividly portrayed as loving to feed her poultry and make tea for the family; yet in other ways, she seems oddly incomplete, seen as she is by her creator as almost a ‘creature without a body’

Richardson was of course, a prize- holding, fully-paid-up card-holding patriarch, with an obsession with a woman’s so called purity that seems to teeter on the verge of the ludicrous.

Accordingly, the honour of Clarissa, like her predecessor Pamela, is tested in the area of virginity. This makes for a massive shortcoming in a novel that might otherwise have been a truly riveting drama of a contest between good and evil in the persons of Clarissa and her caddish, charming, handsome and finally brutal violator Lovelace.

This is a shame; and contrived though the situations are, improbable as Lovelaces’s schemes often are too, ridiculous as the value which both Clarissa and Lovelace place on her not surrendering to his whiles is, it still makes for in fascinating read two hundred and fifty years after it was written.

To lose her ‘virtue’ then meant for a respectable, upper middle class girl like Clarissa in that age social ostracism; her not surrendering to Lovelace is more than a pretty girl refusing to let a caddish admirer bed her; Clarissa’s physical virtue means everything to Clarissa and Lovelace; in her, he is putting on trial all women and his lack of faith in them. He holds in debased form exactly the same moral code as she does regarding women’s virtue.

Richardson was an innovator in that he did write about women and their problems, however far fetched his plots and the contrivances of his seducers/potential rapists, and for this he does deserve a round of thanks from all woman writers. He cleared the way through macho unthinking adventure stories to a softer, more reflective approach. His successors were Fanny Burney and later, the incomparable Jane Austen.

Just as in his last novel Sir Charles Grandison Richardson portrayed his ideal man, so Clarissa is his ideal woman, who is, first and last, a ‘lady’.

Now, all women know, and most perceptive men suspect, that those women who wish to be ‘ladies’, even the ones who are downright prissy in male company, are far more outspoken and earthy (and also critical of males) whenever they are alone with other women.

This being true even today, it must have been far more the case in an era when ignoring the coarser aspects of reality was becoming an aspect of gentility.

By and large in the eighteenth century, life was brutal compared to how things are in western society today. Death and dirt and pain were ever present.

Against these background features, throughout the century, there was a move towards ‘gentility’ and increasing polarisation of sex roles, which was finally to lead to what might be called the ‘cult of the lady’ in Victorian times, and the fainting, sheltered heroines of the time.

Richardson’s writing shows a strangely divided psyche over the issue of women. He seems to have honoured ‘the sex’ and valued their contributions to his writing; he even had a group of highly sycophantic female readers and advisors, who gave him feedback on his novels, particularly the issues of delicacy and punctilio in them. However, these his ‘dear sisters’ had to keep to the rules, and to speak as delicate ladies. Richardson admired puritanical morality (and as Fielding makes obvious, this was often synonymous, at least in his first novel Pamela with complacent, self- serving morality).

To most modern readers in the west, and I think especially women, Richardson’s equating a woman’s being sexually untouched ( and also untouched by stirrings of physical desire, certainly outside marriage and quite possibly even within it) with honour must seem absurd.

In Clarissa the heroine takes this to extremes. At the time critics thought she was depicted as over delicate. Even taking into account her fully justified apprehensions of Lovelace as an encroaching seducer, her cold behaviour to him when she believes herself informally engaged to him is such that she is dismayed by so much as a kiss.

After he tricks her into running away with him, and she suspects that he has indeed duped her, she is annoyed with him and remarks at the first guest house (where he insists on staying too): – ‘I find you do not improve on acquaintance, Sir.’

He doesn’t do what she expects him to do, and what, by the code of punctilio he ought to do at once, and propose to her outright, setting a date for the wedding.

Instead he protests that he must adhere to her former conditions. Previously, she said she wouldn’t listen to his proposal until he had begun a reformation and attempted a reconciliation with her family. Now, he uses these conditions once imposed on him against her. Disliking marriage, he hopes to prevail on her to live as his mistress.

And so, the struggle of will and wits between the two begins. Clarissa, though she shows Christian humility, will not take any nonsense from Lovelace, and this is one of her most endearing characteristics: – ‘You are boasting of your merits, Sir: let merit be y our boast: nothing else can attract me. If personal considerations had any weight with me, either in Solmes’ (her rejected suitor) disfavour, or in your favour, I should despise myself: if you value yourself upon them in preference to the person of poor Solmes I shall despise you!’

This is bravely spoken when Lovelace is her only protector now, and the vain schemer and abuser deserves this and the many put-downs to which she subjects him, and far, far worse. Still, there is a problem here.

She does admire Lovelace’s personal attractions; she does admire ‘his person’, and as she is later to find out when he deliberately makes himself ill, she is already slightly in love with him. This attraction isn’t adequately depicted by Richardson , possibly throgh his wish to portray his heroine as above bestial lust.

She wouldn’t be even slightly in love with Lovelace, if she knew his full discreditable history as an accused rapist who despises women. In this, Clarissa is unlike some un-self-critical heroines. Many of these are quite happy to throw their lot in with a rake, believing that his former treatment of other women is largely their own fault and less important than his (current) treatment of the heroine herself.

Clarissa, though naïve, is objective enough to see that Lovelace’s treatment of her soon resembles his devious treatment of her sister when he was officially courting her.

Clarissa is Richardson’s ideal women, and Richardson had highly repressive notions of how a woman – anyway, a lady – should be. Accordingly, this necessitates her denial of her own sexuality. How far this is arguably Richardson’s intention – that Clarissa, who is ‘all mind’ is too blasé about the strength of her unrecognised attraction to Lovelace – is an interesting point. The author’s own language, his way of thinking of Clarissa, his whole perception of her as a semi angelic being precludes any earthiness in her or any clarity on this point.

This can lead to absurdities; later, when a prisoner for debt in the grubby room at the ‘Spunging Hoise’ Clarissa’s ruffles are still snow white. This is obviously meant to show metaphorical spotlessness (to demonstrate the point that despite her rape, Clarissa is still pure) but comes across as rather ludicrous.

She possess some sort of filter by way of an aura, which repels dirt and no doubt flies, but unfortunately fails to repel Lovelace, whom she recognises in her metaphorical story of a ‘lady’ who kept a ‘beast’ as beneath his specious exterior, a brute; as his friend Belford says, ‘as cruel as a panther.’

As she is ‘all mnd’, she eats almost nothing for several months before she is literally dragged away from her family home by Lovelace, so that one wonders she isn’t seriously underweight by that time. She is shown drinking tea with Lovelace, but never shares a hearty dinner with him (too corporal). After she goes into a decline, she wastes away to a lovely skeleton, but no ugly bodily symptoms are allowed to intrude on the reformed rake Belford’s notice during his account of her beautific last hours.

Early in the novel, I was dismayed that Clarissa did seem to indulge in some petty spite by mentioning ‘the poor Bella’ (her sister, the one Lovelace ostensibly first courted) having a ‘high fed face’ and comments on how when delighted at the thought of having such an attractive husband, Bella ‘compliments her own person’. All this seems unworthy of Clarissa, so that one wonders if it is just another failure of ‘the epistolary method’ or if it betrays a covert sexual rivalry over Lovelace that even predates Lovelace’s transferring ‘his addresses’ from her elder sister to Clarissa herself.

In her final letters to her family, and despite their witholding of a final blessing and forgiveness of her for running away with Lovelace until it is to late, Clarissa shows no malice or resentment of their cruel treatment. Now she does strike the reader as truly angelic and quite above petty rivalry or spite. Richardson shows repeatedly that she has lost any interest in Lovelace as a man, having rejected repeated pleas from him to marry him by way of reparation, and she embraces her death as reunion with the divine.

Lovelace and Clarissa are undoubtedly great achievements in depiction of character. It is unfortunate that Richardson’s view of women made it impossible for him to depict a truly rounded heroine in either the self interested Pamela or the far more admirable Clarissa; Except very occasionally, Pamela lacks depth; Clarissa seems to lack any bodily urges.

In the cruel Lovelace, as I have mentioned before, and as I will go into again, Richardson’s achievement is truly magnificent; he has created a truly rounded villain.

Samuel Richardson’s ‘Clarissa’ and Complex Villains…

imagesClarissa and LovelaceComplicated characters , whether heroes or villains (I’m applying the terms to both sexes) or a bit of both, are always fascinating.

As I see it, there’s only two problems with complex characters , good and bad: one is that they take so much work to envisage and the other is that, portaying them adequately will necessarily involve a bit more of a word count – and in this age of hurry where every minute is counted, that may be resented by readers.

To name only two examples from classic literature – Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony is intriguing, and so is Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Both combine admirable qualities with very inadmirable ones, a capacity for feeling, for magnanimity, mixed with an equal capacity for cold indifference.

I am particularly fascinated by the depiction of the wicked Robert Lovelace by Samuel Richardson. He is meant, of course, to be an arch-villain. I think, like some writers today, Richardson was dismayed, even shocked, when he found that too many readers – particularly women – found Lovelace so charming that they were prepared to fall over backwards and make excuses for the rape and even apportioned some of the blame to Clarissa herself.

I might not agree about many things with Richardson – as much an arch patriarch in his own way as the rakish Lovelace – but I do about this; there’s never any excuse for rape.

Still, I can see how the readership became fascinated by Lovelace. His letters do make fascinating reading; witty and debonair, his fiendish delight in his own machinations is often amusing. Sometimes the reader has to laugh along with him. He manipulates others as if they were, in his own words, ‘just so many puppets dancing on my wires’,

This man is subtle and conniving; he’s got a flashy charm, and he’s clever enough to appear ingenuous; in fact, he’s always declaring how ingenuous he is and how he gets carried away by his natural ‘warmth of temper’ (or words to that effect). After a time, the astute and sharp-tongued Anna Howe begins to see through him; Clarissa, so honourable herself that she finds it hard to discern underhand, manipulative behaviour in others, takes longer. Without Ms Howe’s letters, she would soon be overwhelmed by Lovelace’s connivances and her own over fine moral scruples.

index  rapejokes

A lot of this is purely calculated; he has anger fits when he wishes to intimidate – he has something of the bully in him, as he can keep the said passions in check as well as anybody when he chooses to.

This is a point that ought to be bourne in mind in view of his later rape of the unlucky Clarissa, who has allowed herself to be drawn in by him and thrown into his protection, believing in his honour:  if Lovelace has any honour, he has none towards women. They are to pay forever for his earlier betrayal by his first love. This is insane; Lovelace’s egotism and misogyny often border on the deranged.

This calculating rogue, who defines himself as ‘as michevous as a monkey’ who ‘would have been a rogue, had I been a ploughboy’ loves bribery and corruption; he’s got a conniving tool in the hostile Harlowe’s manservant, his double agent Leman (wonderful name; I think it means ‘lover’ in old English) . He spins a complicated web to surround his victim, because he likes to make a woman fall into his trap, so he can look down at her and say: – ‘Aha, my charmer! How came you there?’ (Lovelace is often rather a stagey sort of villain: I believe he was based n the character Lothario in the play ‘The Fair Penitent’ and he often has the speech patterns and mannerisms of this stage villain).

This is the more fascinating, because the puritanical, diligent Samuel Richardson obviously had hidden depths in his psyche – we all have, of course, but rarely is there such a huge divide between the character depicted and the superficial personality of the writer. Richardson’s imagination must have been incredibly fertile, and I would love to hear what a post Freudian analysis of his psyche would make of his apparent sexual repressions.

Did Richardson’s model hero, Sir Charles Grandison, lock himself in his closet, concoct some noxious brew, and turn into Robert Lovelace on the sly? I wouldn’t put it past him at all. I never trust these too-good-to-be-true types.

Overall, the challenge of a creating a complex character, particularly a complex villain, or a complex anti-hero, is a tempting one for any writer. I’m tempted to delve further into it myself in due course.

My own Émile Dubois is a fairly complex character. He is apparently straightforward, and he doesn’t usually tell people lies (apart from the forces of law and order, that is) . His intentions towards Sophie are honourable and his courtship of her straightforward until he mistakenly believes that she is lying to him.

Still, neither does it always suit him to tell people quite the whole truth. He appears to be open-hearted – but he can outwit both the Committee of Public Safety over in Paris, living under an assumed identity for upwards of three years – and he is fully able to second guess the underhand machinations of Goronwy Kenrick. Bribing Kenrick’s servant comes as second nature to him, just as it does to Kenrick. This was all part of the eighteenth century aristocratic mentality, of course, particularly of those who had been connected with that hotbed of conspiracy Versailles.

This slightly tricky quality, demonstrated by his skill at chess, is lurking in readiness to come to the surface when he starts to turn into a monster. One part of him always remains as a tender lover, but another, the increasingly prominent monstrous side, revels in surrounding Sophie and driving into a corner just as he does in a chess game.

Émile, however, is – as his human self –  generally a nice enough scoundrel despite this slight trickiness in his make up; he is extremely gallant to women generally, and has a sense of honour, being almost fanatically loyal to his friends.  He is also shown – I’d like to emphasize here –  as disgusted by the idea of rape.

EmileDubois-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

Reading Clarissa has certainly tempted me to write about an out-and -out scoundrel without moral scruples – and just like Richardson,  I won’t dream of  letting him off; he’ll get the come uppance he deserves at the end.