Clarissa : a study in the heart
Clarissa Harlowe’s heart is the subject of this study. More specifically the subject is the way her heart is tried, broken, and eventually rewritten through a painful three-part confrontation with others, with herself, and with God. The heart is both a physical object and the spiritual, emotional, psychic centre of the human being; however, though the heart is bound up with the body, and though Clarissa dies when her heart breaks, it is the heart’s interior, private nature that Richardson privileges. In the first confrontation, Clarissa’s heart confronts others in the form of her family, the Harlowes, who attempt to force their daughter into marriage with a man she hates. In the second confrontation, Clarissa’s heart confronts itself as its own unexamined depths are probed, a process of self awareness activated as a defensive measure by the presence of Robert Lovelace, her would-be seducer and eventual rapist. In the third confrontation, Clarissa’s heart confronts God in the approaches of death, a state that forces the heart into a final inquisition where it must know itself clearly. During this three-part confrontation, Clarissa’s heart is tried, broken, and eventually rewritten as a new whole. This rewriting is only possible because Clarissa “stitches” herself into Scripture, a process that mends and fortifies the broken heart by typologically locating it within a larger matrix of meaning. Along with this three-part reading of the novel I argue for a three-part definition of the heart: the heart as an organ of sympathy, an organ of conscience, and the heart as an apotheosized and sacred vision of the self. I suggest that Richardson, in writing about the heart like this, sets the direction of English fiction for his own eighteenth and for the following nineteenth century. Finally, I argue that Clarissa is a species of allegory and a typologically charged narrative that particularizes the universal Christian redemption drama through the story of Clarissa Harlowe.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteeVargo, Lisa; Banco, Lindsey; DesBrisay, Gordon
Copyright DateSeptember 2011