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ENL 6236 Beauty and Violence in the Enlightenment

    Class 5: Clarissa: Women's freedom,
    elopement, marriage law


      Clarissa, pp. 151-300
      Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in Jacobs;
      excerpt from Blackstone's Commentary on the laws of England: Chapter 15.
      DUE: Post #4; Clarissa reading journal;
      Scholarship Presentation: Quentin Vieregge -- Raymond F. Hilliard, "Clarissa and Ritual Cannibalism," PMLA 105.5 (Oct. 1990): 1083-97. IN JSTOR.

    Class Objectives:

    • To discuss Clarissa's elopement and resulting powerlessness
    • To discuss Women in the Enlightenment via Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
    • To review historical information on marriage law in Blackstone's commentary
    • To analyze the article presented by Mr. Vieregge

    Notes and Discussion Questions:

    1. Clarissa - through Letter 118

    One of the first major turning points in the novel takes place during this section: Clarissa's departure from her father's house. Examine how the writings change before and after this crucial event. What marks the change in the characters? How does the tone change? How does the conflict change? How does the focus change?

    In light of Blackstone's commentary on the laws of marriage, discuss how the family plans to make Clarissa marry Solmes. What constitutes a legal marriage? How does Clarissa plan to make the ceremony invalid? [Please note that this commentary is made in light of a major change in the law that takes place in 1753, which is after the events of the novel.]

    Again, what language stands out in this section? What patterns do you see emerging? For example, what happens to the double reform plot, discussed by Mary Martin, after Clarissa leaves with Lovelace?

    Why does Clarissa leave with Lovelace?

    What does it mean for Clarissa to be in Lovelace's power?

    How does Lovelace implement the practice of the "amorous see saw"? To what effect? On what subjects is Clarissa credulous? On what is she suspicious?

    At several points in this section Lovelace and Clarissa discuss "obligation" and "politeness" is their letters to others and in their discussions between themselves. Clarissa says she is "in a state of obligation" (410). Lovelace analyzes the problems of "pecuiary obligation" in terms of a landlord taking his rents early from his tenants and leaving himself in their power (Letter 118). What is the relationship between obligation and power? Does this have anything to do with politeness?

    In Letter 107 Lovelace announces his understanding that "true politeness" is not inconsistent with "manly sincerity," and Clarissa retorts that any gentleman of birth and education should know that. What is at issue in this concept of politeness and masculinity? How does this understanding of "manly sincerity" serve the ends of politeness? How does it complicate the rituals of courtship? For example, why is Lovelace frustrated that Clarissa is "above flattery, and despises all praise but that which flows from the approbation of her own heart" (423). Why does Lovelace hate being considered a hypocrite?

    Consider the trial to which Lovelace is determined to put Clarissa. On page 429 Lovelace offers a fairly commonplace explanation of why sexual promiscuity is a greater evil in women than in men. Evaluate this rationale in light of Blackstone's commentary.

    2. Blackstone, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

    Blackstone's Commentary on the laws of England: Chapter 15. This website version, provided by the Avalon project at Yale Law School, uses the following source: Commentaries on the Laws of England by Blackstone, William, Sir, 1723-1780 4 v. : 2 geneal. tables ;27 cm. (4to); First Edition, Oxford : Printed at the Clarendon Press, 1765-1769.

    This popular work condenses the common law of England. It went through 13 editions by 1800. These other editions, with further notations and commentary, are available in facsimile online versions through the Eighteenth Century Collection Online available through USF library from Gale.

    Please note that the website version tries to replicate the eighteenth-century font of the "long S" by using an "f". This leads to some confusion. Please try to substitue the "s" for "f" where appropriate.

    Blackstone comments on "this innovation upon our antient laws and constitution," (i.e. the 1753 Marriage act that requires the marriage banns to be announced, requires a license, and forbids marriage under the age of 21 without consent of parents or guardians). One of the benefits of this law is that it prohibits the elopement of young heiresses without their parents' consent. How does Clarissa anticipate the concerns answered by the law here.

    Note finally that once the parties are willing and able to contract a marriage, they must do so in the prescribed manner. What are the conditions necessary to make a valid marriage?

    What are the terms of total divorce or "a vinculo matrimonii"?

    What are the terms of partial divorce or "a mensa et thoro" or separation from bed and board?

    Why is "incontinence" or adultery "the only cause, why a man may put away his wife and marry another?"

    Pay particular attention to the section beginning "By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law," a concept know as femme couvert. What are the consequences of this law? What are the legal rationales for this system?

    In what sense is the wife inferior to the husband in law?

    What does Blackstone mean when he says the law allows the husband to give his wife moderate correction?

    The letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1716-1718) offer us an opportunity to read an eighteenth- century contemporary correspondence. How do these letters compare with the fictional letters in Clarissa?

    Lady Mary comments freely on the dress, behavior and sexuality of men and women in these foreign countries and cultures. What do the letters indicate about elite English women's ideas of propriety? Of dress? Of marriage and adultery?

    Note Lady Mary's comments on the irrationality of war. What does this suggest about Enlightenment ideas and the role of European civilization? In what sense do Lady Mary's letters challenge ideas of European superior civility and refinement?

    How does Lady Mary's cosmopolitan embrace of difference compare with Clarissa's philosophy?

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