Sunday, April 6, 2008

Clarissa the she justified?

When Clarissa writes the letter that sends Lovelace flying down to Berkshire to await her next post, we readers can hardly believe she would deceive him (L. 421.1, page 1233). Unfortunately for Lovelace, Clarissa remains in London, preparing to die and go to her Father in heaven rather than her Mr. Harlowe in England. This dissimulation seems uncharacteristic of Clarissa, even though we know she is loathe to put herself in this situation again.

I found an outside source particularly helpful when attempting to find out if Clarissa's letter could be justified or if Lovelace could rightly accuse her of lying-Perez Zagorin's Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution and Conformity in Early Modern Europe.

[Note: Above, I termed Clarissa's behavior as "dissimulation," but in Ways of Lying, Zagorin distinguishes between "dissimulation" and "simulation," saying "dissimulation is pretending not to be what one actually is, whereas simulation is pretending to be what one actually is not" (3). If we apply Zagorin's distinction to Clarissa's letter to Lovelace, we might say she simulates more than she dissimulates, for she implies she is going somewhere she is actually not, although her language is such that even that implication might be interpreted multiple ways.]

Lovelace's rage upon discovery of the letter's equivocation implies he does not allow any justification for Clarissa's simulation. Scholars, religious authorities, and moral philosophers of the time might differ, however.

Lovelace often refers to casuistry as an argumentative method for purposes of persuasion, but Zagorin offers clarification about the dual connotations of casuistry.
  • (1) As a science, "casuistry consists in application of the general rules of morality to concrete situations in which the particular circumstances involve conflicting duties and create doubt or confusion as to what is right or licit to do," but
  • (2) "casuistry has been widely regarded as a species of ingenious and plausible reasoning designed to circumvent some rule of moral conduct" (153-4).

Approaches to casuistry that Zagorin mentions are noted here as working definitions that can be transferred to L. 421.1 (1233) in Clarissa:
  • probabilism: "Probabilism...held that in a situation of doubt it was licit to follow a less or the least probable opinion" (161) "[probabilism] served as a higher-order principle within the realm of casuistry to license the acceptability of other opinions on all aspects of moral enabled people to act in any matter simply by following the opinion of an approved authority" (163)
  • mental reservation: "false statement completed by an unexpressed addition in the mind which made it true" (163)
  • equivocation: "use of words or expressions with a double meaning different for the speaker than for the hearer" (163)

If we transfer the definitions of these facets of casuistry to Richardson's Clarissa, it is clear that Lovelace employs the liberties afforded by probabilism and mental reservation (he always seems ready to marry Clarissa yet preconditions or adverse situations somehow prevent the ceremony), whereas Clarissa uses equivocation in L. 421.1. Both can be described as casuists, yet it is Lovelace who utilizes the tactics that contribute to casuistry's derogatory connotation.

Now, is she justified? Indeed, Clarissa's letter appears substantiated by both Catholic and Protestant perspectives on casuistry. The "exercises in casuistry" at a Catholic seminary reviewed the practice of equivocation and allowed that "the resulting deceit would rest not with the respondent but with the questioner[i.e. Lovelace], who by taking the answer in his own sense deceived himself" (Ways of Lying 187). As a further vindication of Clarissa's word choice, Zagorin actually references Ductor Dubitantium by Jeremy Taylor, whose Holy Living is one of the books Clarissa reads, for Taylor's allowance of lying in specific situations, namely when dealing with "children and madmen, or for the sake of charity and to save the life of a neighbor, friend, or public person" (249). [Could Lovelace not be considered a child? Is he exempt from the label "madman"? Does Clarissa not write this letter for her own charity, to save her own life?] It is as if Clarissa had perfectly comprehended and then exercised Taylor's guidelines regarding casuistry, for she even adheres to his stipulation that "a guilty person [is] obliged to admit the truth if interrogated justly" when she readily admits to Belford of the ambiguity in her letter and hopes that "I have not taken an inexcusable step" (Clarissa 1247).

*For further discussion: Views about the use of and even the legitimacy of casuistry cannot be categorized as Catholic or Protestant, since the interpretations of casuistry depend largely on the individual theologian or religious authority. Certain trends nonetheless exist, such as the affirmation of equivocation over mental reservation by several Protestants (i.e. Taylor) or the predominance of mental reservation in certain persecuted Catholic sects (i.e. the Jesuits). If we see the authorial persona in Clarissa as favoring Clarissa's equivocation over Lovelace's mental reservations, could that be a subtle attempt on Richardson's part to offer commentary of his own about his side in the Protestantism/Catholicism debate?*

No comments: