Re-reading, Richardson & Lawrence

At the moment, I’m not reading anything new. Instead, I’m re-reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa for the Dalloway edition and re-reading Women in Love for teaching. Both are such intense experiences.

I read Clarissa in the first weeks of graduate school, in Patricia Spacks’ 18th century novel class. We used to hole up on the big orange blocky chairs at the back of Cross-Campus Library with the huge Penguin edition and read for hours, checking in with each other: “What letter are you on? Are you at volume 4 yet?” I remember the book as a hazing ritual. I didn’t like it or understand it that well. It was a torture to me, though I remember loving—and writing my seminar paper in part on—Anna Howe, Clarissa’s best friend.

Now, reading it a second time (on my Kindle, not on this massive Penguin that gives me flashbacks), I am amazed, again and again, by how sadistic it is. Knowing how brutally it will end, it’s hard to understand the depths of Richardson’s depravity, setting up this appealing, annoying chatty girl for humiliation after humiliation.

But then, it is so amazingly well-written. It’s just incredible how Richardson manages to convey the voices of writer after writer. When Lovelace’s uncle pops in with his tired sermonettes and aphorisms, it’s fantastic comic relief. So the writing—and my own project on Woolf—keeps me going even as I feel more outrage and wonder than ever at how cruel Richardson is. It is an amazing document and I don’t expect to ever read it again in this lifetime.

Women in Love, by contrast, I might read many times more, but reading it, too, brings back such memories. I was working on Lawrence—on the essays he wrote alongside Women in Love—when I fell in love with my husband and so much of that urgent sincerity in Gudrun and Ursula feels like myself to me (for better and for worse, as I’ve often recognized).

I’m off  to Macy’s tomorrow for some purple and orange tights. It’s just not right to teach Lawrence with legs entirely clad in black.

(Janeite Deb is reading Clarissa for the first time at her mostly Janeite blog: worth a click!)