Rape and the Rise of the Novel
The trial of any crime may raise a variety of skeptical questions: what does it mean to take X as evidence of Y? What is involved in taking an act as evidence of someone's intention? What is credibility, and how does it attach itself to particular persons? The crime of rape raises these questions in the way that any crime might. As crimes go, however, it is remarkable for focusing attention on mental states and their apprehension. While the intention to do harm is requisite for conviction for a number of crimes, the legal debates surrounding rape claim that the mental states of two persons are crucial—the intention of the accused and the consent or nonconsent of the victim. Since one cannot have an intention to engage in nonconsensual sexual intercourse if the other party is consenting, the presence or absence of the other party's consent becomes crucial in the determination of criminal intent.
Equally crucial is the question of the parties' understandings of one another's intention and consent. If a man believes that a woman consents to sexual intercourse but is mistaken in that belief, can he be said to have had the intention to have nonconsensual sexual intercourse? If a woman believes that a man intends to override her nonconsent and have intercourse with her but is mistaken in that belief, can he be said to be guilty of attempted rape? While the statutory definitions of rape consistently revolve around the violation of the victim's will, around the perpetrator's disregard for her nonconsent, that apparent unanimity masks an ongoing debate about what consent is and how it manifests itself in the world. This is to say, in part, that the issue of consent itself reflects a question about who or what counts as a person who can consent, whose consent is significant.
To frame the question in this way is, however, to suggest an answer. For it implies that rape victims (whom I will hereafter refer to as women not because men are not raped but because the crime itself has historically been depicted as a crime committed by a man upon the person of a woman) must inevitably be perceived as deficient persons, inasmuch as women are generally "by our society" seen as deficient versions of men. From this perspective, rape victims are violated first by the actual, physical act of rape and then by a legal system that does not take them at their word but demands further proof. However sympathetic or plausible this account may be, it tends to imply that truthfulness and reality are, first, easy to identify in an alleged crime of rape and, second, that they are continually suppressed. Thus, many writers who are critical of rape laws as they have been framed and enforced focus on the question of credibility; they see credibility
less as a matter of a jury's decision about the relative credibility of the various witnesses than as a matter of the victim's credibility in the eyes of the law. As evidence of the law's suspicion of the testimony of rape victims, they frequently cite Sir Matthew Hale's warning in his History of the Pleas of the Crown that, though "rape is a most detestable crime . . . it must be remembered, that it is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho never so innocent." For Hale's lack of certainty that every charge of rape is directly tied to an act of rape, Susan Brownmiller dismisses him with the observation that he "assured himself of immortality" when he wrote the words quoted above. She proceeds to argue that "since four out of five rapes go unreported, it is fair to say categorically that women do not find rape 'an accusation easily to be made'" (413–14). That is, all accusations of rape ought to be believed either because all women are truthful or because the difficulty of bringing the charge itself must count as evidence of its veracity. For her, it is easily assimilable to "male fear of the false rape charge brought by a lying woman—the old syndrome of Potiphar's wife" (414). The concern over the false rape charge thus operates more as a cover than as an expression of real fear; it justifies male disbelief in female testimony. The fear of the lying woman, on Brownmiller's account, renders a woman's testimony trivial, because it can never be seen to count as true even when it is. If a writer like Susan Brownmiller refers to Hale's cautionary remark with a certain scorn, Susan Estrich sees it as both symptomatic of male views and as productive of them. In her thoughtful book Real Rape , she traces the difficulties that women have in making their experience of rape come to look real in the framework of the legal system, and she notes that Hale's words have been adopted as something like the formulaic warning to a jury that they not be too quick to assume the guilt of the accused. If the customary standard is that "one must be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," and if this standard appears to suffice for murder, robbery, and burglary cases, why does it need to be supplemented in a case of rape? There is, as the New York Supreme Court opinion in People v. Linzy (1972) put it, "no cogent reason why . . . [the usual cautionary words] should fail when the crime charged is a sex offense."
The doubled warning to the jury—not merely "Are you sure?" but "Are you sure you're sure?"—had served until the 1970s to mark rape as particularly difficult to determine and had identified it for some two and a half centuries as the charge most likely to provoke skepticism. For while the possibility of convicting an innocent person is always inherent in any legal system, the charge of rape has historically involved the possibility that an innocent person might be condemned to death on the basis of someone else's word alone. And it was in illustration of this point that Matthew Hale had told a story immediately after pronouncing his now notorious warning. A man of about sixty-three, having been charged with the rape of a girl of fourteen on her sworn statement, protested that "his very
age carried a great presumption that he could not be guilty of that crime" and then went on to offer evidence of his innocence that was taken as conclusive. He had "for above seven years last past been afflicted with a rupture so hideous and great, that it was impossible he could carnally know any woman," he said, and he proceeded to introduce his rupture as evidence before the jury, displaying his body to give proof of his necessary innocence of the charge. Hale uses this case, in which the sworn testimony of the complainant and the physical evidence of the defendant are at odds, to suggest both the superiority of physical evidence over testimony and the dangers implicit in any legal situation where different sets of testimony compete with one another without any check or support from physical evidence. A judge and jury may, he fears, be transported "with so much indignation" over "the heinousness of the offense" that "they are over-hastily carried to the conviction of the person accused" (636).
Actions—or the physical manifestations of inability to act—should, Hale implies, speak louder than words, and the display of a mutilated body trumps testimony every time. Thus, rape has historically been easiest to prove when it is most nearly identical with battery and mayhem; by the same logic, Hale's innocent accused is most easily exonerated by a rupture that speaks more convincingly than any words. And when figures like Hale, William Blackstone, and Cesare, the marchese of Beccaria, discuss the grounds of evidence for crimes generally, as for rape specifically, they continually seek evidence of an action that will be separable from the transmission of words. As Beccaria puts it, in assessing the relative weight one should give different sorts of testimony:
Finally, the credibility of a witness is null, when the question relates to the words of a criminal; for the tone of voice, the gesture, all that precedes, accompanies and follows the different ideas which men annex to the same words, may so alter and modify a man's discourse, that it is almost impossible to repeat them precisely in the manner in which they were spoken. Besides, violent and uncommon actions, such as real crimes, leave a trace in the multitude of circumstances that attend them, and in their effects; but words remain only in the memory of the hearers, who are commonly negligent or prejudiced. It is infinitely easier then to found an accusation on the words, than on the actions of a man.
In finding evidence in actions stronger than evidence in words, commentators on the law were inevitably restricting the capacity of the law to deal with crimes like rape in which the evidence of actions necessarily involved considerable verbal supplementation. The physical similarity between an intention to have consensual intercourse and an intention to have nonconsensual intercourse, in fact, meant that the only way one could communicate a difference between consensual intercourse and rape was by testifying about mental states. And only the intention to have sexual intercourse has any nonverbal clarity. The law has repeatedly maintained that the capacity for sexual penetration in the act of intercourse establishes intention (although at least one defense maintained that intercourse had been "accidental"). The act itself thus indicates intention. But because sexual
intercourse is not in itself legally culpable, evidence of penetration is necessary but not sufficient to establish criminal intent. The crime, that is, only becomes a crime on the level of mental states. The victim's nonconsent revalues the shape of the act of intercourse, and converts what could conceivably be merely an intention to have intercourse into a criminal intention to have intercourse despite the nonconsent of the other party. Thus, while critics of rape law have plausibly objected that victims are more aggressively interrogated than rape suspects themselves, that very attention to the victim bespeaks the fact that rape has progressively been defined as a crime that is constituted as one by the victim's nonconsent.
Moreover, since rape was, for the eighteenth century as for the present, a crime that was "in its nature commonly secret," according to Sir Robert Chambers, laws governing the prosecution of rape acknowledged that "the party injured is . . . an admissible witness." That is, the secrecy of the crime inevitably led to the necessity that "part of the proof must always be circumstantial" (1:406). The crime, being secret, was often assumed to have no history apart from that provided by the competing testimony of the victim and the accused, supplemented by the jury's sense of the relative credibility of these accounts. And, as Chambers's assimilation of the victim's testimony to circumstantial evidence suggests, the process of proving the crime had a tendency to displace the crime itself, as the accessory or additional information about circumstances became allimportant in lending plausibility or probability to a charge. Thus, the "good fame" or "evil fame" of the woman bringing charges, the promptness of her complaint or her concealment of her "injury for any considerable time after she had opportunity to complain," and her outcry or her silence become the central elements for scrutiny.
As the circumstances surrounding the rape displace the act as the subject of the account, the legal effort to deduce individual intention about the act itself from surrounding behavior and from general "character" begins. The victim's apprehension of the perpetrator's act becomes more important than the perpetrator's account of his intention, and her physical manifestations of that intention become the signal marks of that intention. Her body is thus converted into evidence, having become the text that bespeaks not only her intention not to have consented but also the perpetrator's intention to have overridden that refusal to consent.
The emphasis on the victim's body as a text, for all its intrusiveness, shifts the focus of inquiry into mental states. If the assailant can claim a kind of refuge in the ambiguation that any formal construct is susceptible to, the manifestation of nonconsent always occurs as a disambiguating gesture—an insistence that the form (in this case, the body) is not large enough to accommodate radically diverging views of the mental state it represents. And the debate between those who emphasize male intention and those who stress female nonconsent thus revolves around the question of how persons should relate to symbolic structures.
The progress of rape law in the Western tradition suggests a persistent competition between two strategies of interpreting the crime. One embraces ambiguity by insisting that diametrically opposed views of the same action be accommodated in that action; the other attempts to desynonymize actions by stipulating what they mean.
According to modern accounts of rape law, ancient Hebrew law was committed to preserving the structures of consent by insisting that persons take intercourse as synonymous with marriage and consent as synonymous with nonconsent. The law, that is, tended to produce the form if not the substance of an agreement between the parties in insisting that the parties make the outrage into a way of life. Jewish law thus commanded that a rapist pay an unbetrothed girl's father "fifty silver shekels in compensation for what would have been her bride price" and that the rapist and the victim simply marry. Similarly, Henry of Bratton (Bracton) reported that Saxon law offered a raped virgin the possibility of extending retroactive consent to her rape; she could extricate her attacker from his sentence of death by agreeing to marry him. If rape parodies the formal features of happier sexual relations by disposing the same sets of body parts, Hebraic and Saxon law in their earlier phases were committed to the assumption that intention and consent were so far derivable from the forms of actions that there essentially could not be a form that did not imply consent. Thus, the problem of consent became less a problem about consent and more a problem about the synchronization of one party's intention and another party's consent in a particular form of action. Consent, it was assumed, would always ultimately follow from the ongoing operation of the form. Only with such an assumption could the legal recompense for rape turn out to be marriage, which formally (in this case, legally) implies the consent to intercourse that was previously lacking. Marriage recasts rape, so that marriage is a misunderstanding corrected, or rape rightly understood.
The insistent legalism of the ancient Hebrews and Saxons, then, subordinates the parties and their understandings to the form of the act. A resisted act and an intended act come to be the same thing—at least, eventually, and rape simply ceases to exist because it has been, by definition, absorbed into marriage. Moreover, marriage itself has been formally defined to preclude the possibility of disagreement between spouses.
Although such an extreme subordination of individual will to formulaic definitions of it may seem alternately brutal and anachronistic, various feminist critiques of the patriarchal law of rape have framed their argument in similarly formal terms. Thus, writers like Brownmiller and Andrea Dworkin, for example, challenge the particular content of the stipulations of ancient law, but they also follow the procedure of stipulating inexorable connections between the form of an action (intercourse) and the mental state of the individuals involved. But while ancient law tended to stipulate that consent is implicit in the act of intercourse,
they argue that the form of that act, and even the form of gendered bodies, implies the impossibility of consent. Thus Brownmiller derives the intention to rape from the physical capacity to do so:
Man's structural capacity to rape and woman's corresponding structural vulnerability are as basic to the physiology of both our sexes as the primal act of sex itself. Had it not been for this accident of biology, an accommodation requiring the locking together of two separate parts, penis and vagina, there would be neither copulation nor rape as we know it. . . . This single factor [that in terms of human anatomy the possibility of forcible intercourse incontrovertibly exists] may have been sufficient to have caused the creation of a male ideology of rape. When men discovered that they could rape, they proceeded to do it.
In this conjectural history of the origins of human society, Brownmiller moves from the claim that the penis has the capacity to be a weapon to the assertion that that very potentiality itself constitutes an intention. The discovery of the capacity to rape may have begun in a kind of accident, in that it was, she imagines, "an unexpected battle founded on the first woman's refusal." Yet in her account, rape continued by conscious design: "The second rape was indubitably planned." The accident of man's early "discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear" is for Brownmiller analogous to the discovery of "the use of fire and the first crude stone axe," a discovery of the potential of a tool, and the crucial point in her conjectural history is that she takes the potential of the penis to be used for rape as synonymous with men's intentions to rape: rape "is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear" (5).
If for early Hebrew and Saxon law, all rape might be marriage, for Andrea Dworkin all marriage—and for that matter, all intercourse—is rape. That is, even when women may see themselves as consenting to intercourse, they very notion of their being able to extend or deny consent is itself illusory: "Physically, the woman in intercourse is a space inhabited, a literal territory occupied literally: occupied even if there has been no resistance, no force; even if the occupied person said yes please, yes hurry, yes more." Consent, in these terms, is a byproduct of the structural relationships that obtain (in, for instance, the specification of intercourse as the male occupation of a woman's body). Thus, the structures carry with them an intention, a willingness to consent or to deny consent, and the person who operates within those structures can only be in relatively good or relatively bad faith in imagining that she can have a view of those structures that is separable from them, and from her behavior.
Thus, Brownmiller and Dworkin share with ancient rape law the tendency to specify the male injury to the female in terms of formally identified and stipulated mental states. And they thus recapitulate, even though in a reversal of those early legal codes, the tendency of the law to negate particular psychological states and to substitute formal states for them. In other words, the process of reading an
action as evidence of intention confines itself to stipulated states that are specifically detached from the notion of individual, actualizable psychological states. For ancient Hebrew law the act of sex carries with it the inevitability of consent. For Brownmiller and Dworkin, it carries with it the impossibility of consent: women, because they are women, never consent; men, because they are men, always rape.
The similarity of these two opposed positions is more than merely ironic, for it suggests that both the legal system and the majority of its critics have agreed at least in seeing rape as a problem that can be addressed on formal grounds. This is to say that the legal system has been most successful—for good and for ill—when rape approaches most nearly to a formal definition. In fact, the law of rape continually draws and redraws its terms, as if to underscore the desire to identify the crime as a project of stipulating formal criteria ever more precisely, ever more thoroughly in an effort to minimize the problems that can arise in the effort to identify psychological states. Questions about such issues as the requisite age for consent become, therefore, particularly important. Consent or nonconsent as mental states may be unspecifiable, but defining legal infancy as the necessary inability to consent makes the determination of any mental state irrelevant. If psychological states like intention and consent frequently look inaccessible, the statutory definition of them solves the problem created by their inaccessibility by making them irrelevant. The law enables itself to identify rape, then, by denying the possibility that a very young woman could ever have the psychological state that would count as consent. Even if she explicitly employs all the words and gestures of consent, she cannot consent.
Hale defines rape as "the carnal knowledge of any woman above the age of ten years against her will, and of a woman-child under the age of ten years with or against her will" in a way that marks the age of ten as the functional boundary of what we have come to call statutory rape. And after such a gesture, there can be no point to debates over consent as such; there can only be dispute over where the age of consent falls. Thus, even after having produced this definition that makes the age of ten the determining factor in distributing the ability to consent, Hale proceeds to account for decisions in various cases by resolving certain inconsistencies in the numbers.
It was doubted, whether a rape could be committed upon a female child under ten years old, Mich. 13 & 14 Eliz. Dy. 304 a. By the statute of 18 Eliz. cap. 7 it is declared and enacted, 'That if any person shall unlawfully and carnally know and abuse any woman-child under the age of ten years, it shall be felony without the benefit of clergy.'
My lord Coke adds the words, either with her will or against her will , as if were she above the age of ten years, and with her will, it should not be rape; but the statute gives no such intimation, only declares that such carnal knowledge is rape.
And therefore it seems, if she be above the age of ten years and under the age of twelve years, tho she consents, it is rape. 1. Because the age of consent of a female is not ten but twelve. 2. By the statute of Westm. I. cap. 13. Roy de end, que nul ne ravise ne prigne a force damsel deins age, ne per son gree ne sans son gree ; and my lord Coke in his exposition upon that
statute declares, that these words deins age must be taken for her age of consent, viz. twelve years, for that is her age of consent to marriage, and consequently her consent is not material in rape, if she be under twelve years old, tho above ten years old, altho those words are by some mistake crept into my lord Coke's definition of rape, Co.P.C. cap. II. (630–31)
Without pausing to wonder at the fact that Coke might have meant to establish the possibility of consent for different kinds of acts at different ages, Hale moves to clean up the conflict, to eliminate the period between the ages of ten and twelve as a limbo for the possibility of consent to carnal knowledge.
Moreover, the consistent inclination of the statutes and their interpreters to focus on formal categories that abolish the possibility of certain mental states becomes more apparent when we realize that the law formally distributed not only an age of consent to sexual intercourse but also an age of intention to rape. It was statutorily impossible for a male under the age of fourteen to commit a rape, even if he were physically capable of it:
An infant under the age of fourteen years is presumed by law unable to commit a rape, and therefore it seems cannot be guilty of it, and tho in other felonies malitia supplet aestatem in some cases as hath been shewn, yet it seems as to this fact the law presumes him impotent, as well as wanting discretion. (630)
The laws governing rape, then, distribute both statutory guilt (for sexual intercourse with a female under the age of ten or twelve or sixteen) and statutory innocence (for sexual intercourse that a male under the age of fourteen may have had in defiance of the law's assertions of possibility). And even on the most sympathetic and apologetic account, the intense formality of the law of rape seems designed to substitute the reliability of invariable formulae for the manipulable terms of psychological states.
The desire for invariable formulae was so strong that it could produce both extraordinary wrangling over a young woman's age and the possibility of stipulating that even a theoretically conceivable and verifiable act, rape by a young man under the age of fourteen, could not occur. This is to say that even the occurrence of such an act could not, by definition, erode the assertion of its impossibility. The terms of these rigidly articulated accounts of consent and intention, thus, clarify psychological states by producing formal criteria that will not so much represent psychological states as replace them. For the statutory definitions establish the possibility—and indeed the inevitability—that consent and intention will be self-contradictory, or impossible, notions. They thus create the categories of consent that is not consent (for some hypothetically consenting female who has not reached the age of consent) and intention that is not intention (for some hypothetically intending and physically competent male who has not reached the age of legal discretion and competence). And these categories, in the very process of functioning as solutions to potential interpretative dilemmas, replicate exactly the kinds of problems that appear in any jury's deliberations con-
cerning a charge of rape. They solve a certain conundrum that appears in the interpretation of testimony about rape—did he/she really mean or want what he/she said he/she wanted?—by insisting upon it, by saying that even where there might appear to be consent, even where there might appear to be intention, there can be none.
Thus, while Susan Estrich very powerfully argues for the right of a woman to be taken as meaning "no" when she says no in the "simple rape" that can involve one woman and one man who know each other, that effort to disambiguate the interpretation of a woman's intention runs counter to the form of rape law. For the form of statutory rape, the kind of case least open to interpretation and therefore easiest of proof, establishes a model of internal self-contradiction that is not set aside but merely reversed in the cases involving other kinds of rape. If in statutory rape yes is always taken to mean "no," in other kinds of rape no is frequently taken to mean "yes." Thus, rape law continually suggests as a paradigmatic interpretative strategy the reversibility of the terms that seem to be asserted by the charge of rape itself.
The paradoxes that govern the laws of rape, then, include an apparent contradiction between an almost unfailing historical depiction of rape as one of the most serious possible crimes and a relatively low conviction rate for felony rape. Rape therefore appears to be a crime that is serious but rare. And the essence of the feminist critique of rape law is that such law denominates rape as a very serious crime but relegates any charge of rape to the level of the possibly fictitious. Thus, Estrich identifies in American case law a recurrent "distrust of vindictive, lying women who might use a rape charge as a weapon" (72). As Brownmiller puts it, "The famous story of Potiphar's wife is an important morality lesson in Hebrew, Christian, and Moslem folklore, and it expressed the true, historical concern and abiding fear of egocentric, rapacious man: what can happen to a fine, upstanding fellow if a vengeful female lies and cries that she has been assaulted." In these accounts, the stigma attached to false appearances falls particularly, and virtually exclusively, to women, and skepticism in general is easily assimilable to distrust of women.
The accounts of Brownmiller and Estrich take a general male distrust of women as inevitably producing a law that regards any female victim with suspicion. But however credible these views may be, they suffer from a similar difficulty: they can only effect change by converting this particular line of analysis into a stipulation. Where the legal system has repeatedly said, "Disbelieve her, because she is a woman," Brownmiller and Estrich, for all their differences, would say, "Believe her, because she is a woman." For them a rape trial is thus a gendered version of the class competitions that occur in trials in Jacobin novels. The end result of the trial in those novels is always predetermined; the competition between narrators will always eventuate in an unjust victory for the member of the gentry, or the higher-class male, whose very ability to manipulate the fictions
of the powerful enables him to pass for the more truthful party. Credibility revolves around the credit of the person rather than around the facts of the narrative, and the "lesser" person will always lose. Thus, Beccaria feels that he must argue for a change in the standards for assessing the credibility of witnesses when he proposes that those with less to lose be seen as preeminently convincing witnesses:
But the credibility of his evidence will be in proportion as he is interested in declaring or concealing the truth. Hence it appears how frivolous is the reasoning of those, who reject the testimony of women on account of their weakness; how puerile it is, not to admit the evidence of those who are under sentence of death, because they are dead in law . . . and how irrational, to exclude persons branded in infamy, for in all these cases they ought to be credited, when they have no interest in giving false testimony.
Weakness—having nothing to lose—in one sense is, for Beccaria, strength, not needing to tailor your account of the truth to the preservation of your place, rank, and station. But this logic, for all its apparent distance from the tendencies of rape law, in fact recapitulates the tension everywhere apparent in that network of statutes and cases. For Beccaria is basing his argument for women's truthfulness entirely on their lack of independent status, on the similarity between women in their weakness and those "under sentence of death" who are thus "dead in law." And in this equation of women's truthfulness and their weakness, he recreates the preferences we have already traced in rape law for stipulating forms that will guarantee meaning by applying even in despite of the person whom they represent. For he, like the statutory formulations of consent and intention, traces the source of women's veracity to their being nonpersons, just as a female under the age of ten or twelve or sixteen or a male under the age of fourteen is a nonperson for the purposes of consent and discretion.
Even as the political and fictional logic establishes the woman's truthfulness, the link between her truthfulness and her powerlessness itself comes to function as an inevitably self-contradictory formula. It thus imposes a limiting term on the very capacity for subversion or compensation that political reform and visionary fiction might hope to provide. Were a woman to become powerful, she would lose the weakness that is the very condition for the strength of her testimony. That is, her very lack of power guarantees her truthfulness; her not counting makes her words count. The question of authentic testimony about rape thus approaches something of the paradox of statutory rape in which the possibility of radical self-contradiction is defined as the easiest case, the most determinate and determinable reality.
We can summarize the various treatments of the history of rape in the following manner:
First , there is a formal stipulation of turthfulness by gender, so that all men always mistrust all women's charges of rape, and thereby relegate them to the
status of the merely fictitious, or, conversely, so that all women always speak truly about rape and thereby make the countertestimony or suspicions of men simply false.
Second , the law generates a fictitious certainty—or the certainty of fiction—by defining rape in formal terms that specifically involve the possibility of self-contradiction. Thus, the illusion of certainty is created by making self-contradiction, an assent to unreality in the form of an assertion that A ¹ A. The model of statutory rape thus establishes consent and intention as potentially self-evacuating terms, so that "more complicated" cases of rape, where intention and consent are required to manifest themselves without the statutory mechanism of age, occur under the formal skepticism about them that statutory rape creates.
Third , there is the argument that establishes an economy between the reality of the story of rape and the relative unreality of the victim before society or the world. While it is conceived in a spirit of political change, it is essentially trapped by the formal structures of stipulation that emerge in both the ancient law of rape and its modern critics. For although this view appears to involve a competition between male and female narrators in specifically political terms, it quickly collapses into itself with a competition between the story and the narrator. That is, the power of the story, the story's claim to truthfulness, relies so exclusively on the weakness of the storyteller that any recognition of the narrator's increased strength involves a corresponding loss for the story, and vice versa.
This view of the law of rape argues that its mechanisms for defining rape in terms of formally stipulated states continually operate to reduce mental states to potentially or actually self-contradictory constructs. That is, the constructs that make it possible to secure justice for an injured party themselves become an affront, an implicit trivialization of the very subjectivity that they are, at least heuristically, designed to protect. That is, the importance of the notion of a mental state, the importance of the notion of subjectivity itself, may be guaranteed precisely by eradicating its relevance in an actual situation, precisely by denying the capacity of a particular individual to have a meaningful mental state.
This particular interpretation of the law of rape may, moreover, lead us toward a revised understanding of the psychological novel and the importance that Samuel Richardson attaches to rape in producing, in Pamela and Clarissa , the first full examples of the psychological novel. We know from Margaret Doody's useful discussion that Richardson was drawing on imagery and techniques developed in earlier eighteenth-century rape narratives and novels of "love and seduction," but a question about the particular resonance of rape for depicting individual psychology remains. In the terms of Michael McKeon's excellent recent study of the origins of the English novel, a crime like rape would represent one element of the intersection between eighteenth-century skepticism and prose fic-
tion. Rape, that is, dramatizes a problematic about the relationship between the body and the mind; although a rake like Lovelace may imagine that carnal "knowing" includes knowing someone else's mind, a character like Clarissa—virtuous even in her violation—suggests that one knows about mental experience as much in despite of the body as through it.
Two models of intersubjective understanding are in competition here. The one, emphasizing a split within the individual, provides the model of internal confusion that has always left Pamela open to charges of self-deception at best and duplicity at worst. Pamela's marriage both bespeaks her ability to reread Mr. B's attempted rape as seduction and also works to make her virtue look like an instrument in a marriage campaign rather than an end in itself. The individual changes situations—and stations—by discovering the unreliability of the self in determining what one really wants. The other model, emphasizing a split between private experience and its public apprehension, suggests that the psychological novel arises to demonstrate the superiority of individual perception to the world of social forms. The strength and pride of the individual, in this account, rest in being misunderstood. Thus, the psychological novel seems to be psychological either by virtue of being either resolutely confused or resolutely unconfused. While the conduct books and model letter-writers that Richardson had earlier written might have suggested that there was a straightforward technology for producing upright and efficient individuals, Pamela and Clarissa appear to be psychological novels precisely because they continually pose the confusions or resolutions of the self as an alternative to social engineering. Clarissa , indeed, seems to provide a more satisfying model of the psychological novel because it rests more squarely on psychology as interiority, the individual's inalienable rights in herself, than does Pamela , with its reconciliation with Mr. B. and society.
Thus, in Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel, Clarissa epitomizes the novel of private experience. And the occurrence of rape within a novel like Clarissa represents the novel's ability to convey, as the stage could not, private aspects of experience such as sexuality. Moreover, the rape becomes the vehicle for the contrast between what could be said in public and proved and what is said in private and believed. As Watt comments on Clarissa's decision not to take Lovelace to public trial, the issue of rape comes to dramatize the primacy of psychological states for the novel:
A bare summary of the events might suggest that Clarissa courted her fate; only a full knowledge of her sentiments and aspirations, and the certainty that Lovelace understood them well enough to realise the enormity of his offence, enable us to understand the real nature of the story. (198)
As an act that cannot really be understood in public, the rape in Clarissa bespeaks the primacy of the psychological states that Richardson was continually trying to transcribe with greater and greater accuracy (194).
Richardson's presentation of the rape in Clarissa would seem, then, to criticize the limitations inherent in the formal criteria by which the publicly recognizable laws of rape function. For it is not so much the particular laws as their inevitable reduction of psychological states to formal states that makes them both public and problematic. Likewise, recent criticism of the novel has continued to prefer the psychological in discussing the rape. For Terry Castle and Terry Eagleton the rape becomes the occasion for protest against the forced alienation of the individual's meaning. The psychological novel, as fully initiated by Clarissa , thus appears to be a confrontation between other people's accounts of one and one's own account. For Castle the psychological novel affirms Clarissa's right not to mean anything she does not want to mean, her right not to be "interrupted" in her course of seeking to mean. For Eagleton it revolves around the woman's resistance to hegemonic forms, her "rebuffing of all patriarchal claims over her person."
One crucial difficulty with seeing the rape as illustrating the primacy of the psychological, however, is that it occurs while Clarissa is unconscious. If the question in any rape case is, "What was the victim's mental state? Did she consent?" then the answer Clarissa seems to give is, "She had no mental state." The very fact that the rape counts as rape necessarily depends not on Clarissa's mental state but on a formal account of that state. It therefore looks as if Clarissa , like rape law and unlike the "psychological novel" that it is supposed to represent, argues for the primacy of form by framing the rape so that it cannot depend upon the victim's mental state. On the one hand, Clarissa's unconsciousness during the rape eliminates her capacity not to consent to her rape. Therefore, her resistance to the rape has been made impossible. On the other hand, her resistance has been made inescapable. For the law of rape specifically stipulates that unconsciousness (along with states like idiocy, insanity, and sleep) "negatives" consent. Thus, although Clarissa's unconsciousness deprives her of the capacity to resist and even of the capacity to know exactly what happened to her, it also ensures that her nonconsent will be inescapable. The stipulation that unconsciousness is nonconsent—even though it necessarily cannot manifest itself as physical resistance—thus provides that Clarissa's nonconsent continues even in her absence, even in her unconsciousness.
But if it then appears that Clarissa bespeaks the primacy of forms—a primacy designed to ensure the legibility of mental states by deriving them from forms—that very legibility itself carries within it the constant possibility of internal contradiction. For it stages the possibility that one's actual mental state will conflict with one's stipulated mental state—that which one is held to have by virtue of age, mental capacity, or lack of consciousness. It recapitulates the contradiction that we earlier discovered in the very form of the law of rape and the feminist critique of it—that one might never consent even if one wanted to consent, that the form
might itself oppose the very mental state it was designed to represent. What Clarissa's unconsciousness establishes for the psychological novel, then, is a pattern of psychological complexity that does not at all directly express mental states but rather relies on the contradiction built into the formal stipulation of them. Psychological complexity, that is, pits the stipulated mental state against one's actual mental state, so that one is able to resist without resisting, can have a mental state even in unconsciousness, and is unable to consent even if one wants to.
The contradiction that establishes psychological complexity, then, enables us to reread Lovelace's aesthetic detachment. For Lovelace has appeared in the role of the artist who is committed to a proliferation of meanings, and, in the terms of William Warner's deconstructive account of him, he has continually dispersed and recreated himself to acknowledge the absurdity of the connection between any particular form and any particular significance. In this he seems to doubt both the ability of forms to determine mental states and the ability of mental states to determine forms. But his very boldness in trying out different roles represents not so much an escape from connections between intentions and forms as a reversal of what might seem their usual sequence. He can thus distance himself from forms, but only by insisting that the form be completed by a mental state. Always proceeding as if there could be no such thing as an unclaimed form, a form detached from someone's mental state, he cannot himself exercise the freedom he prides himself on until someone else has fulfilled the form. As becomes clear from his bafflement at Clarissa's continuing resistance to the rape, form for Lovelace implies a mental state. Lovelace's account of himself is that he will discover what it was that he intended when he sees how things turn out, so that his account of his intentions is that they are infinitely variable precisely because they are defined as arbitrary, operating as a fictional code in which he assumes different parts at the will of the imaginary text that he is elaborating. This apparent suspension of representational will, however, is equivalent to the greatest possible confidence that the very perception of a form or an act involves the perceiver's assent. Whatever is, is made right by the perceiver rather than the initiator of the form. After the rape, however, it becomes clear that he has imagined, like Brownmiller and Dworkin, that the forms of actions—however fictitious—carry mental states like intention and consent within them. Form, in this account, can never really be contradicted, only replaced or outdistanced.
From Lovelace's standpoint, then, the chillingly brief letter that announces the rape to Belford is not so much a confessional or even a triumphant one as a bizarre kind of birth announcement: "And now, Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives." Lovelace, having followed out the logic of his plottings and his plot, sees them as having resulted in the annihilation of the affair and the creation of Clarissa. That is, the rape for him is at least as much the transfer of intention as it is an attempt to "know" Clarissa. He must "know" her
not only to know what she knows, but also so that he will be able to have a sense of how his plottings have come out—so that he will know what it was that he meant.
When Lovelace's intention does not get translated into consent, his rape of her is rendered perpetually incomplete. Thus he writes with gloomy self-pity to Belford:
Caesar never knew what it was to be hypped [depressed], I will call it, till he came to be what Pompey was; that is to say, till he arrived at the height of his ambition: nor did thy Lovelace know what it was to be gloomy, till he had completed his wishes upon the charmingest creature in the world, as the other did his upon the most potent republic that ever existed.
And yet why say I, completed? when the will , the consent , is wanting—and I have still views before me of obtaining that? (888)
In Lovelace's terms, the rape remains incomplete, because the only evidence that would count as the apprehension of the rape is Clarissa's consent. He can, thus, never discover the shape of his own intention, as long as the rape remains self-canceling—which it inherently becomes in two senses. Without Clarissa's consent, the rape remains incomplete, and it therefore seems, in Lovelace's account, not a rape. Were the rape to be validated by Clarissa's consent, however, it would cease to be rape and would instead count as seduction (or marriage, according to Brownmiller's account of Hebrew law)—intercourse as the act of discovering what one really wanted all along.
Just before the rape, Lovelace, having noticed Clarissa's suspicion of the legion of fictitious agents he has planted in the world he has substituted for her bourgeois home, writes to Belford that "her mistrust is a little of the latest to do her service" (882). Having mistrusted too late, she is, he thinks, no longer in a position to imagine that she can set the conditions of her liking or her trust. And it seems that Clarissa fully emerges as an individual in her insistence that she can continue to refuse to accept Lovelace's valuation of her, that she thinks she can always continue to deny her consent. The question of consent comes to be framed, alternatively, by the Lovelacean view that "the action" is already over and that consent has always implicitly been given, and by Clarissa's view that consent can only be given freely and thus that the act of deciding the value of an action—the interpretation of it—is itself a kind of prospectiveness, a claim that "the action" is never over.
Lovelace, trying to gain his point that Clarissa's consent is already contained within the events that have already transpired, thus offers a series of ways of domesticating the rape. First, he suggests, in an echo of rape law as it was established prior to the Statutes of Westminster of 1285, that Clarissa should redeem him through marriage. If his marrying her will redeem her reputation, her marrying him will redeem him from the crime that she charges him with (if only outside the legal system). The appeal of marriage for Lovelace, then, is that it
establishes the wife's consent as a stipulated state, and one that of necessity exonerates him. He imagines that Clarissa's consent to marriage, once given, amounts to a wife's irrevocable consent—so irrevocable even as to apply before it was given. To the man who has said "A wife at any time ," the fixity of the implications of marriage allows considerable latitude in the timing of a woman's consent (915); the form of consent will count as having always existed. Thus his first stratagem after the rape is to convince Clarissa that they are already married: "I would at first have persuaded her, and offered to call witnesses to the truth of it, that we were actually married" (889; cf. 896).
What Lovelace wants, then, is not so much consent as the effect of consent. He therefore repeatedly misses the point of Clarissa's having been unconscious at the time of the rape. Thinking that her unconsciousness merely preserves her honor, he archly writes to Belford, "I know thou hast such an high opinion of this lady's virtue, that thou wouldst be disappointed if thou hadst reason to think that she was subdued by her own consent, or any the least yielding in her will" (888). Clarissa's unconsciousness is, for him, merely the absence of her consent, a deficiency that will be retrospectively repaired. This is why he imagines it would serve his purposes just as well to convince Clarissa that she had married him while she was unconscious, and why he imagines that he can point to the fact that other people take them to be married as an argument that Clarissa should think them married. In the same spirit, he fantasizes that Clarissa will discover herself to be pregnant from the rape:
Were I to be sure that this foundation [Clarissa's pregnancy] is laid (and why may I not hope it is?), I should not doubt to have her still (should she withstand her day of grace) on my own conditions: nor should I, if it were so, question that revived affection in her which a woman seldom fails to have for the father of her first child, whether born in wedlock or out of it. (917)
Pregnancy would provide a reason for Clarissa to consent, to set things right; a child would represent in little the society whose version of things Lovelace is continually asking Clarissa to consider and to accept as her measure. Moreover, he can speak significantly in this fantasy of Clarissa's revived affection, because he is clearly taking the imagined pregnancy as a sign of consent. For while commentators like Sir Matthew Hale specifically denied "that it can be no rape if the woman conceive with child," Hale was directly responding to legal commentators in the formalist tradition I have outlined who had claimed that conception was presumptive evidence of consent.
Lovelace, while not worrying particularly about whether he would or would not be acquitted in a trial for rape, thus continually presents the evidence that would make it look as though Clarissa had consented to their relationship. She had created the conditions that resembled consent not just in running off with him but in appearing to agree to live in the same house with him, in appearing
to be his wife, and her pregnancy might have appeared as just the final formal version of consent, her body speaking truly in open opposition to her voice. Although Clarissa rails against the misrepresentations involved in seeing any of these appearances as expressions of consent, Lovelace goes further than merely answering her when he argues that some version of consent is implicit in participating in any appearance at all. Clarissa would invent independence "at the latest," he argues to Belford: "And as to the state of obligation, there is no such thing as living without being beholden to somebody. Mutual obligation is the very essence and soul of the social and commercial life—Why should she be exempt from it?" (760).
On this account, persons are persons not because they preexist society but because they are continually produced by their sociability, their coming into view and contact with other persons. From Lovelace's perspective, then, there can be no such thing as the falseness, the false personation, that Clarissa accuses Lovelace of. For the falseness involved in his impersonating a husband is, on his account, necessarily redeemed by the fact that it can produce true persons. To send the false impression out into the world is to set up a part of that structure of obligation which is "the soul of social and commercial life." Falseness is then truth, because it is instrumental in producing truth. Lovelace's falsehood is a falsehood he continually justifies as fundamentally truthful, because its aim was to produce forms that would tell both Clarissa and him what it was they really wanted, who it was they really were.
The Lovelacean apology for his act of rape continually equates his role in relation to Clarissa with the role of society in relation to any newborn infant. For him, individual existence thus involves an acknowledgment of events and forms that preexist the individual. Identity is forged in the process of the individual's adjusting to make the text of the past event whole, to make it come out right. Thus the notion of agency is transferred from the rapist to the victim, from the active party to the passive one, as Lovelace's continuing complaints and self-pity over Clarissa's bad reaction to the rape suggest. Caveat lector. Like the letters that circulate in authentic or forged form throughout the novel, the truth or falsity of any transfer of meaning becomes the responsibility of the recipient.
For Lovelace, however, the greatest impediment to the project of transferring responsibility to Clarissa lies in his having resorted to "art," his having drugged her to effect the rape. Lack of consciousness, both in the law and in the logic of the novel, always counts as nonconsent. While there may be two bodies—Lovelace's and Clarissa's—involved in the rape, only one person is present. The central argument that Lovelace has been making is that responsibility is always to be dispersed, diffused among a number of persons other than himself, and his entire defense must rest on the desperate effort to multiply himself retroactively to make it look as though there was anyone at the rape except him. This is why he needs the formulae of consent—the marriage, the pregnancy—that would belie
Clarissa's resistance and establish that she was there—and why he continually frames the rape that she did not consent to with the events that she did participate in—the elopement, residence in the same house.
From Lovelace's standpoint, then, Clarissa's unconsciousness at the time of the rape ought to be a matter of complete indifference, because he imagines that the form of the act should make consent implicit. Clarissa's derangement after the rape is, therefore, particularly troubling to him because it indicates that his effort to make states of consciousness derive from the forms of action has not taken. The mad papers that Clarissa writes after resuming consciousness seem designed to cast doubt on the capacity of any written form to connect with a mental state. As Terry Castle has observed, "Clarissa's mutilation of her own discourse suggests not only an impulse toward self-destruction, but also a massive, indeed traumatic loss of faith in articulation, and the power of the letter to render meaning." But while Castle sees "the mutilation of sense and syntax" in the mad letters as being "linked to a loss of selfhood" (120), one might want to modify that implicit claim about the link between the self and the representation of it. For the disruption physically wreaked on the letters itself establishes a representational homology with the stipulated state that may or may not correspond with one's mental state.
In the representational conventions of the epistolary novel, the convention of reading acts as a kind of stipulation. The characters repeatedly claim that they are writing, in the famous Richardsonian phrase, "to the moment," that they are setting down for each other accounts of events that have just transpired. Readers, likewise, do not pause to wonder that what they accept as an up-to-the-minute account of what just happened could already have been written about and could have been returned from the printer's in orderly lines that do not look at all like anyone's handwriting. Convention prescribes that the characters' script always looks like a printed page. To call attention to this stipulation, however, is to indicate the discrepancy between the handwriting that the printed page has been defined to be and the print that it so palpably is. Richardson produces this effect particularly strikingly in the tenth paper that Clarissa writes after the rape, in which the lines of writing run at off angles on the page. Various critics have noted that this paper shows, in Ronald Paulson's phrase, "the printed page itself" becoming "a form of mimesis." The very impulse of using the printed page to ape Clarissa's mental derangement with skewed and unjustified lines of print is, however, both mimetic and antimimetic at the same time, for it calls attention to the fact that one has dutifully been reading for hundreds of pages as if the printed page counted as handwriting. Thus, the tenth mad paper operates as a kind of failed ostensive definition; the typographical arrangement of the words converts the letter into a kind of display of itself, a sign announcing "this is hand-writing," but the very announcement of what the letter is—or would be—acts to point to the obviousness of the fact that the type is not handwriting. It is a mimesis
of distinction rather than of similarity, a pitting of stipulation against its internal self-contradiction.
More than a fiction of nature or truth, more than the representation of epistolarity as a matter of "writing to the moment," Richardson's formal insistence here upon a mimesis of distinction represents something like his invention of a new aesthetic. For it represents in formal terms the negative that Clarissa continually deploys against what comes to look like Lovelace's complacent acceptance of forms. Perhaps nothing else epitomizes Lovelace so much as his sense of the capaciousness of forms, his susceptibility to the notion of reformation in the purely pagan terms of metamorphosis, in which matter is never lost but merely converted into a new shape. If he thus imagined that Clarissa would recognize herself in a new form as a result of the rape and would become what she had been made, he did not count on her capacity continually to produce a negative that leaves the business of forms appear to be unfinished. He did not, that is, count on her reforming herself into a version of the disorderly letter. For the force of her negative is not merely to oppose Lovelace but to see his effort at converting her nonconsent into consent not as making her a woman but as returning her to girlhood, to the legal infancy that means that she could not consent even if she wanted to. Clarissa makes her body, the body that Lovelace had hoped to convert into a form of consent, into a slowly wasting sign of the inability of a form to carry mental states in anything but excessively capacious (that is, ambiguous) or potentially self-contradictory stipulated forms. Thus her notoriously slow-paced death is itself a way of calling attention to the states like consent that seem illusory to a character like Lovelace. For from the moment after the rape, when Clarissa begins dying and Lovelace begins longing for her consent, the novel is literally haunted by the specter of psychology, in which mental states do not so much appear as register the improbability of their appearing. The psychological novel arises by registering the enormity of Lovelace's sophisticated but absolutely unquestioning belief in representation, in thinking that a body with its blushes can represent an interior state like consent or that a printed page can announce itself as handwriting.
For what Lovelace had merely taken as the absence of consent—Clarissa's unconsciousness during the rape—turns out to be for Clarissa the condition for the impossibility of consent. In the law unconsciousness "negatives" consent, in much the same way as being ten years old—or twelve or sixteen—"negatives" it. Thus, although Lovelace expects Clarissa's unconsciousness to be over when it is over, Clarissa recognizes it as something like a stipulated state—an ongoing condition of the impossibility of consenting whether one consents or not. She had said, on Lovelace's account, that she was "cast from a state of independency into one of obligation " (760), and her progressive reduction of her body mimics a return to the body of a ten-year-old, in which one's actual consent (or nonconsent) and one's ability to consent potentially contradict one another. In such a stipulated
state as legal infancy, there is no inevitability that the difference between one's mental state—what one wants—and one's stipulated state—what one must want—will appear. But the contradiction makes the difference between mental states and their formal stand-ins, stipulated states, visible. To Lovelace's effort to read the form of the act of rape as stipulating consent, Clarissa thus responds with her own persistent impersonation of stipulated nonconsent. For him, lack of consent will (eventually) carry consent, become its opposite; for her, not having consented establishes a condition of dependency that makes nonconsent inevitable (no matter what she might want). In her white dress and increasingly childlike body, she represents the difference between the Bildungsroman , with its project of maturation, and the psychological novel, which can never get ahead, because its way of manifesting itself in the world is to make apparent its own subjection to a stipulated state—a legal infancy—that its conditional likings and wishes can strain against and contradict but never escape.
Much of the most powerful recent criticism of Clarissa —particularly that of Warner, Castle, and Eagleton—suggests an equivalence between the violence enacted by Lovelace in the act of rape and the violence of any interpretative gesture. Thus, Warner can write that "Clarissa's narrative letters work to give the 'subject' (as a center of consciousness) dominion over several more passive and compliant 'subjects'" and can see Clarissa's intention to reform Lovelace as being essentially as violent as the rape, his effort to reform her. And Castle can very powerfully align Lovelace's physical penetration of Clarissa with his interpretative penetration of her. Clarissa is, for Castle, "a hermeneutic casualty" because she "remains the subject of his interpretation," but she is also a victim in any situation in which another character thinks ill of her. Clarissa is, for example, a cipher available for mere projection when she is subjected to "Arabella's lurid reading of her behavior and her part in family history," which is part and parcel of the "linguistic oppression instituted by the Harlowes" (62). Similarly, Eagleton can claim that Clarissa's victimization in rape amounts to political victimization, her having become a figure in someone else's game:
Sexuality, far from being some displacement of class conflict, is the very medium in which it is conducted. In one sense, the novel does indeed sharply counterpose social relations and sexuality: Clarissa has the unenviable choice of becoming a pawn in the Harlowe's property game or Lovelace's erotic object. Yet this contradiction between bourgeois property and aristocratic anarchy conceals a deeper complicity. Both display a form of possessive individualism.
The privileged position in all of these accounts is the position of relative inactivity, and the critics differ primarily in assigning different degrees of interpretative activity—and thus violence—to Clarissa. For Warner, Clarissa is more violent than Lovelace; for Castle, she is less so. Through the logic that equates knowledge of
things with sexuality in the language of "penetration" and "probing" and "knowing," the best is not to know. What I have been arguing, however, is that Richardson's achievement in Clarissa is to insist on a fundamental mistake in the idea of equating epistemology and psychology.
Were we to construct a conjectural history of the rape story we would describe it in terms of a narrative about symbolic systems themselves, a narrative in which the distance between objects and persons is progressively increased. Thus, Rousseau in the Essay on the Origin of Languages tells the story of the rape of the concubine or wife of the Levite of Ephraim in illustration of the claim that "if the only needs we ever experienced were physical, we should most likely never have been able to speak." We would, he says, "have been able to establish societies little different from those we have, or such as would have been better able to achieve their goals" (9), if we had had only a language of signs and gestures. The efficiency of such a language emerges when he describes how the Levite communicated the story of his wife's rape by sending her mutilated body to the tribes of Israel:
When the Levite of Ephraim wanted to avenge the death of his wife, he wrote nothing to the tribes of Israel, but divided her body into twelve sections which he sent to them. At this horrible sight they rushed to arms, crying with one voice: Never has such a thing happened in Israel . . . ! And the tribe of Benjamin was exterminated. (7)
Violation precedes mutilation, which in turn leads to extermination. The efficiency of the symbolic system here is its absolute murderousness. The sense that there is nothing that needs to be said to explicate the twelve sections of the woman's dead body is what it means for this symbolic system to be completely effective—and what it means for it to be a system that eliminates ambiguity as it eliminates persons.
The story of the rape of Philomela might represent the second stage in the progressive account of rape and symbols. The account of Philomela eventuates in something like the same structure of outrage for outrage, retaliation for violation, that the biblical story does. Yet it does so by foregrounding the indirection of the means of revenge. Philomela, having been raped by her brother-in-law Tereus after he took her from her father's care, is silenced when Tereus cuts out her tongue to prevent her speaking of the violation. She then weaves a tapestry that recounts the story, using "the voice of the shuttle" to replace the voice she has lost and to prompt her sister Procne to join her in avenging the crime, by tricking him into eating the flesh of his own son Itys. The story retains the revenge plot of the biblical story, but it both gauges the revenge more precisely—the death of Tereus' son for the rape of Pandian's daughter—and makes the process of weaving emphasize the protraction and suspension of that plot. In some sense the story becomes the story of suspension itself as it becomes an account of the origin of poetry in the nightingale's leaning on a thorn to dictate to poets its song.
It is not so much that the art of poetry operates as a compensation for the reality of suffering; it is that the very process of searching for equivalences becomes an account of overcompensation, of Philomela's being able to tell her story by weaving when she had no voice and then of gaining a new voice with which to sing, if only in a speech that must be translated. As the story is elaborated, Philomela has both revenge and, then, poetry. If the basic assumption of the metamorphic tradition is that nature is created directly out of human culture and human event, the story of Philomela uses a catastrophic event—rape—to provide an origin for poetry. The specific technological advantage of poetry in this account is that it makes the process of remembering even more important than what is remembered. Philomela, as someone whose story is continually recast or decanted, translates event into tapestry into event, but the process of recasting seems to outlive the matching of act for act, revenge for rape. Memory in excess of action is what remains in the form of the nightingale and her song.
If the story of Philomela presents itself as a kind of technical and technological improvement over the story of the rape of Levite's wife, then the story of the rape of Clarissa similarly declares itself to be inaugurating a new genre. While the metamorphic account of rape gives the shape of memory to the story of an unspeakable act, Richardson rewrites the rape story to create the psychological novel. The novel is psychological, moreover, not because it is about the plausibility of its characters but because it insists upon the importance of psychology as the ongoing possibility of the contradiction between what one must mean and what one wants to mean. In fact, it is psychological precisely for the implausibility of a character like Clarissa, whose actions always seem precipitous to the point of unpredictability (as in her elopement with Lovelace, which looks now as if it is, now as if it isn't, going to succeed). For it sets itself up against the metamorphic account of form that insists that forms can never be outrun, that they only, possibly, can be redeemed through recycling, by exposing the self-negations of the very stipulations that seem to make it possible to interpret them. For as soon as the existence of a particular form is taken as stipulating a mental state like consent, the possibility of contradiction within the stipulated state makes it clear that that stipulation has not so much resolved the more general problem of interpretation as recreated it in a form that guarantees some meaning but not necessarily anyone's meaning. Clarissa becomes a psychological novel, then, not just in representing the ambiguity of forms and the struggles inherent in interpretation. In adapting the spirit of the Lovelacean stipulation that nonconsent can be consent, Clarissa answers Lovelace not just by refusing her retroactive consent to the act of rape but by living the stipulated contradiction that his act and his construction of it have made visible. Stipulation, trying to put a limit to ambiguity by defining the understanding of a term or a situation, is potentially infinite. But what Clarissa argues is that all the negotiations in the world cannot supply the deficiency in stipulation that is made apparent when a thing may be its opposite. Stipulation
may be from one standpoint a way of securing agreement and a way of allowing for ambiguity; I make a statement, I make a statement but cross my fingers, I make a statement but cross my fingers and say that crosses don't count. But from Clarissa's standpoint, it has become simultaneously infinite and irrelevant at the moment when the price of ambiguity turns out to be the possibility of internal contradiction. If Lovelace's act of rape essentially stipulates that nonconsent can be—or become—consent, Clarissa's achievement—and her plight—is to become the living embodiment of a legally stipulated state of infancy in which the contradiction can never be overcome and not even consent itself can count to override nonconsent.