Title Pages: The Devil is in The Details

Gothic literature may be thought of as dark romanticism; what Elizabeth MacAndrew calls the “literature of nightmare” (The Gothic Tradition in Fiction, p. 3), and Eino Railo calls “horror-romanticism” (The Haunted Castle, p. 7).

In Gothic works, aberrant sexuality is often presented hand in hand with terror and pain. Sexual desire on the part of the would-be lover is obsessive and destructive, while the victim is often presented as virginal—a combination that sets up a demon-lover arrangement whereby the lover accosts the victim, renders her will subservient to his, then destroys her purity, her sanity, or her life. For this reason aberrant sexuality in Gothic literature is often associated with supernatural beings—demons, vampires, witches or men with an uncanny power to control.

Think of Lovelace, Dracula, and the Duke deNemour in the Princess de Cleves who through real and surrealist means each, respectively, send their lovers to the grave, into vampirism, and into recluse. This connection between demonism and destruction often means that “…to be seduced successfully means that she [the protagonist] must die” (Smith 16).

Firstly, encounters with a demon are somehow always related to sex and in Gothic fiction there is a connection between sexuality and death; peril and sex drive. This makes, of course, for a gripping narrative. For example, while readers found Lovelace “demoniacaly fascinating” he was Clarissa’s indirect murderer (Reed 66).

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While the title-page of the novel seems innocent enough, an avid reader of the series knows that what is written on it is not an accurate representation of the fare of Clarissa’s plot. Clarissa is about a mistreated young woman struggling to survive on her own terms according to her own morals; but the book describes itself as a sort of warning to the public about the “distresses that attend [social] misconduct…in relation to marriage” (Clarissa or the history of a young lady […] 1st ed. London). This is but one of the examples where literature describes itself as being something that it really is not in order to fly under the radar of public alert. If Richardson had described Clarissa as a rape narrative, not only would nobody have understood the term, but the public would fear for the ethical imprint that the story might leave on female readers. So the fare of the plot must be elevated; it must be marketed as a cautionary tale—but readers consumed the volumes with debaucherous delight instead of with a notepad in hand to take notes about ethics.

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