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By Robert C. Baldwin, James A. McPeek

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Now we hear much more from Lovelace, as he gloats over his prize. ‘She is in the next apartment! – Securely mine! ’ With Clarissa, he now becomes a model of earnest delicacy, undertaking to ‘reform’ himself by a study of religion, to make himself worthy of her. In his letters to Belford, however, he is triumphalist: ‘In short, my whole soul is joy.  . For why? ’ The awful thing is that this is really quite funny. Clarissa is a nice enough girl, but can hardly remain a virgin for ever. What would be so dreadful in becoming another of Robert Lovelace’s ‘conquests’?

And Fagin agrees. ’ At other times, it seems that Dickens is forcing himself to make Fagin appear more villainous than he naturally is.  .  . ’ It is not just a sense of anti-Semitism that makes this passage troubling, but the feeling that the novelist-as-controller is forcing a predetermined shape on a living character. We almost dare to feel that we know Fagin better than Dickens does. However, the evidence mounts against Fagin. He gives a sly kick to the sleeping Sikes. ’ He gives him reports of true criminal cases, ‘Tyburn tales’, to read, as though he will be impressed by their glamour.

Sabbath does not have a job because he cannot spare the time from chasing skirt; it is far too serious and time-consuming a business to leave room for something as petty as work. What Sabbath and Lovelace have in common is the ability to identify with women, really to adore their femaleness, and yet, when necessary, to stand apart and view them as the polar attraction. What an extraordinary man Robert Lovelace is. Excess appears to be his norm. He thinks little of spending the night in a bleak coppice adjoining the Harlowes’ grounds, where, with his wig and linen frozen, kneeling on the ‘hoar moss’ on one knee, he writes a letter to Clarissa with frozen fingers, resting the paper on the other knee.

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