Prudence and Obedience

Was parenting much simpler once? Who knows? But one thing I can say for sure, roles were more defined.Letter XVI from Richardson’s Clarissa is a proof of what I am saying. Clarissa has understood to be promised to old and odious Mr Solmes, a rich man, whose marriage with the girl would satisfy the social ambitions of Clarissa’s father. When the girl understands that everything has been settled, she tries  to do whatever is in her power to avoid her sad fate and decides to speak to whom she believes to be the weaker of her two parents, that is her mother, as she had found her particularly condescending at breakfast, while her father had left the house early with a “positive, angry disposition“. So much the better. Clarissa sends quickly a note to her mother to inform her that she needs to talk to her:

“I had but just got into my own apartment, and began to think of sending Hannah to beg an audience of my mother (the more encouraged by her condescending goodness at breakfast) when Shorey, her woman, brought me her commands to attend me in her closet. ( Clarissa Lett. XVI Vol. 1)

Nothing more should be said.The verbs in bold, in fact, sum up perfectly the roles and the psychological attitudes of the two characters. Clarissa’s mother is the one who commands, while the girl is expected to be submitted and humble.The meeting, which follows, in fact, respects  this pattern. Clarissa’s father had previously charged his wife to make his daughter accept the idea of marrying Mr Solmes, therefore, she approaches the meeting with the disposition of one who has to impart orders. Therefore, she mostly stands up and breaks the barrier of the roles sitting near her daughter and lowering to her level only to weak her resistance, trying to make her feel her true motherly affection with that more intimate approach, but she is ready to rise again as soon as she herself fears to yield, she is a mother after all. Clarissa, on the other side, keeps an imploring posture. She bows, kneels and eventually faints, when her mother tells her that the family, actually her father, expects her to perform her duty and that she would have soon received the visit of the head of the family whose disposition cannot certainly be defined gentle.

For a great deal of this meeting Clarissa’s mother is the only one to speak, while the girl is able to utter only few syllables, besides, whenever she essays to say something her mother doesn’t mean to be interrupted. Eventually, she lets her speak, but unheard. He is to marry Mr Solmes.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since those were the patterns of family relationships. But, how much water? What would such a meeting be like nowadays ? Well, I have no children and I cannot say, so I asked my students to give that dialogue a fresher look and these a couple of “gems” I picked:

Clarissa wants to talk with her mother about her obligation to marry a man of an important family that she doesn’t like, but the mother approaches her first.

* Clarissa, what’s the matter?

* I guess you already know what’s wrong, mom.

* Tell me.

* Mom! You know I’m so disappointed for your will to make me marry that Solmes. He’s such a creepy moron.

* Clarissa! You know it is your dad’s will, and I can’t disappoint him. And don’t use these words to describe him.

* He’s too old for me. There are many cool guys with big money in my school… and I also chat with a lot of them.

* I don’t mind.

* You can’t say that I must not marry him. It’s my life. I want to choose the man who will stay with me for the rest of my damned life.

* Clarissa, you know how it works for people like us. We can’t choose what to do about our life. It’s all about a big project for our family.

* But mom I…

* Clarissa, you are to marry him. There are no other choices.

* Go to hell mom.

Somebody shuts the door. ( Andrea T.)

You soon realize that, apart from the choice of words, this modern Clarissa is allowed to speak more than her mother and in Andrea’s imagination she cannot but have the last word. The following interpretation is more “sociopolitical” in its way, but in this case the mother prevails:

*Muuum, I have a problem, would you please come here and talk with me?

*What do you need, Clarissa? I hope it is important as  I am tidying you room!

*You already know what I want… you know… he is old and ugly… please I have a lot of suitors on Instagram!

*Yes I know but your father wants you to marry him and you are to respect and follow his will.

*I know mum but….but my friends can decide for themselves…. why can’ t I??

*Because you are different from your friends… you know… you are muslim and you are to obey or you will pay the consequences.  (Vittorio F.)

Definitely there has been a lot of water under the bridge.



11 thoughts on “Prudence and Obedience

  1. Mom, I don’t want to marry that man!

    It’s advantageous for both you and us to do so.

    But he’s old and ugly and . . .


    But Mom!

    *Sigh* OK, look . . . {reaches for a vial} once you’re married and the affairs are in order, start mixing this in his food. Small amounts over time. He’ll be dead in a few months and you’ll be set for life.

    Mom! Seriously?!

    Sure; you don’t think your dad is my first husband, do you? . . . or my last.

    Thanks, Mom!! You’re the best!

    {Runs off clutching the vial}

    {The husband comes in}

    Did she buy it?

    Yes, I gave her the vial of sugar water.

    • Thank you. I wrote the above on my phone as I waited for my wife and a friend to come out of a shop.

      As for the Homework bit, I’m not sure how serious you are — and even less sure as to what that would entail — but in case you mean it, my attention is going to be sporadic for the next few months as I deal with a number of things. I’m not sure I can be relied upon for much.

      Besides, it’s been years since I’ve done any homework . . . and it was in the pre-Internet days. Honest, I don’t know how anyone ever finishes their homework these days.

      But, if that was just a joke . . . ha-ha-ha . . . sure! It sounds like fun. Do I get graded on a curve? Do I get extra credit for being old and wrinkly? Wait . . . do I get to assign homework? That could be fun . . .

      “Write a 637 words (exactly) essay on the inordinate and often unwarranted regard modern scholars place on the so-called ‘classics’ of literature.”

      “Explain in 42 words or less how the Meaning of the Universe is encapsulated and discovered in Emilio Salgari’s amazing works. Bonus points: find and read all the works by modern obscure writers also named Emilio.”

      By the way, one person who read the above flash piece really liked it . . . until I scrolled down and showed her the last four lines.

      I wanted to end it with the daughter running off (happy to become a murderer) but couldn’t resist the twist on the twist. I’ve been told that’s one of the failings of my writing . . . I can always be counted to pull a surprise (or two) at the end.

      That’s no longer strictly true but — in reading my early writing — I can see why they felt that way . . . but I still don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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