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Fragments and Mastery: Dora and ClarissaElizabeth W. Harries La maîtrise, chez Lacan, n'est pas separable de quelque chose qui est fondamentalement lié à la femme, à sa figure referentielle, l'hystérique. L'hystérique ferait échec au maître et à l'universitaire, au pouvoir et au savoir.1 Two of our current critical storms centre on two wronged young women: Dora, the hysteric of the turn of the twentieth century, and Clarissa, the paragon of the eighteenth. Dora and Clarissa have become contemporary critical heroines, subjects of (or subjected to) endless analysis and questions. Both controversies show, in a particularly acute form, the difficulties we encounter in working with texts that work with violence to women (and perhaps do some violence of their own). And both dramatize the struggle of a male writer to contain the potentially disruptive force of fragmentary feminine narratives. In his "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" (1905), Freud reports his attempt to treat Dora, a young Viennese woman of "good" family who has been subject to various hysterical attacks (difficulty in breathing, a nervous cough, inability to speak, migraines, finally threatened suicide) for years. Throughout the case history, Freud alternates between treating Dora as a real person, stubbornly other, and treating her as a character in a rather sordid family romance, as the centre of consciousness or Jamesian ficelle through whom he can reveal the com1 Catherine Clément and Hélène Cixous, La jeune Née (Paris: Union générale d'éditions, 1975), p. 258. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 5, Number 3, April 1993 218 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION plexities of family relationships and of sexual motivations.2 In his novel Clarissa (1748-49), Richardson presents his heroine Clarissa both as a fictional character whose fate is under his control and as a real woman who determines her own life and death. His ambivalence about Clarissa, the significance of his attempts to both honour and subvert her, is thrown into relief when we read them next to or through Dora. Just as Freud simultaneously gives Dora a voice and silences her, Richardson both preserves Clarissa's integrity and permits her violation. Freud, of course, is "reading" the text of Dora's life, while Richardson is inventing Clarissa's. Dora existed outside of Freud's narrative, while Clarissa exists only in and through Richardson's. Dora can and does ultimately walk out the door; Clarissa remains tangled in Richardson's ambiguous fictions. But both threaten, and are threatened by, the narratives that promise and then deny them autonomy. I can find no evidence that Freud knew Clarissa, though he was quite well read in English literature (and thought Tom Jones, which he had enjoyed , unsuitable as a gift for his fiancée Martha Bernays).3 The lives of these two young women, however, are full of curious parallels and uncanny similarities. Dora is eighteen when she undergoes analysis with Freud; Clarissa eighteen when she leaves her father's house. Both young women are pawns in family sexual or financial manoeuvres: Dora suspects that she has been "handed over" to Herr K. in exchange for his tolerance for her father's affair with his wife; Clarissa's family attempts to force her to marry the odious Solmes in order to consolidate further the family land and fortune. Neither expects help from her mother, reportedly absorbed in household routine, ineffectual and powerless in a patriarchal world. Both are subjected to continuous, unrelenting pressure to do what others want; neither has real freedom of action, or even what was called in eighteenth-century England the "right of refusal." Both are forced to extreme measures in order to escape these pressures: Dora retreats into "hysterical" illness and debility, only to undergo further pressures in Freud's attempt to "cure" her; Clarissa (much against 2 See Steven Marcus, "Freud and Dora," Partisan Review (Winter, 1974); reprinted in his Representations (New York: Random House, 1975) and in In Dora's Case: Freud—Hysteria— Feminism, ed. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). Susan Rubin Suleiman refers, half-jokingly, to Freud's "transference to Balzac" in her essay "Mastery and Transference: The Significance...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 217-238
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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