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Maternal Authority, Female Autonomy and Mother-Blame in Clarissa Drawing on the nature of maternal authority in the portrayal of the tension between mother and daughter, this paper examines how Clarissa addresses the complex issues of authority and autonomy―the problems of motherhood and power, the mother’s place in patriarchy, and the conflict of interests between mother and daughter. Clarissa portrays three instances of maternal authority in Clarissa, embodied by Mrs. Harlowe, Mrs. Howe, and Mrs. Sinclair. Although very different in many aspects, these mother figures, weak or strong-willed, virtuous or monstrous, turn out to be to some extent inadequate in exercising their maternal authority and in establishing positive connections with their daughters. The mother becomes the site of the projection of the daughter’s anger and discontent. Clarissa’s very denial of her own desire for complicity with patriarchy disconnects her from her mother and thwarts her identification with her mother in their common suffering. Clarissa’s ambivalence about maternal authority is manifest in her relationship with other empowered mother figures such as Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Sinclair. Regardless of their accomplishments as virtuous mother and manager, Mrs. Harlowe and Mrs. Howe are suggested to be ineffectual in exercising their “little authority” over their daughters. Sinclair’s grotesquely exposed, castrated body symbolizes the maternal body that is doomed to be rejected by the daughters who wishes to prove their dedication to the father’s name. Ultimately, it shows the possibility of the daughter’s unconflicted alliance with the mother is mitigated.


Maternal Authority, Female Autonomy and Mother-Blame in Clarissa Drawing on the nature of maternal authority in the portrayal of the tension between mother and daughter, this paper examines how Clarissa addresses the complex issues of authority and autonomy―the problems of motherhood and power, the mother’s place in patriarchy, and the conflict of interests between mother and daughter. Clarissa portrays three instances of maternal authority in Clarissa, embodied by Mrs. Harlowe, Mrs. Howe, and Mrs. Sinclair. Although very different in many aspects, these mother figures, weak or strong-willed, virtuous or monstrous, turn out to be to some extent inadequate in exercising their maternal authority and in establishing positive connections with their daughters. The mother becomes the site of the projection of the daughter’s anger and discontent. Clarissa’s very denial of her own desire for complicity with patriarchy disconnects her from her mother and thwarts her identification with her mother in their common suffering. Clarissa’s ambivalence about maternal authority is manifest in her relationship with other empowered mother figures such as Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Sinclair. Regardless of their accomplishments as virtuous mother and manager, Mrs. Harlowe and Mrs. Howe are suggested to be ineffectual in exercising their “little authority” over their daughters. Sinclair’s grotesquely exposed, castrated body symbolizes the maternal body that is doomed to be rejected by the daughters who wishes to prove their dedication to the father’s name. Ultimately, it shows the possibility of the daughter’s unconflicted alliance with the mother is mitigated.