Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady - Samuel Richardson, Angus Ross

This is not really a review, but these are some of the observations I made while reading Clarissa (the longest book I’ve ever read!).




It is ironic how Clarissa continues to encourage Miss Howe to obey her mother by marrying Mr. Hickman, and as quickly as possible, throughout the novel, while she continues to disobey her own parent by refusing to marry Mr. Solmes. Granted, Mr. Hickman doesn’t sound nearly as bad as Solmes, just a bit boring. Solmes’s letter to Clarissa (L59.1), with all of its misspellings, is one of the funnier moments in the novel.


The novel is incredible repetitive, especially in the first few hundred pages. How many times do we need to see Clarissa crying to her mother, basically saying the same things every time? Later, Lovelace takes his turn, telling Belford over and over how Clarissa is an angel and how wonderful she is.


It is so hard to hate Lovelace, despite knowing how badly things will end, which the blurb on the back of the book hints at, and the introduction completely gives away, because he is capable of being so witty and charming. He manages to win over every woman he comes into contact with, except maybe the glove shop owner, whose name I can’t remember now.


I found it very difficult to believe, at any point in the novel, that Clarissa’s brother James could really be the unofficial head of the Harlowe family, and that his father and both uncles all defer to him completely regarding who Clarissa is to marry. I also refuse to believe that the family would ever have relented and allowed Clarissa to refuse to marry Solmes in the end. They were all just too adamant about never being moved by all of her pleas and tears.


Clarissa drove me nuts, asking Miss Howe several times for advice, and always rejecting it. Miss Howe gives her a number of ways of escaping her situation, both before and after Lovelace runs away with her. However, Miss Howe isn’t always the most helpful; she started sounding rather wishy-washy, telling Clarissa to either run away from Lovelace or marry him, then, later, either marry him or prosecute him for rape. I do think, though, that Clarissa’s indecisiveness saves her from being completely two-dimensional, since she is apparently perfect in every other way.


If the family, led by brother James, was really so set on finding Clarissa someone to marry instead of the unacceptable Lovelace, couldn’t they have found someone more attractive as a replacement? Clarissa, we are told, is admired by everyone who sets eyes on her, or even just hears about her, so I would think they could have found a more attractive man to tempt her. If she is as admired as we’re led to believe, surely there must be a lot of young men in the neighborhood who would jump at the chance to marry Clarissa, unless she’s already refused them all!


Clarissa’s writings while she is feverish following the rape reminded me of Ophelia’s mad scene in Hamlet, before she is found dead (Letter 261, especially Paper X). She even quotes Hamlet here, along with other scraps of poetry and songs.


Letter 281 – Why didn’t Clarissa take the opportunity to escape Mrs. Sinclair’s house while she had the chance? She has the knife in her hand; she could have run out of the house, but she just goes back and locks herself in her room again. To my relief, it’s not much later that she does actually get away.


I actually found it funny when Clarissa was arrested. If you’re reading along, thinking what else could possibly happen, well that was not something I expected.


It seems like Lovelace might reform for driving Clarissa to her death . . .for all of about two seconds. He is already defending his deplorable actions, and asking how he could be expected to know that she would react as she did, and die as a result, within two weeks of his death.


Today, Lovelace would be labeled a sociopath. Not only in his conduct to Clarissa, thinking he can rape her into submission, but he also plots the rapes of Mrs. And Miss Howe, and the three ladies from Hampstead. Thankfully, those were never carried out.


Letter 523 – we finally get Miss Howe’s account of her treatment of Mr. Hickman. I really thought she hated him and was determined not to marry him in the beginning, and later I thought she was just being coy, and I think she says at some point that once they’re married, he probably won’t be nearly as devoted to her as he is now, and she doesn’t want to have an unhappy marriage. Look for more of that theme in Jude the Obscure.


People in Clarissa’s day must have been simply drowning in paper, if this book is anything to judge by. Not only does Clarissa keep copies, and in some cases, rough drafts, of all the letters she writes, she has the ones she receives, too. No one ever seems to throw letters away.


Despite the immense length of Clarissa, and the six weeks it took me to read it, I am not at all sorry, and I even missed it for a few days after finishing. I liked it a lot better than Pamela, which I barely remember, but I know I didn’t care for it much.