A virtuous young woman, the protagonist of the novel.
Clarissa is noted for her exceptional beauty, virtue, and accomplishments.
She is considered an “exemplar,” a model of female behavior, by
everyone around her. She has very strict ideas of duty and morality,
and she particularly enjoys taking care of the neighborhood poor.
Although Clarissa is so endearing that most people can tolerate
her obvious superiority, her older brother and sister are jealous
of her, especially after Clarissa inherits an estate upon her grandfather’s death.
in-depth analysis of Clarissa Harlowe.
A dashing rake, the antagonist of the novel. Lovelace
is of good family, handsome, brave, intelligent, and highly accomplished.
He loves to write and does so with great skill. He has a history
of seducing many women, all of whom subsequently either died in
childbirth or became whores. He is in love with Clarissa, but he
also sees her as a challenge for his powers of seduction. His admiration
of her virtue is an additional instigation for him to try to conquer
in-depth analysis of Robert Lovelace.
best friend, her confidante, and sometimes her foil. Anna is vivacious
and flippant in contrast to Clarissa’s seriousness. She treats everyone,
including her mother and her suitor, Hickman, with a freedom that
is sometimes offensive or cruel. She sometimes teases Clarissa,
especially about her concealed feelings for Lovelace, but she respects
and loves her completely.
in-depth analysis of Anna Howe.
best friend, also a rake. Belford and Lovelace have a habit of correspondence
that echoes that between Clarissa and Anna, but the two men write to
each other in a secret shorthand that only they know. This allows
them to freely discuss their libertine activities. Despite his lifestyle,
Belford has a conscience, and his exposure to Clarissa gradually
puts him on her side and against Lovelace, although he continues
to be Lovelace’s friend.
madam of a London whorehouse. Mrs. Sinclair is a monstrous creature,
enormous, masculine, and wicked. Clarissa is repelled by Mrs. Sinclair,
even though she believes her to be a respectable widow. An aura
of sin surrounds her, such that as soon as Lovelace enters her house
he finds all of his good intentions slipping away, although they
return to some extent when he is away. Mrs. Sinclair is instrumental
in the ruin of Clarissa.
Mr. (James) Harlowe, Sr.
Father of Clarissa, Arabella, and James, authoritarian
and unforgiving. Mr. Harlowe’s bad temper is attributed to his gout,
and he most frequently appears off-scene, vexing and incensed outside
the main action of the novel. He is anxious about his family’s newfound
wealth, reputation, and social position and will tolerate no disobedience
from his children.
James Harlowe, Jr.
Clarissa’s older brother, proud, ambitious, and resentful.
James is neither very brave nor very intelligent, but he is fiercely
proud and responds violently to anything that he perceives as threatening
to his reputation or prospects.
Mrs. (Charlotte) Harlowe
Clarissa’s mother, loving but passive. Mrs. Harlowe
will not defy her husband, even when she disagrees with him. She
resents Clarissa for causing trouble in the family, even as she
pities her situation.
Clarissa’s sister, envious and bad tempered. Arabella
is inferior to Clarissa in beauty and character and suffers from
the shadow of her younger sister. Like her father and brother, Arabella
overvalues money and reputation and is therefore doubly resentful
of Clarissa’s inheritance.
Mrs. (Judith) Norton
Clarissa’s nurse, a pious woman. Well educated and
well-bred, Mrs. Norton has fallen on hard times, although she was
responsible for most of Clarissa’s education and sense of morality
that grow into such impressive virtue.
cousin and a trustee of her estate. Morden is abroad for most of
the novel, while the Harlowes wait for him to arbitrate their conflict.
He is comparable to Lovelace in bravery and skill and also has somewhat
of a shady past.
suitor, respectable but unexciting. Anna constantly mocks Hickman
for his over-formal manners, but he patiently persists in his suit.
When Clarissa leaves home, Hickman offers help, despite the risk
of incurring the anger of Mrs. Howe.
Uncle (John) Harlowe, Antony Harlowe,
Aunt (Dorothy) Hervey
and aunts. The all love Clarissa but will not help her against the
wishes of Mr. Harlowe.
rich, ugly, unappealing man. Except for the money he would bring
into the family, Solmes is a completely inappropriate match for
Clarissa. He is concerned with money above all else, mistreating
his servants and even his family when it helps him advance in the
Lord M., Lady Betty, Lady Charlotte, and
well-bred, refined, and respected in society. In addition to their
high social position, the family is esteemed for the merit of its
individuals. They have heard of Clarissa’s virtue and would like
to include her in their family despite her lower social rank.
The false name of Patrick McDonald, one of Lovelace’s
accomplices in deceit. Tomlinson is an expert actor and convinces
Clarissa of his sincerity. He has qualms about playing the part
Lovelace has given him, but he plays it perfectly nevertheless.
Sally Martin, Polly Horton, Dorcas Wykes
Whores in Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel. Sally and Polly
were ruined by Lovelace and want to see Clarissa suffer the same
fate. Their mockery helps keep Lovelace on the path of wickedness.
Joseph Leman, Betty Barnes, Hannah Burton
Servants of the Harlowes. Joseph also works for Lovelace
as a spy, and Betty, his girlfriend, is Arabella’s maid and treats Clarissa
rudely. Hannah, by contrast, is faithful to Clarissa.
Mrs. Moore, Widow Bevis, Mrs. Smith, Mrs.
Keepers and guests of houses
where Clarissa stays. All are decent people, although some are deceived
by Lovelace and work against Clarissa.
mother, courted by Antony Harlowe. Mrs. Howe struggles for control
over her daughter and forbids her from helping Clarissa. While not
a bad woman, she is a shallow and selfish one.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!