Skip over navigation

Clarissa

Samuel Richardson

Important Quotations Explained

Letters 471–537, Conclusion, Postscript

Key Facts

1.
Yet do I find that one may be driven by violent measures step by step, as it were, into something that may be called—I don’t know what to call it—a conditional kind of liking, or so.

This is in one of Clarissa’s early letters to Anna, after her family has begun to treat both her and Lovelace with unreasonable harshness, but before the real trouble has started. It offers an explanation for the bond forming between Clarissa and Lovelace: she never would have given him a second thought, but her family’s unjust treatment compels her to take his side, and when they offered her the same treatment, she begins to feel even more united with him. Throughout the novel, the Harlowes, though not the only villains, are accused of being the first movers in Clarissa’s downfall. If they hadn’t turned against her in this way, Lovelace could have done Clarissa no harm.

This quotation also raises questions concerning Clarissa’s true feelings for Lovelace, a favorite subject of critics since the novel’s publication. Like many of these critics, Anna does not believe Clarissa when she denies being in love and mocks the stiff rhetoric Clarissa uses to express her hidden attraction. Clarissa intends to say that if only Lovelace could meet this one condition—that is, if he were a morally acceptable man—she would then like him. But her interpolated hesitation (“I don’t know what to call it”) suggests bashfulness, rather than equanimity and rational judgment.

2.
Oh my dear, what a poor, passive machine is the body when the mind is disordered!”

Clarissa writes this to Anna when she is describing her forced interview with Solmes, referring to her faintness and trembling. The body acts as an outward manifestation of the mind, so that only one whose mind is at ease can be physically at ease. The word machine points to the mechanical, spiritless character of the body, drawing attention to the superiority of mind to matter even when it cannot fully control it. This quotation also reflects Clarissa’s disregard for the physical, or material, world. While most of the characters in the novel are fixated either on wealth (the Harlowes, Solmes, Mrs. Sinclair) or sex (Lovelace, Mrs. Sinclair and her whores), Clarissa shows no real concern for either, indicating that she is meant more for the spiritual world than for the earthly one.

The close relationship between the body and the mind is emphasized throughout the book. Clarissa tends to collapse when she receives a shock, such as the news of her father’s curse. Her blushes and tears are also, in general, out of her control. Her physical weakness sometimes undermines her intentions, as when she ends up in Lovelace’s arms after being frightened by the fire at Mrs. Sinclair’s. After the rape, Clarissa’s body begins to waste away, but her spirit strengthens, and she becomes more powerful and in control than ever: she plans every detail surrounding her death, from her will to the designs on her coffin, and she is increasingly described as appearing angelic or heavenly. Her death itself seems to be from causes that are more mental than physical.

3.
Adversity is your shining-time: I see evidently that it must call forth graces and beauties that could not have been seen in a run of that prosperous fortune which attended you from your cradle till now.”

Anna writes this to Clarissa when Clarissa is confined at Mrs. Sinclair’s, unsure of Lovelace’s intentions and confused about what path to take. Throughout the novel there are suggestions that suffering and adversity polish and perfect a person in a way that nothing else can; nobody can be flawless without having suffered. The visual theme of shining becomes more evident as Clarissa gets closer to death, especially when she is in dark places like the prison and Mrs. Sinclair’s house.

Suffering acts as a crucible for the people who undergo it: Belton and Mrs. Sinclair, for example, respond to their suffering by descending to animalistic horror, while Clarissa is made pure by it. Adversity also gives Clarissa a chance to show what she’s really made of, as Anna mentions. While Clarissa was happy that she had never previously had to display her fortitude, the truth is that her strength was never tested. As she nears death, Clarissa expresses gratefulness for her troubles, which, she says, have prepared her for heaven and allowed her to enter the afterlife sooner. Suffering, then, is actually a kind of gift when it is given to those who can bear it.

4.
I have time for a few lines preparative to what is to happen in an hour or two; and I love to write to the moment—

Lovelace writes this to Belford at eleven o’clock on the night when he is planning to rape Clarissa. It is not the night on which he actually does rape Clarissa; the fire incident intervenes. The theme of “writing to the moment” is extremely important for Richardson. The epistolary form enhances the novel’s realism by representing events with an immediacy that is impossible in narrative. A traditional narrative always has the benefit of hindsight, and often of narratorial omniscience; while letters express the true experiences of people who do not know what is about to happen or what other people are thinking.

In this instance, Lovelace’s to-the-moment writing also acts as a device for increasing suspense and drama: we see the rapist as he prepares for his crime and watch as he struggles with his heart and conscience. It should be noted that there is also something ridiculous about this immediacy: do rapists really sit down to write before they attack? Richardson’s parodists picked up on this idea; in Shamela, for instance, Fielding depicts Shamela writing a letter while she lies in bed and is groped by Mr. B.

5.
Let me go, said she: I am but a woman—but a weak woman—but my life is in my own power, though my own person is not—I will not be thus constrained.

This is a speech of Clarissa’s, reported by Lovelace, delivered in the interval between the rape and her escape. It defines both the restrictions placed on women and their power that nonetheless remains inalienable. The constraint Clarissa refers to is a literal one: Lovelace is embracing her in such a way that she cannot move from her chair. It is also a metonym for the constraint that prevents Clarissa from leaving Mrs. Sinclair’s house: the women keep a close watch on her and keep the doors locked. Her body is therefore not in her power except at the mercy of Lovelace. These constraints also apply to all women of this society, who are bound by moral tradition to their families, to their husbands, and to legal and social systems that offer them no control over their fates.

What cannot be taken away from Clarissa is her life; when she is truly desperate, fearing that Lovelace will rape her again, she raises a penknife to kill herself, which frightens him into backing off. Her death can be seen as Clarissa’s exercise of the only power that she possesses, despite her insistence that although she wants to die she is not killing herself intentionally.

More Help

Previous Next

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!

Follow Us