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.