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Clarissa

Samuel Richardson

Letters 333–396

Letters 274–332

Letters 397–457

Summary

Belford goes to the prison and is appalled by the situation. Clarissa had been accosted in the street on her way out of church and, despite her fear of the strange men, is forced to go with them into a carriage. Sally Martin had been waiting at the officer’s house that serves as a prison, and she accuses Clarissa of trying to cheat Mrs. Sinclair out of £150 she owed for her lodging. She mocks Clarissa, frequently calling her “Miss” and pointing out that she is not married. Clarissa refuses any food or drink and also refuses to write to any of her friends for the money. She insists that she will not see any man.

Polly and Sally offer to bring her back to Mrs. Sinclair’s and, while Clarissa is at their mercy, she will not treat them politely, and they are rude to her in return. She at first refuses to see Belford because he is a man, but the jailers let him into her room. Belford writes an extremely detailed description of the squalid, run-down room, with Clarissa, all in white, kneeling in a corner of it with her Bible. He notes that somehow her linen is as white as ever even though she would not have been able to change it. Belford eventually gains her trust and she goes with him back to her lodgings. She is very ill and weak.

Dr. H., recommended by Belford, visits Clarissa. She has no money but insists on paying him, so she gives her landlady a diamond ring in exchange for a loan. Unable to write, she dictates a letter to be sent to Anna. Belford visits Clarissa at her lodgings and pleads for Lovelace. She convinces him that she does not hate Lovelace, and sincerely wishes for his reformation, but she maintains that she will never see him again. Belford calls her an angel and asks Lovelace how he could have treated her as he did. Clarissa begins to feel better and is grateful for her comfortable, safe situation and for the paternal treatment of Dr. H. Belford goes to visit Belton, who is dying, and he reflects again upon the folly of the rakish life, resolving to reform and marry if he can, and attributing the resolution to Clarissa’s influence on him. Clarissa sells some of her clothes so that she can pay for her expenses.

Hickman visits Lovelace in order to ascertain his earnestness about marrying Clarissa. Lovelace mocks his formality and seriousness, and he shocks Hickman by saying that Clarissa has in fact left him for another suitor. Lovelace then reveals that the suitor is Death. Hickman leaves disconcerted but convinced that Lovelace is serious.

Mrs. Smith, the owner of Clarissa’s new accommodation, asks Clarissa and Belford to join her and her husband in celebrating their anniversary. Clarissa will not, and she takes the occasion to relate her story to the people of the house. Everyone is convinced that she is an angel.

Clarissa writes to Arabella to ask her to intercede with their father. Unbeknownst to Clarissa, Anna also writes to Arabella to tell her of Clarissa’s dangerous condition. An exchange of insulting letters between the two follows. Arabella shows the offensive letters to Mrs. Harlowe, who in turn sends them to Mrs. Howe, who writes back in apology. Anna writes to encourage Clarissa to marry Lovelace, now that she is convinced of his earnestness and his innocence of the arrest. Clarissa writes that she believes in both his earnestness and innocence, but she will still not marry Lovelace, saying she has more pleasure in thinking of death than of a husband. Mrs. Norton writes and tells Clarissa that the Harlowes would have extended favor to her before Anna’s letters angered them. Clarissa chides Anna for taking such freedoms with her family. She writes again to Arabella to reconcile.

Her health worsens. Belford sends Lovelace a “meditation” Clarissa has written, composed of lines from the Bible. He is impressed by Clarissa’s equanimity in the face of death, especially when he compares it to Belton’s terror. Hickman visits Clarissa, and Belton is impressed by him.

Lovelace attends a ball where he knows he will meet Anna and Hickman. Anna had shown her fury at him, snapping her fan in his face. Mrs. Howe and the rest of their acquaintances, however, are convinced by Lovelace’s protestations of repentance and think Clarissa should marry him. Clarissa again explains her reasons for refusing and, finally, Anna is convinced. She relays Clarissa’s answer to Lovelace’s relations, who have been waiting for it. Anna tells Clarissa she should write down her story as a service to the young women who might read it.

Lovelace suspects that Clarissa’s ill health might be due to pregnancy. He is overjoyed at the thought, which would both remove the threat of death and ensure that Clarissa would marry him.

Mrs. Norton tries to influence Clarissa’s mother in her favor. Mrs. Harlowe replies that once again she is unable to change anything, but that Mr. Harlowe has indeed revoked his curse. Clarissa is grateful for this, although saddened by her mother’s distress, as well as by a harsh reply from Arabella. In response to Anna’s concerns, Clarissa writes that although she wants to die, she considers it her duty to try to stay alive. Nevertheless, she begins making arrangements for death. She decides that Belford will be her executor, showing great trust in him. She also asks Belford to send her some of Lovelace’s letters, so that she can compile a collection that will reveal her story after she’s dead. Because Lovelace and Belford always write to each other in a secret shorthand, Belford transcribes some letters for her. Clarissa is glad to see that Lovelace preserved some degree of decency as well as a strict honesty, and that the letters will be able to fill the gaps left by hers.

Arabella writes another cruel letter, which has bad effects on Clarissa’s health. In turn, she writes a humble letter to her mother, imploring forgiveness. Lovelace’s family is convinced by Clarissa’s reasoning and offers her an estate and an annuity as some kind of recompense for Lovelace’s treatment. Clarissa is touched, but she refuses. Lovelace is furious at Belford for giving Clarissa his letters and also for accepting the commission as executor. He is still intent on marrying Clarissa and threatens to visit her if she will not answer a letter from him.

Analysis

Lovelace and Belford are treading opposite tracks at this point. As Belford begins to see the criminal life as both less happy in life and horrific after death, Lovelace keeps defending his wicked ways, fending off Belford’s moralizing with witticisms and insults. Although his nature both as a man and as Lovelace’s friend make Clarissa suspicious of him at first, Belford is admitted into her company and becomes her friend and the executor of her will. Lovelace, having finally recognized and resolved to do justice to Clarissa’s worth, is kept away from her, although he complains that there is nothing worth writing about in his life when she is out of it. He is more possessive of her than ever, however, ranting at Belford when he becomes Clarissa’s executor and insisting that only he, Lovelace, should do anything for Clarissa.

Clarissa is wise to forbid a visit from Lovelace, as she knows by this point that he is and has always been dominated by wickedness. Whether Lovelace might have reformed had she let him see her is unclear: Clarissa’s exceptional virtue had influenced his libertine ways and, when with her. he had often claimed to want reform. But, in truth, Lovelace has always regarded a reformed life as a temptation, something to be fought against and rescued from. At times the urge to be good is so strong it takes over Lovelace’s body, causing him to reprimand his heart for jumping into his throat, or his knees for trembling on his way to a wicked deed. The fact that Lovelace is susceptible to virtue and has some natural inclination for it makes him a much more execrable figure: he actually has to fight himself to stay wicked, so he bears extra responsibility for his character. Belford, on the other hand, was at one time just as wicked as Lovelace, but he is completely redeemed in the eyes of the novel by giving into Clarissa’s purifying power.

Clarissa’s assignment of Belford to executorship is important, as by choosing him Clarissa is choosing the voice that will carry her wishes and voice into the future. This shows great trust in his faithfulness and attachment to her. Furthermore, the legal system of eighteenth-century England was quite different from the one today, and procedures like execution of wills were put into the hands of family and friends, not lawyers (although Belford is, as it happens, trained in the law). There were great possibilities for a person’s will to be violated after her death, as shown by the Harlowe family’s fight over Clarissa’s inheritance of her grandfather’s estate. The executor had the job of making sure the terms of the will were fulfilled, so it was important to choose one who was not only loyal and disinterested but also had the power to enforce its stipulations. Anna, for example, would have been unlikely to prevail with the Harlowe family if they disagreed with any of Clarissa’s choices. Clarissa is acting prudently by assigning this job to someone outside the family.

It is clear that Clarissa’s health is deteriorating, although the reasons for this are vague. We might expect that Clarissa would waste away from grief, but this is a realistic novel and people have to die of something. The shocks she experiences, especially the arrest, are blamed for her rapid decline, but the more likely culprit is her refusal, or inability, to eat. Repeatedly she turns down food, or tries to eat it and chokes. Even the prison guards try to get her to eat something, afraid that she might die on their watch. She insists that she cannot do it, but whether Clarissa can or cannot eat is important; if she can, and is refraining, she is killing herself, and she recognizes that this would be sinful. Her life or death must be in God’s hands, so she accepts responsibility for taking measures to keep herself alive. Yet it is never made altogether clear that it is impossible for her to eat, or why it might be so.

The extracts from Lovelace’s letters that Clarissa requests from Belford begin the collection of letters that will eventually tell Clarissa’s story, a story intended to help other young women in similar situations. That Clarissa’s tragedy becomes a universal lesson for others reinforces her role as an exemplar and suggests that her story, like her presence, will have a good influence on people. In asking Belford for Lovelace’s letters, Clarissa explains that her narrative is incomplete because she does not actually know the whole story; Lovelace’s letters will fill in the gaps.

In detailing this quest to compile their correspondences, Richardson gives an explanation for Clarissa—that is, for the collection of letters that we are reading. Most early readers of Clarissa probably understood that they were reading fiction, but the novel was still a relatively unfamiliar form, and a conceit of truth still clung to it. Richardson’s previous novel, Pamela, had originally been published as though it were a collection of found letters. This fiction didn’t last long; Pamela was so popular that Richardson had to reveal himself as the author to gain some control over the unauthorized sequels and extensions that proliferated after the publication. By 1749, Richardson was well known as an author, so the explanation of Clarissa’s letter-collecting is probably more of a vestige of tradition than any real attempt to fool the reader.

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