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Clarissa

Samuel Richardson

Letters 397–457

Letters 333–396

Letters 471–537, Conclusion, Postscript

Summary

A clergyman named Mr. Brand is sent by the Harlowes to examine Clarissa’s situation. He is extremely pompous and pedantic. Clarissa sends a letter to Lovelace to prevent his visit. She tells him she writes only to avoid a greater evil, but that because of her religion she forgives him and wishes him well. In response to Clarissa’s letter to her mother, Uncle Harlowe sends a nasty letter bluntly asking if she is pregnant. Clarissa writes another “meditation” and stitches it to this letter with black silk. She writes back and in answer to the “cruel question” says “a little, a very little time will better answer than I can.” She asks again for a last blessing. An even crueler letter arrives from Uncle Antony, suggesting that they have heard bad things about her. Mrs. Norton explains this: Mr. Brand had given a bad report about Clarissa, centered around Belford’s frequent visits. The family resolves to send Clarissa to Pennsylvania. Colonel Morden arrives in England.

Lovelace is very sick. He is miserable, but as he recovers, manages to trick his family into thinking he has been converted by reading them one of Clarissa’s meditations that had been sent by Belford. He is back on good terms with them and more determined than ever to see Clarissa. Belford tells Lovelace again not to come near Clarissa, but he will have to leave her unprotected because he must go attend the dying Belton. He sends Clarissa a letter to warn her, and Lovelace immediately proceeds to London. He forces his way up to Clarissa’s room, but she is not there. He then puts on a comical but insulting performance in the Smiths’ shop, terrifying everyone but also making them laugh.

Lovelace has a dream that he is saved from a fight with Morden by Clarissa, who is then surrounded by angels and taken to heaven; just then the floor starts to sink under Lovelace and he tumbles into a bottomless pit. This frightens him at first, but he soon explains it away. He keeps trying to see Clarissa, but she is never home. Even a Meditation called “On being hunted after by the enemy of my soul” fails to stop him. Finally a letter from Clarissa arrives, saying she has good news: she is setting out for her father’s house and will not have time to see Lovelace in the midst of her preparations. She tells him he can see her there and says she will send him a letter when she gets there. Lovelace is in ecstasy. He immediately leaves for Lord M.’s to wait for her letter.

Belford writes several letters about the pitiable Belton and reminds Lovelace that he one day must die too. Belton eventually dies, miserably, and Belford returns to Clarissa. He finds that she is very ill after having stayed out in carriages and boats to avoid Lovelace. She receives letters from Mrs. Norton saying that Morden had decided to visit Lovelace, because the family did not believe that he was in fact willing to marry Clarissa. This worries her, and she writes to Anna and explains that her letter to Lovelace was allegorical, that it was about her journey to heaven and not to her literal father’s house. She worries that this deception, while not really a lie, might have been wrong. Belford explains the allegory to Lovelace.

Morden visits Lovelace and, after some initial hostilities, they get along well. Morden is convinced of Lovelace’s love for and good intentions toward Clarissa. Morden writes a kind letter to Clarissa, recommending that she marry Lovelace. Clarissa is overjoyed at his kindness but tells him she cannot marry Lovelace; she can forgive him, but that is because she has risen above him. She hints that he will understand when he knows the whole story, but she asks him not to do anything for vengeance. Lovelace is furious at Clarissa’s deception and says that it is just as bad a lie as any he told.

One day while Belford is visiting Clarissa some men arrive and bring a coffin up to her room. Clarissa is embarrassed and explains that she bought it with the money from her clothes to save trouble after she dies. Everyone is shocked, but she tells them that familiarity will make them more comfortable with the coffin’s presence. She had designed the coffin’s decorations, which include several Bible verses, a winged hourglass, an urn, and a lily with the flower snapped off. She becomes very sick, and Belford predicts that she will never again leave her room. Lovelace is distraught and writes with more seriousness and humanity than usual. Clarissa recovers and hurries to finish her will.

Anna writes that Morden cannot convince the Harlowes to relent. They do not think she is as sick as she is. At Belford’s next visit to Clarissa he finds that she is sitting and writing at her coffin as though it were a desk. A letter from Mrs. Norton relates that Morden had shown the Harlowes letters he’d gotten from Lovelace and from Anna, which convince them both that Lovelace had been willing to marry Clarissa and that she is very sick. Mrs. Harlowe, the uncles, and even Arabella show some signs of softening, but James hardens everybody’s hearts. Morden is infuriated and refuses to stay with them anymore.

Clarissa has made up packets of letters, in order according to date, for Belford to open after she is dead. She has also made an inventory of her possessions and lets him know where her keys are. Her sight is becoming misty, and her breath short. Morden writes another letter, saying he is delaying his visit to her because he hopes to bring blessings from her family, as she’d requested. Against Clarissa’s wishes, Belford writes to Morden to tell him to hurry, and Dr. H. writes to Mr. Harlowe to let him know his daughter’s real condition.

Clarissa speaks of being thankful for her gradual death, which has given her time to prepare herself for heaven. Lovelace is so anxious for news that he cannot wait at home, so he rides out to meet his messenger halfway. Clarissa asks Belford about Lovelace, and he tells her of his affliction. She pities him if his conscience has woken up and says he needs no greater punishment. She admits she could have loved him. Belford and the minister urge her to see Lovelace in hopes of securing his reformation, but she says she has too little time left and is too weak to contend with Lovelace. Lovelace, hearing of this, is remorseful and repentant.

Analysis

While those around her encourage Clarissa to struggle to live, she calmly makes logistical preparations for her death. She is not only calm in the face of death; she actually enjoys the thought of it, so much so that she’s disappointed when the doctor tells her she still has a few weeks to live. Death promises eternal joy, while her life on earth is irredeemably ruined. The decorations she chooses for her coffin show that she is also interested in how her death will wrap up her story. The main image is of “a crowned serpent, with its tail in its mouth, forming a ring, the emblem of eternity.” There are three smaller images: a winged hourglass, to show the shortness of life; an urn; and “the head of a white lily snapped short off, and just falling from the stalk.” This lily symbolizes Clarissa’s life; she has more than once been compared to the flower in her beauty and grace, and the lily is also a Christian symbol of redemption. The lily is broken and in the process of falling, reflecting Clarissa’s experience throughout the story: she too has been frozen in the act of falling from her “stalk.” As she interprets it, her demise was triggered by her illicit correspondence with Lovelace, which happened very near the beginning of the book. Under this trope, for the entirety of the story Clarissa has been very slowly nearing death.

Clarissa is not, however, a book in which the end is prefigured from the beginning. It takes an extraordinarily long time for us to know whether it will follow a comic (in the sense of having a happy ending) or tragic track. The events in the first few volumes could have led to Lovelace’s reform and a happy wedding at the end. Indeed, in Pamela the heroine marries the rakish man who has kidnapped her, after her virtue precipitates his reform—so this may have been what Clarissa’s readers were expecting. The interminable uncertainty of Clarissa’s position and Lovelace’s frequent near-reforms allows the novel to progress without indicating that it will have to end with her death. However, once the rape occurs, this should be certain, as it was the tradition in novels that ruined women could only find happiness in death. Regardless of Lovelace’s genuine remorse and desire to marry her, Clarissa is determined—destined, but also perhaps resolved—to die as soon as she knows what has happened. She insists that she does not bring death upon herself, but she knows that she is now in the position of one who must die and begins to act accordingly.

While she calmly makes her arrangements, those around Clarissa frequently speak of her as an angel. This is not a new character for Clarissa; Lovelace has often referred to her as such, but the angelic imagery becomes more concentrated as the book nears its end. Lovelace’s dream explicitly envisions Clarissa being carried to heaven, while he descends to hell. Beyond imagery, Clarissa is angelic in her ability to forgive the people who have harmed her. She wishes Lovelace well and can freely admit that she might have been able to love him. She excuses the actions of her family and is sorry for what they will suffer after she is gone.

However, although she claims to forgive those who have harmed her, Clarissa does not wholeheartedly act as such. She will not allow Lovelace to see her, despite his friends’ advice that this might help him reform, and she will not let her family know just how sick she is, and even refuses to give them a straight answer about whether she is pregnant. Understandable as these choices are, it is difficult to see how they fit into an image of perfect forgiveness; they do, however, allow the poetically just resolution of the novel. Lovelace as well as the Harlowe family will have to suffer for what they have done to Clarissa, not by her agency, but through remorse. Because Clarissa prevents them from apologizing and asking her forgiveness, the characters who have harmed her will be left with nothing but their own bad actions. Although exacting justice for herself would interfere with Clarissa’s spotless selflessness, she allows her death to open the door for her.

As the novel moves toward its close, some characters come into new prominence—namely, Belford, Morden, and, to a lesser extent, Hickman. Belford, as we have seen, becomes a major character after Clarissa’s rape: having been her advocate and, later, her confidante, he will also represent her after death as executor of her will. Belford is the positive counterpart to Lovelace; he’s an example of a rake who can change, given a proper influence. Inspired by Clarissa’s experiences, Lovelace’s depravity, and by the tragedy of his friend Belton, Belford redeems himself to become a model of reform. Morden, a remote presence in the novel until this section, furthers this representation of the reformed rake. Clarissa has been waiting for him all along, and, when he does arrive, it’s clear that, although presumably a good person, he is not very different from Lovelace. The warnings he gives about rakes come from his own experience, and he and Lovelace recognize each other as kindred spirits even though they meet in an adversarial context. Perhaps Morden represents what Lovelace would be if he reformed.

Morden emerges as a model of a brave and generous man and he is the only person who is able to have any effect on the Harlowes. He does this by refusing to be moved by them. While he listens to their stories and believes them at first, he will not take their position for granted, and so he confronts Lovelace to learn the real story. He regards Clarissa as innocent until proven guilty in a way that they do not, and he is willing to extend an olive branch to her even if she has fallen. Hickman’s rise to prominence is less marked than that of the preceding characters, but by appearing for the first time outside of Anna’s letters, Hickman in some way comes into his own. Lovelace finds Hickman ridiculous, but everyone else, including Belford, is impressed by his decency and gentility. Belford, Morden, and Hickman emerge as the men who will carry Clarissa’s legacy into the future.

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