The doctor and apothecary take leave of Clarissa, not expecting to see her again. Anna is about to set out for London but waits for Clarissa’s answer before she does. Clarissa is too weak to write but dictates a letter telling Anna to rejoice in the joy Clarissa is heading for. Morden visits Clarissa and Belford escorts him to her room, describing the tableau he sees there. Clarissa is dressed in white, asleep in a chair, leaning on Mrs. Lovick (a fellow lodger at the Smiths’) so that the cheek pressed against her is flushed, while the other is already as pale as death. Morden is horrified by her condition. Clarissa takes a miniature of Anna from around her neck and asks that it be sent to Hickman.
Lovelace is riding back and forth, awaiting word on Clarissa from messengers. He demands news. Belford sends a short and cryptic note, and Mowbray, who has joined Lovelace on Belford’s orders, writes back because Lovelace is incapable. Mowbray, completely insensitive and wondering what all the fuss is about, describes Lovelace’s frenzy upon reading the note. Belford sends the details of Clarissa’s death. She spent her last moments expressing gratitude to God and sending final messages to her friends. Finally she blessed everyone and died with the words, “Oh come—blessed Lord—Jesus!”. Shortly after her death, letters arrive from the Harlowes to tell Clarissa that she is to be welcomed back into the family. Mrs. Norton arrives to see Clarissa, but of course it is too late.
Belford begins his job as executor. Clarissa has asked to be buried at her grandfather’s feet, so her corpse is prepared for the journey. Locks of hair are to be given to Morden, Mrs. Norton, Anna, and Mrs. Harlowe. She has also written eleven letters to be distributed after her death to the important people in her life. They both beg and extend forgiveness to each person and ask each to rejoice in her ascension. One of the letters is to Lovelace, fulfilling the promise she had made in her allegorical letter. Belford tells Lovelace about it but does not send it, doubting that Lovelace could bear to read it. He tells Lovelace that Mrs. Sinclair has broken her leg and is in danger of death from infection as a result. In great pain and fear she has sent to beg Clarissa’s forgiveness.
Lovelace writes in a delirium. He commands that Clarissa be embalmed and her heart given to him. He requests a lock of her hair. He forbids Belford and Morden from interfering with her and demands a copy of her will as well as all of her papers. He calls her “my Clarissa Lovelace.” Belford instructs Mowbray to pacify Lovelace with a false lock of hair. He writes to Lovelace and describes the horrible scene at Mrs. Sinclair’s house. She, more monstrous then ever and terrified of death, was howling like an animal. Her whores surrounded her, half-dressed and with their makeup disgustingly streaked. Doctors decide to amputate her leg, more as an experiment than with any hope of saving her life. Belford reflects on the horrors of the whorehouse and the viciousness of the men who send women there. He blames the idea that “a reformed rake makes the best husband” for tricking so many women into this situation.
The Harlowe family is shattered, blaming each other and Lovelace. The corpse arrives amid much ceremony. The servants and poor people of the village pay their respects to Clarissa, as do most of the family, but Mr. and Mrs. Harlowe cannot stand to look in the casket. Anna arrives to see Clarissa. She will not see any of the Harlowes. She kisses Clarissa and, on seeing the emblems on the coffin, immediately understands their meaning. The funeral is held. Solmes is lurking, half-hidden, at the back, in tears.
The Harlowes make some trouble about Belford’s role as executor, insisting that the family should execute the will. Belford insists on following Clarissa’s instructions, and Morden backs him. The will is included in his letter. It includes a large provision for the support of the poor. It also specifies that Belford should collect her letters and arrange them to tell her story. The family is not content with some of Clarissa’s allocations but they eventually agree to follow her instructions.
Belford writes to Lord M., encouraging him to get Lovelace out of the country before anyone seeks vengeance. He agrees. Belford finally sends Lovelace Clarissa’s letter to him. She blames him for her misery but says she is now happy and urges him to reform and repent. He is moved and tormented by his conscience, but in his next letter to Belford he is ashamed of these feelings. He says he has taken his uncle’s suggestion to go traveling and is preparing to leave England. News arrives about Tomlinson. He had been caught in one of his criminal schemes and died in jail, repenting for his behavior to Clarissa. Belford is beginning his reform. He has made amends to some people he had injured in his wilder days. Lovelace mocks him for this and doubts he will be able to keep it up once faced with temptation. He also blames Belford for not rescuing Clarissa, saying his loyalty as a friend should not have stopped him from preventing such an awful crime.
Belford writes to Morden to dissuade him from taking vengeance on Lovelace. Clarissa’s posthumous letter to her cousin asked the same thing, and Morden agrees to comply with her wishes. Lovelace leaves for France, saying he will reform when he gets back. Morden leaves for the Continent as well, and at their parting he and Belford name each other as executors. Joseph Leman sends a letter to Lovelace, warning him that Morden might attack him. Lovelace writes to Morden to ask his purpose. Belford notes the irony of Leman, Lovelace’s puppet, being perhaps the instrument of Lovelace’s fall. He asks Lovelace to avoid Morden in order to respect Clarissa’s memory. Morden writes back to Lovelace and fixes a place and time to meet. Lovelace, on his way there, writes Belford a repentant letter, blaming his contrivances for standing in the way of his happiness. He imagines what a good wife Clarissa would have been. He asks Belford to be his executor.
Morden and Lovelace meet at Trent. Lovelace is confident of victory in the duel, but he resolves not to kill Morden if he can help it. The next letter is from Lovelace’s French valet. He describes the duel: Morden had fatally wounded Lovelace, and afterward they had spoken to each other in French. Morden admitted that he may regret this vengeance and says he would not have taken it if he had not received the letter from Lovelace. Lovelace said fate must have been directing their actions. Lovelace is delirious for a while before he dies, and he finally says the word “Blessed—” then, “LET THIS EXPIATE!” After his death Lovelace’s valet has his body emboweled and put in a vault until he hears from England what to do with it.
The Conclusion is not a letter, but it is labeled “supposed to be written by Mr. Belford.” It summarizes the fates of the remaining characters. Mr. and Mrs. Harlowe both died within three years of Clarissa. James married, against his parents’ wishes, a woman of good family but bad personality. The woman’s property turned out to be contested, and James was embroiled in lawsuits for the rest of his life. Arabella married a man with a title, who married her only for her money and was unfaithful to her. The marriage also caused a rift between Arabella and James, because the latter thought the marriage settlements were unfair. They became each other’s worst tormenters. Mowbray and Tourville were shocked enough by Lovelace’s death to move into the country and live quietly. After Sinclair’s death Sally and Polly managed the house until a man was killed there and they had to go work at another house. There, Sally died of a fever and Polly of a cold. Anna, after mourning for six months, married Hickman, and they are happy together. They named their first daughter Clarissa. Belford reformed successfully, married Lovelace’s cousin Charlotte, and raised a son who eventually inherited Lord M.’s estate, which was formerly promised to Lovelace himself.
In the Postscript, Richardson addresses letters he had received before the completion of Clarissa, which begged for a happy ending. He explains that Christianity mandates a different ending than would poetic justice, and that in a Christian parable the justice must take place in heaven, not on earth. He includes a lengthy passage by Joseph Addison that discusses the uses of tragedy. Finally, Richardson notes that some people had complained about the novel’s length and slow pace, but he insists that he was under “a necessity to be very circumstantial and minute” in order to write realistically. He concludes that if the novel is a good one, the length can only add to the reader’s pleasure.
The end of Clarissa is reminiscent of the end of a tragic play, in which the curtain closes on a stage littered with bodies. Within this section, Clarissa, Mrs. Sinclair, Tomlinson, and Lovelace die, and the conclusion notes the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Harlowe, Sally, and Polly. The poetic justice represented by each death is made explicit, often commented on by Belford. Clarissa’s death is a solemn but glorious event: She is well prepared for it, having spent the previous several weeks contemplating the state of her soul, endeavoring to forgive those who have hurt her, and putting her earthly affairs in order. She dies painlessly, surrounded by people who love and admire her, embracing death as the opening of a wonderful new life.
In explicit contrast to Clarissa’s angelic transcendence, Mrs. Sinclair’s death finds her howling and looking like a beast. Her death is about the body, while Clarissa’s is about the soul, and surrounding Mrs. Sinclair are not loving admirers but disgusting whores and careless doctors. She is tortured by pain, which is increased by an unnecessary amputation, as well as by terror of hell and her inability to obtain forgiveness for her treatment of Clarissa. Where Clarissa had plenty of time to prepare for death, Mrs. Sinclair has far too little, although she lingers in horrible pain for a long time. Her sins are too extreme, and although she wants to repent and beg forgiveness of God, she finds herself unable. Tomlinson’s death is a minor event in the text, but it amplifies the lesson: he, too, dies friendless, in pain and ignominy, wishing for Clarissa’s forgiveness.
Lovelace’s death provides another example of poetic justice, but beyond this it encodes several main themes of the text. Formally, the duel between Lovelace and Morden mirrors the duel between Lovelace and James that began the novel. In this case, Lovelace goes abroad, not knowing that his friends have encouraged this to get him out of harm’s way. His death therefore occurs on foreign soil, representing his position as a wanderer cast out of his home. He meets Morden there as a result of a series of accidents: Morden did not go abroad to seek Lovelace, but rather to escape England in the wake of Clarissa’s death; however, he is there, indirectly, because of Lovelace’s actions. As Belford points out, it is fitting that Lovelace’s instrument, Leman, should be the one who brings about his death; Lovelace is caught in his own web.
A duel is an act of honor and chivalry, rather than one of violence or brutality. While much of the novel has revolved around tropes of civil law (the idea of the trial, the threats of litigation), this scene shifts into the older code of chivalry. Duels were illegal in England at this time (perhaps another reason this one takes place on the Continent), but this extralegal system of justice has resonances of gallantry and romance that are absent from the court system. Lovelace and Morden speak in French, the language of chivalry; they treat each other with manly respect. Lovelace accepts his death as a just vengeance, and Morden agrees with him but is nevertheless sorrowful and expects that he will regret the action.
Lovelace’s last words parallel Clarissa’s: they both speak the word blessed, neither specifying what is blessed. Clarissa, it is implied, is referring to divinity; she might mean “blessed God” or “blessed mercy.” Lovelace, delirious up to this point, gives us less context, but he is more likely referring to Clarissa herself. Clarissa’s final word is Jesus, implying that she sees him and is ascending to heaven. Lovelace says “let this expiate.” The “this” might apply to his death itself, but it might also refer to his descent to hell. It is perhaps Lovelace’s eternal suffering that will expiate his sins against Clarissa.
One of the more gratifying instances of poetic justice is in the case of Belford, who during the course of the novel undergoes a transformation from rake to gentleman—the plan Clarissa had intended for Lovelace. In the end, it is Belford who learns all the intended lessons of the story: he has renounced the immoral lifestyle of rakes and has become Clarissa’s closest and most helpful confidante. In turn, he marries Charlotte Montague, Lovelace’s well-heeled and respected cousin, and has a son who eventually inherits Lord M.’s estate. As a result of Belford’s reform and good character, he has reaped the riches formerly promised to Lovelace, including his uncle’s inheritance and the admiration of Clarissa. The final excerpt of the novel is not an epistle but Belford’s direct narration: he has surpassed Lovelace even in the written word.
In the Postscript, Richardson directly responds to criticisms of Clarissa’s tragic conclusion, in particular the perceived lack of justice for the story’s characters. Readers wished for their beloved Clarissa to achieve her due reward while still alive, and for the villains to be appropriately punished on earth for their sins. However, Richardson offers his own interpretation of Clarissa’s purpose, which is “to inculcate upon the human mind, under the guise of an amusement, the great lessons of Christianity.” He believes that Lovelace’s fate is determined by a series of ironies that are perhaps more brutal than any physical punishment. Lovelace achieves an end that is unintentionally set into motion by his own cohorts: Mrs. Sinclair, who helped drug Clarissa before the rape; Sinclair’s whores, who had Clarissa arrested; and Joseph Leman, who provoked Lovelace’s fatal duel with Morden. And a true Christian will agree, Richardson suggests, that Clarissa’s redemption in heaven makes a better ending than any kind of earthly happiness could. Richardson’s definition of poetic justice is therefore directly linked with the principles of Christianity, as opposed to superficial, earthly retribution.
Richardson also discusses the moral superiority of tragedy. He quotes an extensive passage from a Joseph Addison essay in the Spectator explaining that “the principal design of tragedy is to raise commiseration and terror in the minds of the audience,” thus inspiring them to be modest, merciful, and fearful of earthly misfortunes. He notes how well Clarissa performs its moral purpose, giving each character the life he or she deserves, including Lovelace, with whom many readers tended to sympathize. In response to their sympathies for his great antagonist, he quotes Rene Rapin, who argues that while tragedy provokes fear and compassion for the good characters who suffer misfortune, it calls for a different moral response when a despicable character reaches a tragic end: “there is an injustice in being moved at the afflictions of those who deserve to be miserable.” Therefore, any readers who sympathize with Lovelace, the irrefutable villain of Clarissa, are misinterpreting Richardson’s intention.