Clarissa writes to Solmes, telling him bluntly that she cannot like or esteem him, and accuses him of meanness and a lack of generosity if he continues to pursue her. Solmes writes back to say that her letter has only encouraged him. He is not insulted by being called selfish; he can see no reason why he should do anything just to make someone else happy. James finds out about the letter to Solmes and writes insultingly to Clarissa, telling her he will not open any letters she sends him because her “knack at letter writing” might complicate what should be a simple case of duty.
Lovelace is staying at an inn in a small town near Harlowe Place. The innkeeper has a pretty daughter whom Lovelace nicknames Rosebud. Rosebud’s grandmother beseeched Lovelace to be merciful to Rosebud—that is, not to seduce or rape her. Lovelace appreciates having his power recognized and says that he will spare the girl. He refuses to ruin a poor girl with no support to fall back on once he abandons her, and he is also concerned that his actions might get back to Clarissa. He decides that he will give Rosebud money so that she can get married and says that this good deed will balance out some of his sins.
Lovelace reveals that he is paying a Harlowe servant, Joseph Leman, to spy for him and to manipulate the family. Lovelace plans to sneak into Clarissa’s presence so he can judge her feelings for him. If he finds that he has no hope of her favor, he will simply abduct her: “That would be a rape worthy of Jupiter!”
Lovelace disguises himself and hides behind a woodpile so that he can catch Clarissa retrieving her letters from the hiding place. She is terrified, but he acts very respectfully and she is partially convinced of his good intentions. Anna teases Clarissa for pretending that she is not in love with Lovelace. Clarissa writes back in a series of letters that are continually interrupted by visits from family members and her old nurse, Mrs. Norton, who all try to convince her to marry Solmes. Clarissa evaluates Lovelace’s good and bad traits, finding plenty on each side, and admits that her family’s tyrannical opposition to him has made her like him more. She concludes that “were he now but a moral man, I would prefer him to all the men I ever saw.”
Mrs. Harlowe sends Clarissa an affectionate letter, including a list of the clothes and jewels Clarissa will be given on her marriage. Clarissa is affected by the kind tone of the letter and feels torn between duty and her sense of right. Arabella pays her a visit that becomes a battle of insults. Clarissa accuses Arabella of acting out of disappointed love. It is made clear that Arabella and James have plotted together to deprive Clarissa of her favored position and her grandfather’s estate. Mrs. Harlowe visits Clarissa, along with Aunt Hervey and Arabella. Arabella prevents her mother and aunt from softening toward Clarissa.
Anna writes a humorous letter about her feelings for Hickman and imagines what Hickman, Solmes, and Lovelace must have been like as children. She wonders why the prudent, sober men who would make good husbands cannot be as attractive and appealing as rakes. Lovelace unexpectedly visits Anna and asks her to help him win Clarissa over. Although he assures her of his love and his family’s support, his threats of revenge on the Harlowes convince Anna that he is a violent man, and she counsels Clarissa to claim her estate and become independent instead of marrying either Lovelace or Solmes.
After several more exchanges, the Harlowes decide that Clarissa should go to her Uncle Antony’s house, where Solmes will be able to visit her. Clarissa is terrified by the fact that the house is moated and has a chapel on the premises. She writes to James to ask whether the command came from him or her parents, as she does not feel compelled to obey her brother. They exchange several angry letters. Clarissa wishes that her cousin Morden, who is one of the trustees of her estate, would return from Italy so that he can help her claim her property. After several angry letters and interactions, Clarissa tries to calm herself by playing the harpsichord. She sets a poem, “Ode to Wisdom, by a Lady,” to music and copies the score to send to Anna. After calming down she writes to admonish Anna for treating Hickman disrespectfully.
Anna hears that Solmes has bragged about his ability to terrify a wife into obedience. She does not know how Clarissa can escape her situation but advises her not to go to her uncle’s, where she is likely to be forced into marriage. Mrs. Howe offers, through Anna, her advice about marriage. She says that marriages of convenience and duty are just as happy and usually happier than those founded on liking.
Solmes sends Clarissa a badly spelled letter asking if he can see her to share information about Lovelace. Clarissa refuses. She continues to plead with her family, offering to give up her estate and swearing to remain single for the rest of her life. Mrs. Harlowe refuses to open her letters, and her aunts and uncles tell her to stop writing to them. The exchange of letters between Clarissa and Lovelace continues, and after several refusals she agrees to meet him secretly at night. Clarissa asks if she can put off going to her uncle’s for two weeks, and this is agreed to on the condition that she accept a visit from Solmes. She writes to Lovelace to postpone her meeting with him. Lovelace responds with great indignation, and Clarissa is offended and demands that the correspondence be broken off.
On Anna’s advice, Clarissa sends her all of her letters, as well as some linen, to the Howes, in case she has to leave home suddenly. She cannot send clothes or jewels because that might arouse suspicion. Anna makes inquiries about Lovelace and finds out about the inn and his relations with Rosebud. Clarissa’s answer is clearly jealous, sarcastically referring to Rosebud as “this sweet pretty girl.” She speculates that Lovelace’s cold, gotten while waiting for her letters all night, is really a result of singing under Rosebud’s window. Clarissa says she despises Lovelace.
Anna meets with Rosebud and her father and reports to Clarissa that her suspicions about the young girl’s relationship with Lovelace were unfounded. Clarissa says that she will now respond to Lovelace’s letters. She chides him for his presumptions, insists that she is not denying Solmes for his sake, and criticizes his notorious aversion to marriage.
The Harlowes suddenly start treating Clarissa kindly. She suspects it is part of a plot involving her upcoming visit with Solmes. She hopes Mrs. Howe will take her in if she must leave home. Lovelace writes to express apprehension about the meeting with Solmes and to recommend several plans for escape. Clarissa responds that she would sooner die than marry Solmes, but she tells Lovelace not to take any rash steps.
On the morning of the appointment with Solmes, Clarissa is visited by her Aunt Hervey. It becomes clear that, since she has agreed to the meeting, Clarissa’s family assumes she will consider marrying him. She is terrified, but she takes heart when she sees how scared and ridiculous Solmes is. She asserts that she will not marry him and is abused by her brother and sister. At various points in the episode, Clarissa nearly faints or bursts into violent tears. She is comforted by her cousin Dolly and Arabella’s maid, Betty, the latter who had always treated Clarissa rudely but at this time offers a bit of information: Solmes would have given up his advances, but Mr. Harlowe, James, Arabella, and Uncle Antony had kept the tide from turning. While Clarissa is downstairs, her room is searched for letters, which she had just sent to Anna. She decides to hide pens and ink in various places, as these are also about to be taken from her.
In this section Clarissa’s aversion to Solmes is fleshed out. Not only is Solmes ugly, he is avaricious and cruel, and also a poor writer. Yet despite his bold statements that a fearful wife is a good wife, Solmes shows no such bluster when he actually encounters Clarissa. He is frightened and uncomfortable and, as Betty reports, willing to give up the plan. Once again the telling of the story in letters leaves room for speculation. The worst we know of Solmes, his profession that he will be a cruel husband, is by third-hand report: Anna writes what Mrs. Howe told her about what a friend heard Solmes say. We have two other levels of information about Solmes: his letters to Clarissa and his actions when she meets him (although those, too, come to us through the filter of Clarissa’s perception). In his letters, Solmes reveals himself to be ungenerous; he sees no reason to do anything for anyone else’s sake and does not care that he is making Clarissa miserable, because marrying her will advance his interests. When he appears in the Harlowe parlor, Solmes is so elaborately dressed that he looks foolish. He barely speaks at all, cringing in the background while the Harlowes fight with Clarissa. Clarissa seems to have good reasons for not marrying Solmes: he is selfish, cowardly, and possibly cruel.
These traits of Solmes contrast directly with Lovelace’s characteristics. Lovelace is, first of all, an excellent writer. For all his crimes he is always considered generous, and we are given an example in his treatment of Rosebud. And Lovelace is brave: our first introduction to him is in the context of a swordfight, and references to his boldness in the face of danger are frequently repeated. Lovelace is also very good-looking and dresses well—aspects of his character that Clarissa admits have some influence on at least her immediate opinion of him. In terms of class, Lovelace is a nobleman, who does not need to strive for money or prestige. Solmes is, like the Harlowes, an up-and-comer who has made money through business and is anxious to improve his wealth and status—which a marriage to Clarissa will help him do.
Lovelace’s intentions for Clarissa and the Harlowes are also fleshed out here: his goal is not simply to woo the woman he loves but also to cause trouble for her family. There is no doubt that Lovelace is intelligent, and he continues to reveal more about his “contrivances” that will eventually entrap Clarissa. Joseph Leman, whom he hires to spy on the Harlowes, not only tells Lovelace everything that is going on, he also follows Lovelace’s instructions to manipulate the family. It seems strange that Lovelace wants to turn the Harlowes against Clarissa, since it would be logical to assume that if they favored her more, they would be more inclined to support her decisions. Lovelace’s schemes indicate that he’s after more than just Clarissa’s heart.
Furthermore, Lovelace enjoys the intrigues and deceptions that allow him to exercise his intelligence. The reasoning behind the fake bribe exemplifies the complexity of Lovelace’s manipulations: First, it turns the family against Clarissa, making it more likely that she will seek protection from him. Second, by implying that Clarissa has no other way to send letters, it keeps the family from suspecting, and interfering with, the correspondence between Clarissa and Lovelace. Freed from the suspicion of correspondence, Clarissa will also be free to walk in the garden and to check for her letters in their hiding place, and Lovelace hopes he will be able to surprise her in one of these places. What he will do with these advantages is not entirely clear. Lovelace says that he does not intend a rape as long as he thinks he might win Clarissa over. It also seems clear that he does not intend to marry her. What he does want is to win the game with the Harlowes and get Clarissa into his power, despite their vigilance and her virtue.
The endless back-and-forth between Clarissa and her family over the question of marriage highlights the Harlowes’s own motives. James hates Lovelace, and he is paranoid that his old rival might sneak into the family. He therefore insists on Clarissa’s marriage to Solmes as insurance against a marriage to Lovelace. Another motive is his greed for money and status. While Solmes is not a nobleman, his money and land could help the Harlowe family move up the social ladder. James, as the only son, would benefit most from this. Arabella and James both resent Clarissa for her perfection and special place in the family, and her inheritance of their grandfather’s estate offends both their pride and exposes their avarice.
Arabella’s anger at Clarissa is specifically female anger: she, as her maid Betty reveals, spent some nights crying over Lovelace’s rejection, and she is determined that her sister should not have him either. Furthermore, with the beautiful Clarissa out of the way, Arabella—who is described as “plump”—would have much better chances for her own marriage.
Clarissa’s parents, aunts, and uncles, on the other hand, do not seem likely to be motivated by jealousy. Mr. Harlowe is described as money-grubbing like his son, so the marriage to Solmes is obviously appealing to him for this reason. But Lovelace is even richer, so that can’t be the only reason. Mr. Harlowe’s dominant trait is a bad-tempered authoritarianism. He is the head of the family, and will not stand to be contradicted by anyone in it. If his daughter refuses his command, she will be forced into it. Mrs. Harlowe is completely dominated by her husband and, in her role as a wife and mother, it is her social responsibility to keep peace in the household. So she acquiesces to him completely, and thus persecutes Clarissa against her will. The aunts and uncles vary in their approaches, but mostly profess solidarity with the parents and a rejection of the idea that a child’s will should determine her parents’ decisions.