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Clarissa

Samuel Richardson

Letters 79–110

Letters 33–78

Letters 111–172

Summary

Clarissa’s pens, ink, and paper are taken away, but she continues to write with her concealed stash. Lovelace threatens to interfere if Clarissa is taken to her uncle’s and suggests that she run away to his relatives’ house. Anna writes that her mother has refused to take Clarissa in. She suggests that Clarissa sneak away to London, where she can hide until Cousin Morden arrives and offers to accompany her. Clarissa defends Mrs. Howe’s right to refuse her and blames herself for corresponding with Lovelace against her parents’ injunction. She refuses to consider Anna’s offer, but she asks if Anna could find her some transportation to London.

The Harlowes learn that Lovelace has assembled a band of armed men to waylay them if they take Clarissa to her uncle’s. They are incensed but decide not to go through with the plan. Instead, they order a license so Clarissa can be married in her own room on the following Wednesday. Seeing no way out, Clarissa writes to Lovelace that she will meet him Monday night near the summer house, and she brings the letter to Lovelace’s pick-up spot. But she is uneasy, and that night she has a dream in which Lovelace carries her to a churchyard, stabs her, and throws her into a grave in which other bodies are already decomposing. On waking she finds that Lovelace has taken her letter, and she wishes she could have gotten it back first.

Anna writes that she cannot find a way to get Clarissa to London. She insists that the duties of friendship compel Clarissa to accept her assistance. If Clarissa decides to go off with Lovelace instead, Anna recommends that she marry him immediately.

Lovelace writes that his cousin Charlotte, who was supposed to escort Clarissa in her escape, is ill. This, combined with Clarissa’s reflections on the difficulty of renouncing Lovelace if she goes away with him, leads her to write to Lovelace and cancel the plan. While all the other letters to Lovelace had been retrieved immediately, this one lies where she has left it until the day appointed for the escape. Dolly writes to Clarissa to warn her that she will be forced into marriage on Wednesday, but Clarissa decides to risk staying. Since Lovelace has still not retrieved the letter, Clarissa resolves to meet him as planned, fearing that if she does not, he will go into the house and cause trouble. She writes to Anna from her summer house at eleven o’clock. Her Aunt Hervey has come to see her there and tries to comfort Clarissa with mysterious hints that all might not be as bad as she thinks. The hour of the appointment comes as she is writing, and she notes that her lines are getting shaky. She runs to deposit the letter before Lovelace arrives.

Her next letter, dated Tuesday morning, is written from a nearby town, St. Albans. It gives little information, but Clarissa blames herself for doing “a rash, an inexcusable thing, in meeting him” and asks Anna to send her linens. Anna is aghast at what Clarissa has done but says she loves her still and offers any help she can give. The letter is interrupted by the arrival of two young women at the Howe residence, apparently bearing the gossip about Clarissa’s elopement.

Clarissa writes to fill in the details of her flight: She meets Lovelace and tells him of the change in her plans. He breathlessly tells her that they must run, or that they will be discovered any moment. He will not let go of her hand and draws her out of the gate. They argue back and forth for some time, when finally Clarissa decides to turn back and call off the plan. She goes to re-enter through the gate when there is a commotion inside, followed by shouts about guns and pistols. (It’s later learned that the commotion is created by Joseph Leman on Lovelace’s instruction). Terrified and confused, Clarissa runs with Lovelace to his chariot. In their lodgings at St. Albans, Clarissa is filled with remorse and suspects that she has been tricked.

Lovelace does not comply with his earlier agreement to lodge in a different place from Clarissa. He proposes marriage, but in such a way that Clarissa cannot accept without compromising her delicacy. He sends Belford a lengthy description of how Clarissa looked when she appeared at the garden gate and says he knew he had won the moment he heard the gate unbolt. He admits that he never intended to marry Clarissa, but he is angered by her haughty refusals of his half-offers.

Anna writes after hearing the news and excuses the rash step as Clarissa was “driven on one side, and possibly tricked on the other.” She reports that the Harlowes are claiming that the Wednesday setup with Solmes was to have been their last push for marriage, and if Clarissa had resisted they would have dropped their position. Anna is unsure whether Clarissa should marry Lovelace or attempt to run away from him and regain her estate. Clarissa writes that reconciliation with her family is her goal, and she will not marry or take any action that might jeopardize the possibility. Her hopes are pinned on the arrival of her cousin Morden.

Lovelace writes several letters describing his interactions with Clarissa at their lodgings. He is focused on maintaining her confidence until she is “safe” among his acquaintances in London. In his manipulations, he pretends to be uninterested in where she chooses to go: he compares Clarissa to a fly caught in his web.

Clarissa writes that she has been trying to avoid Lovelace, while he has insisted on her company. She is blunt with him regarding her unhappiness with the situation, blaming herself for meeting him, and him for luring her away. Lovelace is angry, but he eventually assumes bashfulness and asks Clarissa to marry him immediately. She is confused and silent, which he interprets as anger and promises not to bring up marriage anymore. Lovelace enjoys Clarissa’s confusion and distress and is pleased with his ability to manipulate her. But he sincerely admires Clarissa, especially as he witnesses her true purity and virtue, and debates with himself about whether he actually might marry her. However, he argues against the idea using his hatred of the Harlowes, his annoyance with Clarissa’s refusal to acknowledge her love for him, and his general aversion to what he calls “fetters” as suitable enough reasons. He resolves that he will make his treatment of Clarissa a trial of her virtue, and if she passes, he will marry her. This will be a test not only for Clarissa, he says, but for all females; if she passes it, she will prove that there is such a thing as incorruptible virtue.

Analysis

The main event in this section is Clarissa’s escape, although her choices and actions become more, not less, circumscribed as the novel continues. It is not only outside forces but also Clarissa’s punctiliousness that constrain her choices. At her parents’ house she has been mostly confined to her room with an impertinent maid watching over her and no writing implements at her disposal. After Mrs. Howe denies her sanctuary, Clarissa seemingly has nowhere to run, although one other option does remain: her inherited estate. Because she fears infringing upon her father’s wishes and further angering her family, Clarissa fails to take her one real refuge.

Clarissa is no match for the expert manipulations of Lovelace, although she is perceptive enough to have serious misgivings about him. She does not fully choose to run away; rather, his complex scheming forces her to. Clarissa’s gruesome nightmare is indicative of her fear and distrust, and although the situation still seems dire at home, she decides to risk staying with her family, despite Lovelace’s threats of harassment. However, once his plot is in motion, with Joseph Leman successfully following through with a staged commotion at the Harlowe house, Clarissa once again misses the chance to save herself.

Clarissa’s scruples play a role in entrapping her in others’ machinations. She could have remained inside instead of meeting Lovelace far from the house, but her sense of responsibility for the violence that might ensue leads her into his trap. There is, of course, the possibility that this is only an excuse, and Clarissa meets Lovelace because she wants to; she admits attraction to him, and he is the only person who seems willing to take action for her welfare. But this is simply speculation: although her actions might say otherwise, Clarissa’s words give no clear evidence.

Even though she has escaped and is no longer imprisoned in her bedroom, Clarissa is now bound by a new constraint: a spoiled reputation. No matter what happens, it will be assumed that Lovelace has seduced or raped her, and Clarissa will forever be a ruined woman—unless, of course, she marries him. But Clarissa’s punctilio interferes once again: she cannot abide the thought of marrying a wicked man, although she has some hope that Lovelace may reform and will consent to marry him if he does. Lovelace skillfully manipulates Clarissa’s misgivings, making it appear that she is refusing to marry him while in fact the decision is in his hands.

Lovelace’s decision to put Clarissa’s virtue on trial points to Clarissa’s position as an exemplar. Assumed to be the most perfect of women, Clarissa is called upon to stand trial for the entire sex. According to Lovelace’s theory, if she cannot maintain her virtue under his battery, female virtue must be essentially corruptible. Furthermore, Clarissa’s exemplarity makes her a tempting target for challenge-loving men like Lovelace. If he can corrupt her, he can do anything.

In this society, a woman’s chances of maintaining her virtue are incredibly slim. First, she is physically weak and socially confined. In addition, her education and upbringing are calculated to protect her innocence, not to prepare her for the cunning nature of rakes like Lovelace. Indeed, as we have seen, Clarissa’s senses of decorum and duty have helped Lovelace to imperil her virtue. The definition of virtue is also brought to the surface here. For women, virtue is simply chastity. Even if a woman is raped, she loses her virtue, as rape and seduction are not regarded as very different things. Rape, in this view, is a part of seduction, so a raped woman must have allowed herself to be seduced.

Once Clarissa and Lovelace are in the same place, experiencing the same events, the dynamic of their letters changes. In previous sections there was some tension between Lovelace’s designs and Clarissa’s experience, but now they are in direct contact, so the letters build a sense of dramatic irony (that is, the reader knows more than the characters). Because we are privy to Lovelace’s plans and manipulations, it is clear that Clarissa’s interpretations are often wrong, and that, although she is resistant, she still succumbs to Lovelace’s traps.

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