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Clarissa hears from Anna that the Harlowes will not send her any clothes or money. They intend for her to suffer. Troubled by the circumstances of her escape, Clarissa confronts Lovelace and asks him how much of the event was premeditated. Lovelace boldly tells a story very close to the truth: he admits that he had employed Leman as a spy and told him to cry out if he saw anyone coming. Clarissa asks how, if someone was approaching the house, she had not seen them; Lovelace produces a letter from Leman explaining that a dog had startled him into yelling, and he had tried to follow them and let them know of the mistake. Lovelace also confesses that he had seen Clarissa’s letter and assumed it was a revocation, so he did not open it. Clarissa is shocked at the complexity of Lovelace’s contrivances, but Lovelace’s free confession of them, and his explanation that it was concern and love for her that prompted his actions, comfort her somewhat. Lovelace’s version of the story demonstrates his quick cunning: he reveals much of the wicked truth while appearing much less wicked than he really is.
Lovelace is now very agreeable to Clarissa. He seems impartial about her choice of where to go, makes generous offers, and promises to reform. Although much encouraged by Lovelace’s new attitude, Clarissa still doubts that she should marry him; however, she also wonders why Lovelace has not yet pursued the idea of marriage at all. Clarissa blames herself for her bad situation, saying she was too vain in hoping to remain an example of virtue.
Lovelace angers Clarissa by speaking disparagingly of her family, then he wins back her regard by showing her letters from his aunt and cousin. These women have very good reputations and high social standing, so Clarissa is concerned about their view of her. The letters express kindness toward Clarissa and admonish Lovelace to treat her well. Lovelace tricks her into deciding to go to London and agrees to write to a friend, Mr. Doleman, to ask about lodgings there. Doleman’s letter lists several available lodgings, and Clarissa picks what seem to be the best—the house of the widow Sinclair on Dover Street. Lovelace pretends indifference but exults to Belford that she has fallen into his trap again, implying that the house (which is not on Dover Street, and not owned by Mrs. Sinclair) is not as respectable as Doleman’s letter makes it seem.
Lovelace discovers that James Harlowe and his friend Captain Singleton are plotting to kidnap Clarissa. He makes light of it, but Clarissa is frightened. While she is in a state of confusion Lovelace suddenly proposes, knowing that she will not be able to accept in those circumstances. Leman writes to inform Lovelace that he may be prosecuted for the rape and abandonment of a woman named Miss Betterton, who had died in childbirth several years before. Lovelace tells Leman that this was a youthful folly and gives him instructions for turning the Singleton plot to his own ends. A letter from Belford disapproves of Lovelace’s actions and tells him to do justice to Clarissa.
Clarissa writes to her Aunt Hervey and receives a harsh reply, which indicates that the Harlowes had intended to stop their persecutions after the Wednesday trial meeting with Solmes. Clarissa is despondent, but things are about to get worse. She receives a letter from Arabella telling her that Mr. Harlowe has laid a curse on her, “that you may meet your punishment, both here and hereafter, by means of the very wretch in whom you have chosen to place your confidence.” Clarissa is most terrified at the extension of the curse into the afterlife. Anna tries to comfort her and sends money, which Clarissa returns. She writes that Lovelace has been very tender toward her in her distress and has finally made an earnest offer of marriage, although Clarissa could not accept it because of her agitation. Anna tells her to stop being ceremonious and get married at all costs.
Lovelace writes that he is about to be caught in his own web. Clarissa’s illness at the news of her father’s curse had frightened him into a genuine proposal, and he intends to marry Clarissa after all. But he continues to discuss his plots. He knows that James has abandoned the Singleton project but will continue to pretend it’s a threat in order to increase Clarissa’s dependence on him. He has enough doubts about marriage to leave himself loopholes. As he prepares to set out for London, Lovelace describes a battle with his roguish heart, which turns him away from his honest purposes. He reflects that it will probably be better for both him and Clarissa if they do not marry, since he will make a bad husband.
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