Skip over navigation

Clarissa

Samuel Richardson

Letters 274–332

Letters 243–273

Letters 333–396

Summary

Lovelace intercepts a letter from Anna, who expresses puzzlement at learning from Mrs. Townsend, who arrived at Mrs. Moore’s ready to rescue Clarissa, that Clarissa has gone back to Mrs. Sinclair’s. She asks for an explanation of her behavior, hinting that if Clarissa has given up her fight against Lovelace, but is not married to him, their friendship must be at an end. Lovelace does not give the letter to Clarissa. She demands that he let her go away, but he convinces her to stay until the following Thursday, when her uncle is supposedly coming to see her married. Clarissa thinks her uncle’s arrival will allow her to throw herself into his protection, so she agrees to the plan.

Unable to make any progress with Clarissa through love or gentleness, Lovelace goes back to his tricks and puts Dorcas’s note to effect. He pretends to find it and to be enraged, drawing his sword on Dorcas and shouting at her for betraying his trust. There is a great commotion, with all of the whores and servants adding to the fuss. Dorcas runs to Clarissa’s door for help, and when she steps outside, her natural majesty awes everyone into silence. She chastises Lovelace for the contrivance and excoriates the women, whom she now recognizes as whores, for the parts they have played in her downfall. Clarissa threatens to go to the law for vengeance. This frightens the women, and they pretend to take Clarissa’s side.

Lovelace advances on Clarissa, begging forgiveness, but she is frightened and thinks he is going to rape her again. She holds a penknife to her chest and is ready to kill herself, but Lovelace, terrified himself, retreats. He admits that it had been his original design to force her back to her bedroom and see if he could complete the plan that her unconsciousness had made impossible before. Having failed, and seeing Clarissa’s power, he finally gives up the cohabitation scheme and tells Belton he will really marry her. He leaves for M. Hall to tend after Lord M.

He writes pleading letters to Clarissa, asking her to return only four words to say she will marry him on Thursday. She will not answer. Lovelace keeps four messengers in constant motion to keep up the flow of letters to Clarissa. His uncle seems about to die. He asks Belford to visit Clarissa and intercede for him, but Belford refuses because he doubts Lovelace’s honesty. He then asks Tomlinson to go to Clarissa, which he does but finds that she has escaped. At this point, Belford and another friend, Mowbray, are at Mrs. Sinclair’s, trying to make sense of the matter. Clarissa had offered to give the maid Mabel some of her clothes, and while they were changing had taken Mabel’s clothes and left the house in them. Those at the house had been deceived, as they could see her only from the back, and it takes a while before the mixup is discovered. Clarissa is not to be found.

Lovelace writes in distress that Clarissa must be found and that he will marry her as soon as he can. He also mentions his disappointment that his uncle is recovering. Clarissa writes a barely coherent letter to Anna, saying she has escaped again but hinting that she has been ruined. In her confused state, Clarissa forgets to send the letter to the false name and address they’ve been using, so Mrs. Howe gets ahold of it. She writes a scathing letter in return, forbidding her to communicate with Anna and moralizing on the costs of disobedience to parents. Clarissa writes back meekly, asking for news of Anna’s health, since Lovelace’s forged letter had claimed that an illness prohibited Anna from writing. Clarissa also writes to Hannah, asking her to come see her, and to Mrs. Norton to ask whether Mr. Harlowe might be willing to lift the curse on his daughter, which she says has already been fulfilled on earth. Mrs. Norton replies that her family is still unforgiving. Clarissa writes to Lady Betty and to her uncle’s housekeeper to find out the truth about Lovelace’s tricks. They confirm that Lovelace had been lying.

Anna sees the letter that had been intercepted by her mother and blames Clarissa for her ruin. She asks Clarissa to clear up the story if she can. Clarissa says she did not receive the letters Anna mentions and explains as much as she knows about how she was deceived. Anna laments Clarissa’s horrible fate and encourages her to prosecute Lovelace. Clarissa declares that she’s dying, and Anna beseeches Clarissa not to give way to her sorrow. Clarissa refuses to go to court, saying she could not bear to repeat her story in public and that all appearances are against her, as it may seem she had voluntarily run off and lived with Lovelace before the rape.

Lovelace is in despair, saying he cannot see beauty in any other woman. Nevertheless, he pretends to be cheerful and saucy when his aunt and cousin confront him with his deception, and he seems to enjoy his ability to manipulate them. He convinces them to help him marry Clarissa. They decide to appeal to Anna for help, and when they visit her, Anna agrees with them that marrying Lovelace is Clarissa’s best option. She encourages Clarissa to consider it, but before she gets any reply, she also writes to Lovelace’s cousin, Charlotte Montague, frantically inquiring about Clarissa, who has disappeared from her lodgings. Lovelace discovers that the whores, thinking they were acting for his benefit, had Clarissa arrested for money owed them from her past lodgings at Mrs. Sinclair’s. Lovelace frantically implores Belford to hurry to the prison and get Clarissa out and also to clear him of involvement in this plot. He gets his aunts and cousins to sign onto a letter to Anna, explaining his innocence in this episode.

Analysis

Clarissa continues to show her power as she defeats Lovelace’s attempt to rape her by seeing through his trick, awes him and his minions with her dignity, and is ready to kill herself to avoid dishonor. He is finally vanquished, swearing that he will marry Clarissa at last. Clarissa also succeeds in making and carrying out a clever plan for escape, and for the first time she avoids capture in Lovelace’s web. Although she writes to Anna in confusion and makes a mistake by sending it into the reach of Mrs. Howe, Clarissa prevails with them without any pleading or lamenting: she writes to them with dignity and tells her story without sniveling. She blames herself for her rashness in writing to Lovelace in the first place and in leaving her parents’ house, but she gives Lovelace his full share of blame for his villainous trickery.

Thinking she is going to die soon, Clarissa is free from any hope or desire other than the lifting of her father’s curse. Because the curse included a wish for her punishment in the afterlife, and because Clarissa thinks the part of it that applied to living life had been completely accomplished, she is terrified of it.

As Clarissa gains in power, Lovelace loses his. His tricks no longer work on her, not even when he has all the whores of Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel helping him. She at last manages to successfully escape from him, and his barrage of pleading letters has no effect, even though they are for the first time in earnest. Belford, his best friend, refuses a request from him, and Clarissa reveals his cruel tricks to his own family. Lovelace loses his coming inheritance when Lord M. gets well again, and, most strikingly, his own contrivances begin to work against him when Mrs. Sinclair and her whores launch Clarissa’s arrest. His star is fading quickly, and nothing seems to be working in his favor.

This section reconfigures the allegiances and connections between the novel’s characters; all now finally seem to be stepping forward on Clarissa’s behalf. Belford is now unambiguously on Clarissa’s side and refuses to help Lovelace. The whores, previously Lovelace’s assistants in crime, are now unintentionally working against him. Clarissa, previously intimidated by Lovelace’s family, contacts Lady Betty directly and explains her case. Lovelace’s family is still willing to help him, but only to do Clarissa justice, and in collaboration with Anna Howe. Mrs. Norton and Hannah reappear as Clarissa’s still-faithful friends. Clarissa’s family remains on the edges of the scene, unchanged in their obstinacy. Nevertheless, the balance of allegiances has shifted from Lovelace’s corner to Clarissa’s.

Nevertheless, Clarissa is the real loser in the eyes of the world; her will may be inviolate and her virtue pure, but she is still a ruined woman. Anna’s and Mrs. Howe’s initial responses to her reveal this: although they are eventually won over, even Clarissa’s best friend and her mother reject her at first. That Anna, especially, would be so ready to condemn her best friend, whose virtue she has never doubted, shows just how serious was the situation of a woman who was raped. Clarissa’s only respectable option would be to immediately marry her rapist, which would bind her to a man who had committed an unspeakable violence against her. It is implied that anyone but Clarissa would have done this if she had the chance—that is, if the rapist would consent to marriage. Clarissa’s refusal to marry Lovelace is evidence of her exceptionality: She will remain pure, but as a consequence she will have no chance of worldly happiness.

Clarissa and Anna both suggest the legal system as a possible avenue for justice. Clarissa threatens Lovelace with it before his second rape attempt, and although it has no effect on Lovelace, it does scare the whores. Their livelihood depends on insulation from the legal system, so Clarissa could easily bring down their establishment. Anna recommends prosecution as a way to keep Lovelace from hurting any other women—including Anna, who knows Lovelace has reason to take revenge on her. Clarissa will not do it, however, as her delicacy recoils at the public nature of the trial, just as it did when Anna suggested that Clarissa make a legal claim for her estate. Furthermore, Clarissa recognizes how well Lovelace has protected himself. Every appearance is against Clarissa, and the only witnesses to the reality of the situation are on his side. Lovelace shows no fear of the law, but he is clearly aware of it enough to protect himself by manipulating the evidence of his crime.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us