Study Questions and Essay Topics
1. What are Clarissa’s views on marriage? Do they match those of the other characters? What defines the feminine sphere? What the masculine? How do the spheres overlap?
2. Clarissa twice declines to seek help from the law: she refuses to litigate for her estate, and she will not prosecute Lovelace. Why does she resist the legal system in this way? More generally, what roles do law, legal systems, and legal metaphors play in the text?
3. Clarissa is often associated with the beginnings of realism in literature. To what extent is the novel realistic?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Clarissa pits an exemplary woman against a vicious libertine. How did Clarissa get to be so exemplary? How did Lovelace get to be such a rake? Who educated them, and how?
2. Clarissa bills itself as a lesson for parents and children. How are parenting and family life portrayed in the text? What kind of familial philosophy does it promote, and what kind does it criticize?
3. Clarissa’s most defining characteristic is unimpeachable virtue. What does virtue mean in her case? Is it the same as morality, or ethics? Are there different standards of virtue for different characters?
4. How are gender divisions marked in Clarissa? Is Clarissa an example for all human beings, or just women?
5. Is Clarissa Harlowe a tragic hero? Why or why not?
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!