Insofar as he fulfills a type, Lovelace is the novel’s villain. He also represents the dark underside of the aristocracy, which allows amoral young men to run riot over the country, ruining women as they go. Lovelace blames his wickedness on his mother’s overpermissiveness; neither as a child nor in adulthood has anything stood between Lovelace and his desires. He also cites a past heartbreak as the source of his malice toward women and, although at times he seems capable of truly loving Clarissa, it is this anger and distrust that encourages his vicious behavior.
Lovelace’s admirable qualities are representative of the aristocracy. He is a generous landlord. He is exceptionally brave, with a code of honor that is more chivalrous than civil; he operates in the arena of the duel rather than of the courtroom. He is a wonderful writer, learned in classics as well as European literature. He enjoys constructing elegant arguments for ridiculous or wicked things. Like his contrivances, these exercises show the great skill and talent that Lovelace directs toward his bad purposes. As a representative of the aristocracy, Lovelace shows how exceptional talent is wasted and becomes dangerous when not channeled in a useful way. Just before he dies, Lovelace imagines that he could have been happy if he had let Clarissa reform him, but throughout the novel he remains attached to his life of intrigue.