I have time for a few lines preparative to what is to happen in an hour or two; and I love to write to the moment—
Lovelace writes this to Belford at eleven o’clock on the night when he is planning to rape Clarissa. It is not the night on which he actually does rape Clarissa; the fire incident intervenes. The theme of “writing to the moment” is extremely important for Richardson. The epistolary form enhances the novel’s realism by representing events with an immediacy that is impossible in narrative. A traditional narrative always has the benefit of hindsight, and often of narratorial omniscience; while letters express the true experiences of people who do not know what is about to happen or what other people are thinking.
In this instance, Lovelace’s to-the-moment writing also acts as a device for increasing suspense and drama: we see the rapist as he prepares for his crime and watch as he struggles with his heart and conscience. It should be noted that there is also something ridiculous about this immediacy: do rapists really sit down to write before they attack? Richardson’s parodists picked up on this idea; in Shamela, for instance, Fielding depicts Shamela writing a letter while she lies in bed and is groped by Mr. B.