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Belford goes to the prison and is appalled by the situation.
Clarissa had been accosted in the street on her way out of church
and, despite her fear of the strange men, is forced to go with them
into a carriage. Sally Martin had been waiting at the officer’s
house that serves as a prison, and she accuses Clarissa of trying
to cheat Mrs. Sinclair out of £150 she owed
for her lodging. She mocks Clarissa, frequently calling her “Miss”
and pointing out that she is not married. Clarissa refuses any food
or drink and also refuses to write to any of her friends for the
money. She insists that she will not see any man.
Polly and Sally offer to bring her back to Mrs. Sinclair’s
and, while Clarissa is at their mercy, she will not treat them politely,
and they are rude to her in return. She at first refuses to see
Belford because he is a man, but the jailers let him into her room.
Belford writes an extremely detailed description of the squalid,
run-down room, with Clarissa, all in white, kneeling in a corner
of it with her Bible. He notes that somehow her linen is as white
as ever even though she would not have been able to change it. Belford
eventually gains her trust and she goes with him back to her lodgings.
She is very ill and weak.
Dr. H., recommended by Belford, visits Clarissa. She has
no money but insists on paying him, so she gives her landlady a
diamond ring in exchange for a loan. Unable to write, she dictates
a letter to be sent to Anna. Belford visits Clarissa at her lodgings
and pleads for Lovelace. She convinces him that she does not hate
Lovelace, and sincerely wishes for his reformation, but she maintains that
she will never see him again. Belford calls her an angel and asks Lovelace
how he could have treated her as he did. Clarissa begins to feel
better and is grateful for her comfortable, safe situation and for the
paternal treatment of Dr. H. Belford goes to visit Belton, who is dying,
and he reflects again upon the folly of the rakish life, resolving
to reform and marry if he can, and attributing the resolution to Clarissa’s
influence on him. Clarissa sells some of her clothes so that she
can pay for her expenses.
Hickman visits Lovelace in order to ascertain his earnestness about
marrying Clarissa. Lovelace mocks his formality and seriousness,
and he shocks Hickman by saying that Clarissa has in fact left him
for another suitor. Lovelace then reveals that the suitor is Death.
Hickman leaves disconcerted but convinced that Lovelace is serious.
Mrs. Smith, the owner of Clarissa’s new accommodation,
asks Clarissa and Belford to join her and her husband in celebrating
their anniversary. Clarissa will not, and she takes the occasion
to relate her story to the people of the house. Everyone is convinced
that she is an angel.
Clarissa writes to Arabella to ask her to intercede with
their father. Unbeknownst to Clarissa, Anna also writes to Arabella
to tell her of Clarissa’s dangerous condition. An exchange of insulting
letters between the two follows. Arabella shows the offensive letters
to Mrs. Harlowe, who in turn sends them to Mrs. Howe, who writes back
in apology. Anna writes to encourage Clarissa to marry Lovelace,
now that she is convinced of his earnestness and his innocence of
the arrest. Clarissa writes that she believes in both his earnestness and
innocence, but she will still not marry Lovelace, saying she has more
pleasure in thinking of death than of a husband. Mrs. Norton writes
and tells Clarissa that the Harlowes would have extended favor to
her before Anna’s letters angered them. Clarissa chides Anna for
taking such freedoms with her family. She writes again to Arabella
Her health worsens. Belford sends Lovelace a “meditation” Clarissa
has written, composed of lines from the Bible. He is impressed by
Clarissa’s equanimity in the face of death, especially when he compares
it to Belton’s terror. Hickman visits Clarissa, and Belton is impressed
Lovelace attends a ball where he knows he will meet Anna
and Hickman. Anna had shown her fury at him, snapping her fan in
his face. Mrs. Howe and the rest of their acquaintances, however,
are convinced by Lovelace’s protestations of repentance and think
Clarissa should marry him. Clarissa again explains her reasons for
refusing and, finally, Anna is convinced. She relays Clarissa’s
answer to Lovelace’s relations, who have been waiting for it. Anna
tells Clarissa she should write down her story as a service to the
young women who might read it.
Lovelace suspects that Clarissa’s ill health might be
due to pregnancy. He is overjoyed at the thought, which would both
remove the threat of death and ensure that Clarissa would marry
Mrs. Norton tries to influence Clarissa’s mother in her
favor. Mrs. Harlowe replies that once again she is unable to change
anything, but that Mr. Harlowe has indeed revoked his curse. Clarissa
is grateful for this, although saddened by her mother’s distress,
as well as by a harsh reply from Arabella. In response to Anna’s
concerns, Clarissa writes that although she wants to die, she considers
it her duty to try to stay alive. Nevertheless, she begins making
arrangements for death. She decides that Belford will be her executor,
showing great trust in him. She also asks Belford to send her some
of Lovelace’s letters, so that she can compile a collection that
will reveal her story after she’s dead. Because Lovelace and Belford always
write to each other in a secret shorthand, Belford transcribes some
letters for her. Clarissa is glad to see that Lovelace preserved some
degree of decency as well as a strict honesty, and that the letters
will be able to fill the gaps left by hers.
Arabella writes another cruel letter, which has bad effects
on Clarissa’s health. In turn, she writes a humble letter to her
mother, imploring forgiveness. Lovelace’s family is convinced by
Clarissa’s reasoning and offers her an estate and an annuity as
some kind of recompense for Lovelace’s treatment. Clarissa is touched,
but she refuses. Lovelace is furious at Belford for giving Clarissa
his letters and also for accepting the commission as executor. He
is still intent on marrying Clarissa and threatens to visit her
if she will not answer a letter from him.
Lovelace and Belford are treading opposite tracks at this
point. As Belford begins to see the criminal life as both less happy
in life and horrific after death, Lovelace keeps defending his wicked
ways, fending off Belford’s moralizing with witticisms and insults. Although
his nature both as a man and as Lovelace’s friend make Clarissa
suspicious of him at first, Belford is admitted into her company
and becomes her friend and the executor of her will. Lovelace, having
finally recognized and resolved to do justice to Clarissa’s worth,
is kept away from her, although he complains that there is nothing
worth writing about in his life when she is out of it. He is more
possessive of her than ever, however, ranting at Belford when he
becomes Clarissa’s executor and insisting that only he, Lovelace, should
do anything for Clarissa.
Clarissa is wise to forbid a visit from Lovelace, as she
knows by this point that he is and has always been dominated by
wickedness. Whether Lovelace might have reformed had she let him
see her is unclear: Clarissa’s exceptional virtue had influenced
his libertine ways and, when with her. he had often claimed to want
reform. But, in truth, Lovelace has always regarded a reformed life
as a temptation, something to be fought against and rescued from.
At times the urge to be good is so strong it takes over Lovelace’s
body, causing him to reprimand his heart for jumping into his throat,
or his knees for trembling on his way to a wicked deed. The fact
that Lovelace is susceptible to virtue and has some natural inclination
for it makes him a much more execrable figure: he actually has to
fight himself to stay wicked, so he bears extra responsibility for
his character. Belford, on the other hand, was at one time just
as wicked as Lovelace, but he is completely redeemed in the eyes
of the novel by giving into Clarissa’s purifying power.
Clarissa’s assignment of Belford to executorship is important,
as by choosing him Clarissa is choosing the voice that will carry
her wishes and voice into the future. This shows great trust in
his faithfulness and attachment to her. Furthermore, the legal system
of eighteenth-century England was quite different from the one today,
and procedures like execution of wills were put into the hands of
family and friends, not lawyers (although Belford is, as it happens,
trained in the law). There were great possibilities for a person’s
will to be violated after her death, as shown by the Harlowe family’s
fight over Clarissa’s inheritance of her grandfather’s estate. The
executor had the job of making sure the terms of the will were fulfilled,
so it was important to choose one who was not only loyal and disinterested but
also had the power to enforce its stipulations. Anna, for example,
would have been unlikely to prevail with the Harlowe family if they
disagreed with any of Clarissa’s choices. Clarissa is acting prudently
by assigning this job to someone outside the family.
It is clear that Clarissa’s health is deteriorating, although
the reasons for this are vague. We might expect that Clarissa would
waste away from grief, but this is a realistic novel and people
have to die of something. The shocks she experiences,
especially the arrest, are blamed for her rapid decline, but the
more likely culprit is her refusal, or inability, to eat. Repeatedly
she turns down food, or tries to eat it and chokes. Even the prison
guards try to get her to eat something, afraid that she might die
on their watch. She insists that she cannot do it, but whether Clarissa
can or cannot eat is important; if she can, and is refraining, she
is killing herself, and she recognizes that this would be sinful.
Her life or death must be in God’s hands, so she accepts responsibility
for taking measures to keep herself alive. Yet it is never made
altogether clear that it is impossible for her to eat, or why it
might be so.
The extracts from Lovelace’s letters that Clarissa requests
from Belford begin the collection of letters that will eventually
tell Clarissa’s story, a story intended to help other young women
in similar situations. That Clarissa’s tragedy becomes a universal
lesson for others reinforces her role as an exemplar and suggests
that her story, like her presence, will have a good influence on
people. In asking Belford for Lovelace’s letters, Clarissa explains
that her narrative is incomplete because she does not actually know
the whole story; Lovelace’s letters will fill in the gaps.
In detailing this quest to compile their correspondences,
Richardson gives an explanation for Clarissa—that
is, for the collection of letters that we are reading. Most early
readers of Clarissa probably understood that they
were reading fiction, but the novel was still a relatively unfamiliar
form, and a conceit of truth still clung to it. Richardson’s previous
novel, Pamela, had originally been published as
though it were a collection of found letters. This fiction didn’t
last long; Pamela was so popular that Richardson
had to reveal himself as the author to gain some control over the
unauthorized sequels and extensions that proliferated after the
publication. By 1749, Richardson was well
known as an author, so the explanation of Clarissa’s
letter-collecting is probably more of a vestige of tradition than
any real attempt to fool the reader.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Clarissa!