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A clergyman named Mr. Brand is sent by the Harlowes to
examine Clarissa’s situation. He is extremely pompous and pedantic.
Clarissa sends a letter to Lovelace to prevent his visit. She tells
him she writes only to avoid a greater evil, but that because of
her religion she forgives him and wishes him well. In response to
Clarissa’s letter to her mother, Uncle Harlowe sends a nasty letter
bluntly asking if she is pregnant. Clarissa writes another “meditation”
and stitches it to this letter with black silk. She writes back
and in answer to the “cruel question” says “a little, a very little
time will better answer than I can.” She asks again for a last blessing.
An even crueler letter arrives from Uncle Antony, suggesting that
they have heard bad things about her. Mrs. Norton explains this:
Mr. Brand had given a bad report about Clarissa, centered around
Belford’s frequent visits. The family resolves to send Clarissa
to Pennsylvania. Colonel Morden arrives in England.
Lovelace is very sick. He is miserable, but as he recovers,
manages to trick his family into thinking he has been converted
by reading them one of Clarissa’s meditations that had been sent
by Belford. He is back on good terms with them and more determined
than ever to see Clarissa. Belford tells Lovelace again not to come
near Clarissa, but he will have to leave her unprotected because
he must go attend the dying Belton. He sends Clarissa a letter to
warn her, and Lovelace immediately proceeds to London. He forces
his way up to Clarissa’s room, but she is not there. He then puts
on a comical but insulting performance in the Smiths’ shop, terrifying
everyone but also making them laugh.
Lovelace has a dream that he is saved from a fight with
Morden by Clarissa, who is then surrounded by angels and taken to
heaven; just then the floor starts to sink under Lovelace and he
tumbles into a bottomless pit. This frightens him at first, but
he soon explains it away. He keeps trying to see Clarissa, but she
is never home. Even a Meditation called “On being hunted after by
the enemy of my soul” fails to stop him. Finally a letter from Clarissa
arrives, saying she has good news: she is setting out for her father’s
house and will not have time to see Lovelace in the midst of her
preparations. She tells him he can see her there and says she will
send him a letter when she gets there. Lovelace is in ecstasy. He
immediately leaves for Lord M.’s to wait for her letter.
Belford writes several letters about the pitiable Belton
and reminds Lovelace that he one day must die too. Belton eventually dies,
miserably, and Belford returns to Clarissa. He finds that she is very
ill after having stayed out in carriages and boats to avoid Lovelace.
She receives letters from Mrs. Norton saying that Morden had decided
to visit Lovelace, because the family did not believe that he was
in fact willing to marry Clarissa. This worries her, and she writes
to Anna and explains that her letter to Lovelace was allegorical,
that it was about her journey to heaven and not to her literal father’s
house. She worries that this deception, while not really a lie, might
have been wrong. Belford explains the allegory to Lovelace.
Morden visits Lovelace and, after some initial hostilities,
they get along well. Morden is convinced of Lovelace’s love for
and good intentions toward Clarissa. Morden writes a kind letter
to Clarissa, recommending that she marry Lovelace. Clarissa is overjoyed
at his kindness but tells him she cannot marry Lovelace; she can
forgive him, but that is because she has risen above him. She hints
that he will understand when he knows the whole story, but she asks
him not to do anything for vengeance. Lovelace is furious at Clarissa’s deception
and says that it is just as bad a lie as any he told.
One day while Belford is visiting Clarissa some men arrive
and bring a coffin up to her room. Clarissa is embarrassed and explains that
she bought it with the money from her clothes to save trouble after
she dies. Everyone is shocked, but she tells them that familiarity
will make them more comfortable with the coffin’s presence. She had
designed the coffin’s decorations, which include several Bible verses,
a winged hourglass, an urn, and a lily with the flower snapped off.
She becomes very sick, and Belford predicts that she will never
again leave her room. Lovelace is distraught and writes with more
seriousness and humanity than usual. Clarissa recovers and hurries
to finish her will.
Anna writes that Morden cannot convince the Harlowes to relent.
They do not think she is as sick as she is. At Belford’s next visit
to Clarissa he finds that she is sitting and writing at her coffin
as though it were a desk. A letter from Mrs. Norton relates that Morden
had shown the Harlowes letters he’d gotten from Lovelace and from
Anna, which convince them both that Lovelace had been willing to
marry Clarissa and that she is very sick. Mrs. Harlowe, the uncles,
and even Arabella show some signs of softening, but James hardens
everybody’s hearts. Morden is infuriated and refuses to stay with
Clarissa has made up packets of letters, in order according
to date, for Belford to open after she is dead. She has also made
an inventory of her possessions and lets him know where her keys
are. Her sight is becoming misty, and her breath short. Morden writes another
letter, saying he is delaying his visit to her because he hopes to
bring blessings from her family, as she’d requested. Against Clarissa’s
wishes, Belford writes to Morden to tell him to hurry, and Dr. H.
writes to Mr. Harlowe to let him know his daughter’s real condition.
Clarissa speaks of being thankful for her gradual death,
which has given her time to prepare herself for heaven. Lovelace
is so anxious for news that he cannot wait at home, so he rides
out to meet his messenger halfway. Clarissa asks Belford about Lovelace,
and he tells her of his affliction. She pities him if his conscience
has woken up and says he needs no greater punishment. She admits
she could have loved him. Belford and the minister urge her to see
Lovelace in hopes of securing his reformation, but she says she
has too little time left and is too weak to contend with Lovelace.
Lovelace, hearing of this, is remorseful and repentant.
While those around her encourage Clarissa to struggle
to live, she calmly makes logistical preparations for her death.
She is not only calm in the face of death; she actually enjoys the
thought of it, so much so that she’s disappointed when the doctor
tells her she still has a few weeks to live. Death promises eternal
joy, while her life on earth is irredeemably ruined. The decorations
she chooses for her coffin show that she is also interested in how
her death will wrap up her story. The main image is of “a crowned
serpent, with its tail in its mouth, forming a ring, the emblem
of eternity.” There are three smaller images: a winged hourglass,
to show the shortness of life; an urn; and “the head of a white
lily snapped short off, and just falling from the stalk.” This lily
symbolizes Clarissa’s life; she has more than once been compared
to the flower in her beauty and grace, and the lily is also a Christian
symbol of redemption. The lily is broken and in the process of falling,
reflecting Clarissa’s experience throughout the story: she too has
been frozen in the act of falling from her “stalk.” As she interprets
it, her demise was triggered by her illicit correspondence with
Lovelace, which happened very near the beginning of the book. Under
this trope, for the entirety of the story Clarissa has been very
slowly nearing death.
Clarissa is not, however, a book in which
the end is prefigured from the beginning. It takes an extraordinarily
long time for us to know whether it will follow a comic (in the
sense of having a happy ending) or tragic track. The events in the
first few volumes could have led to Lovelace’s reform and a happy
wedding at the end. Indeed, in Pamela the heroine
marries the rakish man who has kidnapped her, after her virtue precipitates
his reform—so this may have been what Clarissa’s readers
were expecting. The interminable uncertainty of Clarissa’s position
and Lovelace’s frequent near-reforms allows the novel to progress
without indicating that it will have to end with her death. However,
once the rape occurs, this should be certain, as it was the tradition
in novels that ruined women could only find happiness in death.
Regardless of Lovelace’s genuine remorse and desire to marry her,
Clarissa is determined—destined, but also perhaps resolved—to die
as soon as she knows what has happened. She insists that she does
not bring death upon herself, but she knows that she is now in the
position of one who must die and begins to act accordingly.
While she calmly makes her arrangements, those around
Clarissa frequently speak of her as an angel. This is not a new
character for Clarissa; Lovelace has often referred to her as such,
but the angelic imagery becomes more concentrated as the book nears
its end. Lovelace’s dream explicitly envisions Clarissa being carried
to heaven, while he descends to hell. Beyond imagery, Clarissa is angelic
in her ability to forgive the people who have harmed her. She wishes
Lovelace well and can freely admit that she might have been able
to love him. She excuses the actions of her family and is sorry for
what they will suffer after she is gone.
However, although she claims to forgive those who have
harmed her, Clarissa does not wholeheartedly act as such. She will
not allow Lovelace to see her, despite his friends’ advice that
this might help him reform, and she will not let her family know
just how sick she is, and even refuses to give them a straight answer
about whether she is pregnant. Understandable as these choices are,
it is difficult to see how they fit into an image of perfect forgiveness;
they do, however, allow the poetically just resolution of the novel.
Lovelace as well as the Harlowe family will have to suffer for what
they have done to Clarissa, not by her agency, but through remorse.
Because Clarissa prevents them from apologizing and asking her forgiveness,
the characters who have harmed her will be left with nothing but
their own bad actions. Although exacting justice for herself would
interfere with Clarissa’s spotless selflessness, she allows her
death to open the door for her.
As the novel moves toward its close, some characters come
into new prominence—namely, Belford, Morden, and, to a lesser extent, Hickman.
Belford, as we have seen, becomes a major character after Clarissa’s
rape: having been her advocate and, later, her confidante, he will
also represent her after death as executor of her will. Belford is
the positive counterpart to Lovelace; he’s an example of a rake who can change,
given a proper influence. Inspired by Clarissa’s experiences, Lovelace’s
depravity, and by the tragedy of his friend Belton, Belford redeems
himself to become a model of reform. Morden, a remote presence in
the novel until this section, furthers this representation of the
reformed rake. Clarissa has been waiting for him all along, and,
when he does arrive, it’s clear that, although presumably a good
person, he is not very different from Lovelace. The warnings he
gives about rakes come from his own experience, and he and Lovelace
recognize each other as kindred spirits even though they meet in
an adversarial context. Perhaps Morden represents what Lovelace
would be if he reformed.
Morden emerges as a model of a brave and generous man
and he is the only person who is able to have any effect on the
Harlowes. He does this by refusing to be moved by them. While he
listens to their stories and believes them at first, he will not
take their position for granted, and so he confronts Lovelace to
learn the real story. He regards Clarissa as innocent until proven
guilty in a way that they do not, and he is willing to extend an
olive branch to her even if she has fallen. Hickman’s rise to prominence
is less marked than that of the preceding characters, but by appearing
for the first time outside of Anna’s letters, Hickman in some way
comes into his own. Lovelace finds Hickman ridiculous, but everyone
else, including Belford, is impressed by his decency and gentility.
Belford, Morden, and Hickman emerge as the men who will carry Clarissa’s
legacy into the future.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Clarissa: or, the History of a Young Lady!