Clarissa

by: Samuel Richardson

Letters 397–457

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.