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Clarissa writes to Solmes, telling him bluntly that she
cannot like or esteem him, and accuses him of meanness and a lack
of generosity if he continues to pursue her. Solmes writes back
to say that her letter has only encouraged him. He is not insulted
by being called selfish; he can see no reason why he should do anything
just to make someone else happy. James finds out about the letter
to Solmes and writes insultingly to Clarissa, telling her he will
not open any letters she sends him because her “knack at letter
writing” might complicate what should be a simple case of duty.
Lovelace is staying at an inn in a small town near Harlowe
Place. The innkeeper has a pretty daughter whom Lovelace nicknames Rosebud.
Rosebud’s grandmother beseeched Lovelace to be merciful to Rosebud—that
is, not to seduce or rape her. Lovelace appreciates having his power
recognized and says that he will spare the girl. He refuses to ruin
a poor girl with no support to fall back on once he abandons her,
and he is also concerned that his actions might get back to Clarissa.
He decides that he will give Rosebud money so that she can get married
and says that this good deed will balance out some of his sins.
Lovelace reveals that he is paying a Harlowe servant,
Joseph Leman, to spy for him and to manipulate the family. Lovelace
plans to sneak into Clarissa’s presence so he can judge her feelings
for him. If he finds that he has no hope of her favor, he will simply
abduct her: “That would be a rape worthy of Jupiter!”
Lovelace disguises himself and hides behind a woodpile
so that he can catch Clarissa retrieving her letters from the hiding
place. She is terrified, but he acts very respectfully and she is
partially convinced of his good intentions. Anna teases Clarissa
for pretending that she is not in love with Lovelace. Clarissa writes
back in a series of letters that are continually interrupted by
visits from family members and her old nurse, Mrs. Norton, who all
try to convince her to marry Solmes. Clarissa evaluates Lovelace’s
good and bad traits, finding plenty on each side, and admits that
her family’s tyrannical opposition to him has made her like him
more. She concludes that “were he now but a moral
man, I would prefer him to all the men I ever saw.”
Mrs. Harlowe sends Clarissa an affectionate letter, including
a list of the clothes and jewels Clarissa will be given on her marriage. Clarissa
is affected by the kind tone of the letter and feels torn between
duty and her sense of right. Arabella pays her a visit that becomes
a battle of insults. Clarissa accuses Arabella of acting out of
disappointed love. It is made clear that Arabella and James have plotted
together to deprive Clarissa of her favored position and her grandfather’s
estate. Mrs. Harlowe visits Clarissa, along with Aunt Hervey and
Arabella. Arabella prevents her mother and aunt from softening toward
Anna writes a humorous letter about her feelings for Hickman and
imagines what Hickman, Solmes, and Lovelace must have been like
as children. She wonders why the prudent, sober men who would make
good husbands cannot be as attractive and appealing as rakes. Lovelace
unexpectedly visits Anna and asks her to help him win Clarissa over.
Although he assures her of his love and his family’s support, his
threats of revenge on the Harlowes convince Anna that he is a violent
man, and she counsels Clarissa to claim her estate and become independent
instead of marrying either Lovelace or Solmes.
After several more exchanges, the Harlowes decide that
Clarissa should go to her Uncle Antony’s house, where Solmes will
be able to visit her. Clarissa is terrified by the fact that the
house is moated and has a chapel on the premises. She writes to
James to ask whether the command came from him or her parents, as
she does not feel compelled to obey her brother. They exchange several
angry letters. Clarissa wishes that her cousin Morden, who is one
of the trustees of her estate, would return from Italy so that he
can help her claim her property. After several angry letters and
interactions, Clarissa tries to calm herself by playing the harpsichord.
She sets a poem, “Ode to Wisdom, by a Lady,” to music and copies
the score to send to Anna. After calming down she writes to admonish
Anna for treating Hickman disrespectfully.
Anna hears that Solmes has bragged about his ability to
terrify a wife into obedience. She does not know how Clarissa can
escape her situation but advises her not to go to her uncle’s, where
she is likely to be forced into marriage. Mrs. Howe offers, through
Anna, her advice about marriage. She says that marriages of convenience
and duty are just as happy and usually happier than those founded
Solmes sends Clarissa a badly spelled letter asking if
he can see her to share information about Lovelace. Clarissa refuses.
She continues to plead with her family, offering to give up her
estate and swearing to remain single for the rest of her life. Mrs.
Harlowe refuses to open her letters, and her aunts and uncles tell
her to stop writing to them. The exchange of letters between Clarissa
and Lovelace continues, and after several refusals she agrees to
meet him secretly at night. Clarissa asks if she can put off going
to her uncle’s for two weeks, and this is agreed to on the condition
that she accept a visit from Solmes. She writes to Lovelace to postpone
her meeting with him. Lovelace responds with great indignation,
and Clarissa is offended and demands that the correspondence be
On Anna’s advice, Clarissa sends her all of her letters,
as well as some linen, to the Howes, in case she has to leave home
suddenly. She cannot send clothes or jewels because that might arouse
suspicion. Anna makes inquiries about Lovelace and finds out about
the inn and his relations with Rosebud. Clarissa’s answer is clearly
jealous, sarcastically referring to Rosebud as “this sweet pretty
girl.” She speculates that Lovelace’s cold, gotten while waiting
for her letters all night, is really a result of singing under Rosebud’s
window. Clarissa says she despises Lovelace.
Anna meets with Rosebud and her father and reports to
Clarissa that her suspicions about the young girl’s relationship
with Lovelace were unfounded. Clarissa says that she will now respond
to Lovelace’s letters. She chides him for his presumptions, insists
that she is not denying Solmes for his sake, and criticizes his
notorious aversion to marriage.
The Harlowes suddenly start treating Clarissa kindly.
She suspects it is part of a plot involving her upcoming visit with
Solmes. She hopes Mrs. Howe will take her in if she must leave home.
Lovelace writes to express apprehension about the meeting with Solmes and
to recommend several plans for escape. Clarissa responds that she
would sooner die than marry Solmes, but she tells Lovelace not to
take any rash steps.
On the morning of the appointment with Solmes, Clarissa
is visited by her Aunt Hervey. It becomes clear that, since she
has agreed to the meeting, Clarissa’s family assumes she will consider
marrying him. She is terrified, but she takes heart when she sees
how scared and ridiculous Solmes is. She asserts that she will not
marry him and is abused by her brother and sister. At various points
in the episode, Clarissa nearly faints or bursts into violent tears.
She is comforted by her cousin Dolly and Arabella’s maid, Betty,
the latter who had always treated Clarissa rudely but at this time
offers a bit of information: Solmes would have given up his advances,
but Mr. Harlowe, James, Arabella, and Uncle Antony had kept the
tide from turning. While Clarissa is downstairs, her room is searched
for letters, which she had just sent to Anna. She decides to hide
pens and ink in various places, as these are also about to be taken
In this section Clarissa’s aversion to Solmes is fleshed
out. Not only is Solmes ugly, he is avaricious and cruel, and also
a poor writer. Yet despite his bold statements that a fearful wife
is a good wife, Solmes shows no such bluster when he actually encounters
Clarissa. He is frightened and uncomfortable and, as Betty reports,
willing to give up the plan. Once again the telling of the story
in letters leaves room for speculation. The worst we know of Solmes,
his profession that he will be a cruel husband, is by third-hand
report: Anna writes what Mrs. Howe told her about what a friend
heard Solmes say. We have two other levels of information about
Solmes: his letters to Clarissa and his actions when she meets him
(although those, too, come to us through the filter of Clarissa’s
perception). In his letters, Solmes reveals himself to be ungenerous;
he sees no reason to do anything for anyone else’s sake and does
not care that he is making Clarissa miserable, because marrying
her will advance his interests. When he appears in the Harlowe parlor,
Solmes is so elaborately dressed that he looks foolish. He barely
speaks at all, cringing in the background while the Harlowes fight
with Clarissa. Clarissa seems to have good reasons for not marrying
Solmes: he is selfish, cowardly, and possibly cruel.
These traits of Solmes contrast directly with Lovelace’s
characteristics. Lovelace is, first of all, an excellent writer.
For all his crimes he is always considered generous, and we are
given an example in his treatment of Rosebud. And Lovelace is brave:
our first introduction to him is in the context of a swordfight,
and references to his boldness in the face of danger are frequently
repeated. Lovelace is also very good-looking and dresses well—aspects
of his character that Clarissa admits have some influence on at
least her immediate opinion of him. In terms of class, Lovelace
is a nobleman, who does not need to strive for money or prestige.
Solmes is, like the Harlowes, an up-and-comer who has made money
through business and is anxious to improve his wealth and status—which
a marriage to Clarissa will help him do.
Lovelace’s intentions for Clarissa and the Harlowes are
also fleshed out here: his goal is not simply to woo the woman he
loves but also to cause trouble for her family. There is no doubt
that Lovelace is intelligent, and he continues to reveal more about
his “contrivances” that will eventually entrap Clarissa. Joseph
Leman, whom he hires to spy on the Harlowes, not only tells Lovelace
everything that is going on, he also follows Lovelace’s instructions
to manipulate the family. It seems strange that Lovelace wants to
turn the Harlowes against Clarissa, since it would be logical to
assume that if they favored her more, they would be more inclined
to support her decisions. Lovelace’s schemes indicate that he’s
after more than just Clarissa’s heart.
Furthermore, Lovelace enjoys the intrigues and deceptions
that allow him to exercise his intelligence. The reasoning behind
the fake bribe exemplifies the complexity of Lovelace’s manipulations:
First, it turns the family against Clarissa, making it more likely
that she will seek protection from him. Second, by implying that
Clarissa has no other way to send letters, it keeps the family from
suspecting, and interfering with, the correspondence between Clarissa
and Lovelace. Freed from the suspicion of correspondence, Clarissa
will also be free to walk in the garden and to check for her letters
in their hiding place, and Lovelace hopes he will be able to surprise
her in one of these places. What he will do with these advantages
is not entirely clear. Lovelace says that he does not intend a rape
as long as he thinks he might win Clarissa over. It also seems clear
that he does not intend to marry her. What he does want is to win
the game with the Harlowes and get Clarissa into his power, despite
their vigilance and her virtue.
The endless back-and-forth between Clarissa and her family
over the question of marriage highlights the Harlowes’s own motives. James
hates Lovelace, and he is paranoid that his old rival might sneak
into the family. He therefore insists on Clarissa’s marriage to Solmes
as insurance against a marriage to Lovelace. Another motive is his
greed for money and status. While Solmes is not a nobleman, his
money and land could help the Harlowe family move up the social
ladder. James, as the only son, would benefit most from this. Arabella
and James both resent Clarissa for her perfection and special place
in the family, and her inheritance of their grandfather’s estate
offends both their pride and exposes their avarice.
Arabella’s anger at Clarissa is specifically female anger:
she, as her maid Betty reveals, spent some nights crying over Lovelace’s rejection,
and she is determined that her sister should not have him either.
Furthermore, with the beautiful Clarissa out of the way, Arabella—who
is described as “plump”—would have much better chances for her own
Clarissa’s parents, aunts, and uncles, on the other hand,
do not seem likely to be motivated by jealousy. Mr. Harlowe is described
as money-grubbing like his son, so the marriage to Solmes is obviously appealing
to him for this reason. But Lovelace is even richer, so that can’t
be the only reason. Mr. Harlowe’s dominant trait
is a bad-tempered authoritarianism. He is the head of the family,
and will not stand to be contradicted by anyone in it. If his daughter
refuses his command, she will be forced into it. Mrs. Harlowe is
completely dominated by her husband and, in her role as a wife and
mother, it is her social responsibility to keep peace in the household.
So she acquiesces to him completely, and thus persecutes Clarissa
against her will. The aunts and uncles vary in their approaches,
but mostly profess solidarity with the parents and a rejection of
the idea that a child’s will should determine her parents’ decisions.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Clarissa: or, the History of a Young Lady!