Letters 33–78

Summary Letters 33–78

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 from her.


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 marriage.

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.