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Clarissa’s pens, ink, and paper are taken away, but she
continues to write with her concealed stash. Lovelace threatens
to interfere if Clarissa is taken to her uncle’s and suggests that
she run away to his relatives’ house. Anna writes that her mother
has refused to take Clarissa in. She suggests that Clarissa sneak
away to London, where she can hide until Cousin Morden arrives and
offers to accompany her. Clarissa defends Mrs. Howe’s right to refuse
her and blames herself for corresponding with Lovelace against her
parents’ injunction. She refuses to consider Anna’s offer, but she
asks if Anna could find her some transportation to London.
The Harlowes learn that Lovelace has assembled a band
of armed men to waylay them if they take Clarissa to her uncle’s.
They are incensed but decide not to go through with the plan. Instead, they
order a license so Clarissa can be married in her own room on the
following Wednesday. Seeing no way out, Clarissa writes to Lovelace
that she will meet him Monday night near the summer house, and she
brings the letter to Lovelace’s pick-up spot. But she is uneasy,
and that night she has a dream in which Lovelace carries her to
a churchyard, stabs her, and throws her into a grave in which other
bodies are already decomposing. On waking she finds that Lovelace
has taken her letter, and she wishes she could have gotten it back
Anna writes that she cannot find a way to get Clarissa
to London. She insists that the duties of friendship compel Clarissa
to accept her assistance. If Clarissa decides to go off with Lovelace
instead, Anna recommends that she marry him immediately.
Lovelace writes that his cousin Charlotte, who was supposed
to escort Clarissa in her escape, is ill. This, combined with Clarissa’s reflections
on the difficulty of renouncing Lovelace if she goes away with him,
leads her to write to Lovelace and cancel the plan. While all the
other letters to Lovelace had been retrieved immediately, this one
lies where she has left it until the day appointed for the escape. Dolly
writes to Clarissa to warn her that she will be forced into marriage
on Wednesday, but Clarissa decides to risk staying. Since Lovelace
has still not retrieved the letter, Clarissa resolves to meet him
as planned, fearing that if she does not, he will go into the house
and cause trouble. She writes to Anna from her summer house at eleven o’clock.
Her Aunt Hervey has come to see her there and tries to comfort Clarissa
with mysterious hints that all might not be as bad as she thinks.
The hour of the appointment comes as she is writing, and she notes
that her lines are getting shaky. She runs to deposit the letter before
Her next letter, dated Tuesday morning, is written from
a nearby town, St. Albans. It gives little information, but Clarissa
blames herself for doing “a rash, an inexcusable thing, in meeting
him” and asks Anna to send her linens. Anna is aghast at what Clarissa
has done but says she loves her still and offers any help she can
give. The letter is interrupted by the arrival of two young women
at the Howe residence, apparently bearing the gossip about Clarissa’s
Clarissa writes to fill in the details of her flight:
She meets Lovelace and tells him of the change in her plans. He
breathlessly tells her that they must run, or that they will be
discovered any moment. He will not let go of her hand and draws
her out of the gate. They argue back and forth for some time, when
finally Clarissa decides to turn back and call off the plan. She
goes to re-enter through the gate when there is a commotion inside,
followed by shouts about guns and pistols. (It’s later learned that
the commotion is created by Joseph Leman on Lovelace’s instruction).
Terrified and confused, Clarissa runs with Lovelace to his chariot.
In their lodgings at St. Albans, Clarissa is filled with remorse
and suspects that she has been tricked.
Lovelace does not comply with his earlier agreement to
lodge in a different place from Clarissa. He proposes marriage,
but in such a way that Clarissa cannot accept without compromising
her delicacy. He sends Belford a lengthy description of how Clarissa
looked when she appeared at the garden gate and says he knew he
had won the moment he heard the gate unbolt. He admits that he never intended
to marry Clarissa, but he is angered by her haughty refusals of
Anna writes after hearing the news and excuses the rash
step as Clarissa was “driven on one side, and possibly tricked on
the other.” She reports that the Harlowes are claiming that the
Wednesday setup with Solmes was to have been their last push for
marriage, and if Clarissa had resisted they would have dropped their
position. Anna is unsure whether Clarissa should marry Lovelace
or attempt to run away from him and regain her estate. Clarissa
writes that reconciliation with her family is her goal, and she
will not marry or take any action that might jeopardize the possibility.
Her hopes are pinned on the arrival of her cousin Morden.
Lovelace writes several letters describing his interactions
with Clarissa at their lodgings. He is focused on maintaining her
confidence until she is “safe” among his acquaintances in London.
In his manipulations, he pretends to be uninterested in where she
chooses to go: he compares Clarissa to a fly caught in his web.
Clarissa writes that she has been trying to avoid Lovelace,
while he has insisted on her company. She is blunt with him regarding
her unhappiness with the situation, blaming herself for meeting
him, and him for luring her away. Lovelace is angry, but he eventually assumes
bashfulness and asks Clarissa to marry him immediately. She is confused
and silent, which he interprets as anger and promises not to bring
up marriage anymore. Lovelace enjoys Clarissa’s confusion and distress
and is pleased with his ability to manipulate her. But he sincerely
admires Clarissa, especially as he witnesses her true purity and
virtue, and debates with himself about whether he actually might
marry her. However, he argues against the idea using his hatred
of the Harlowes, his annoyance with Clarissa’s refusal to acknowledge
her love for him, and his general aversion to what he calls “fetters”
as suitable enough reasons. He resolves that he will make his treatment
of Clarissa a trial of her virtue, and if she passes, he will marry
her. This will be a test not only for Clarissa, he says, but for
all females; if she passes it, she will prove that there is such
a thing as incorruptible virtue.
The main event in this section is Clarissa’s escape, although
her choices and actions become more, not less, circumscribed as
the novel continues. It is not only outside forces but also Clarissa’s punctiliousness
that constrain her choices. At her parents’ house she has been mostly
confined to her room with an impertinent maid watching over her
and no writing implements at her disposal. After Mrs. Howe denies
her sanctuary, Clarissa seemingly has nowhere to run, although one
other option does remain: her inherited estate. Because she fears
infringing upon her father’s wishes and further angering her family,
Clarissa fails to take her one real refuge.
Clarissa is no match for the expert manipulations of Lovelace, although
she is perceptive enough to have serious misgivings about him. She
does not fully choose to run away; rather, his complex scheming
forces her to. Clarissa’s gruesome nightmare is indicative of her
fear and distrust, and although the situation still seems dire at home,
she decides to risk staying with her family, despite Lovelace’s threats
of harassment. However, once his plot is in motion, with Joseph
Leman successfully following through with a staged commotion at
the Harlowe house, Clarissa once again misses the chance to save
Clarissa’s scruples play a role in entrapping her in others’
machinations. She could have remained inside instead of meeting
Lovelace far from the house, but her sense of responsibility for
the violence that might ensue leads her into his trap. There is,
of course, the possibility that this is only an excuse, and Clarissa
meets Lovelace because she wants to; she admits attraction to him,
and he is the only person who seems willing to take action for her
welfare. But this is simply speculation: although her actions might
say otherwise, Clarissa’s words give no clear evidence.
Even though she has escaped and is no longer imprisoned
in her bedroom, Clarissa is now bound by a new constraint: a spoiled
reputation. No matter what happens, it will be assumed that Lovelace has
seduced or raped her, and Clarissa will forever be a ruined woman—unless,
of course, she marries him. But Clarissa’s punctilio interferes
once again: she cannot abide the thought of marrying a wicked man,
although she has some hope that Lovelace may reform and will consent
to marry him if he does. Lovelace skillfully manipulates Clarissa’s
misgivings, making it appear that she is refusing to marry him while
in fact the decision is in his hands.
Lovelace’s decision to put Clarissa’s virtue on trial
points to Clarissa’s position as an exemplar. Assumed to be the
most perfect of women, Clarissa is called upon to stand trial for
the entire sex. According to Lovelace’s theory, if she cannot maintain
her virtue under his battery, female virtue must be essentially
corruptible. Furthermore, Clarissa’s exemplarity makes her a tempting
target for challenge-loving men like Lovelace. If he can corrupt
her, he can do anything.
In this society, a woman’s chances of maintaining her
virtue are incredibly slim. First, she is physically weak and socially
confined. In addition, her education and upbringing are calculated
to protect her innocence, not to prepare her for the cunning nature
of rakes like Lovelace. Indeed, as we have seen, Clarissa’s senses
of decorum and duty have helped Lovelace to imperil her virtue.
The definition of virtue is also brought to the surface here. For
women, virtue is simply chastity. Even if a woman is raped, she
loses her virtue, as rape and seduction are not regarded as very
different things. Rape, in this view, is a part of seduction, so
a raped woman must have allowed herself to be seduced.
Once Clarissa and Lovelace are in the same place, experiencing the
same events, the dynamic of their letters changes. In previous sections
there was some tension between Lovelace’s designs and Clarissa’s
experience, but now they are in direct contact, so the letters build
a sense of dramatic irony (that is, the reader knows more than the
characters). Because we are privy to Lovelace’s plans and manipulations,
it is clear that Clarissa’s interpretations are often wrong, and
that, although she is resistant, she still succumbs to Lovelace’s
Ace your assignments with our guide to Clarissa!