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Clarissa

Summary

Letters 79–110

Summary Letters 79–110

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 his half-offers.

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.

Analysis

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 herself.