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Clarissa hears from Anna that the Harlowes will not send
her any clothes or money. They intend for her to suffer. Troubled
by the circumstances of her escape, Clarissa confronts Lovelace
and asks him how much of the event was premeditated. Lovelace boldly
tells a story very close to the truth: he admits that he had employed
Leman as a spy and told him to cry out if he saw anyone coming.
Clarissa asks how, if someone was approaching the house, she had
not seen them; Lovelace produces a letter from Leman explaining
that a dog had startled him into yelling, and he had tried to follow
them and let them know of the mistake. Lovelace also confesses that
he had seen Clarissa’s letter and assumed it was a revocation, so
he did not open it. Clarissa is shocked at the complexity of Lovelace’s
contrivances, but Lovelace’s free confession of them, and his explanation
that it was concern and love for her that prompted his actions,
comfort her somewhat. Lovelace’s version of the story demonstrates
his quick cunning: he reveals much of the wicked truth while appearing
much less wicked than he really is.
Lovelace is now very agreeable to Clarissa. He seems impartial about
her choice of where to go, makes generous offers, and promises to
reform. Although much encouraged by Lovelace’s new attitude, Clarissa
still doubts that she should marry him; however, she also wonders
why Lovelace has not yet pursued the idea of marriage at all. Clarissa
blames herself for her bad situation, saying she was too vain in
hoping to remain an example of virtue.
Lovelace angers Clarissa by speaking disparagingly of
her family, then he wins back her regard by showing her letters
from his aunt and cousin. These women have very good reputations
and high social standing, so Clarissa is concerned about their view
of her. The letters express kindness toward Clarissa and admonish
Lovelace to treat her well. Lovelace tricks her into deciding to
go to London and agrees to write to a friend, Mr. Doleman, to ask
about lodgings there. Doleman’s letter lists several available lodgings,
and Clarissa picks what seem to be the best—the house of the widow
Sinclair on Dover Street. Lovelace pretends indifference but exults
to Belford that she has fallen into his trap again, implying that
the house (which is not on Dover Street, and not owned by Mrs. Sinclair)
is not as respectable as Doleman’s letter makes it seem.
Lovelace discovers that James Harlowe and his friend Captain Singleton
are plotting to kidnap Clarissa. He makes light of it, but Clarissa
is frightened. While she is in a state of confusion Lovelace suddenly
proposes, knowing that she will not be able to accept in those circumstances.
Leman writes to inform Lovelace that he may be prosecuted for the
rape and abandonment of a woman named Miss Betterton, who had died
in childbirth several years before. Lovelace tells Leman that this
was a youthful folly and gives him instructions for turning the
Singleton plot to his own ends. A letter from Belford disapproves
of Lovelace’s actions and tells him to do justice to Clarissa.
Clarissa writes to her Aunt Hervey and receives a harsh
reply, which indicates that the Harlowes had intended to stop their
persecutions after the Wednesday trial meeting with Solmes. Clarissa
is despondent, but things are about to get worse. She receives a
letter from Arabella telling her that Mr. Harlowe has laid a curse
on her, “that you may meet your punishment, both here and hereafter, by means
of the very wretch in whom you have chosen to place your confidence.”
Clarissa is most terrified at the extension of the curse into the
afterlife. Anna tries to comfort her and sends money, which Clarissa
returns. She writes that Lovelace has been very tender toward her
in her distress and has finally made an earnest offer of marriage,
although Clarissa could not accept it because of her agitation.
Anna tells her to stop being ceremonious and get married at all costs.
Lovelace writes that he is about to be caught in his own
web. Clarissa’s illness at the news of her father’s curse had frightened
him into a genuine proposal, and he intends to marry Clarissa after
all. But he continues to discuss his plots. He knows that James
has abandoned the Singleton project but will continue to pretend
it’s a threat in order to increase Clarissa’s dependence on him.
He has enough doubts about marriage to leave himself loopholes.
As he prepares to set out for London, Lovelace describes a battle
with his roguish heart, which turns him away from his honest purposes.
He reflects that it will probably be better for both him and Clarissa
if they do not marry, since he will make a bad husband.
Lovelace and Clarissa arrive at Mrs. Sinclair’s whorehouse
and, now that he is there, Lovelace admits to wavering in his honest
purpose. The women of the whorehouse—Polly Horton, Sally Martin, and
Dorcas Wykes—welcome Clarissa warmly, although she’s distrustful
of them. Lovelace has gone so far as to buy second-hand books so
that they will appear to be readers of moral literature. Clarissa
finds that she cannot hold Lovelace to his promise of separate lodgings
and that she must uncomfortably acquiesce to his story that they
are already married.
It is revealed that Polly and Sally had been respectable
women before they knew Lovelace, well educated and raised as if
for a higher class. They had indulged in “public diversions” and
became easy targets for seduction. The two are jealous of Clarissa
and discourage Lovelace from behaving honorably. Lovelace tells
Clarissa he has found a house for her and is in negotiations to
buy it from a widow named Fretchville, which provides an excuse
to put off marriage. Lovelace throws a party and invites his crew
of rakes—Belford, Mowbray, Belton, and Tourville, as well as a woman
named Miss Partington. Lovelace gives them all instructions to act
respectably, but Clarissa finds them vulgar and offensive nonetheless.
Mrs. Howe writes to Clarissa to forbid her correspondence
with Anna. Clarissa agrees, but Anna insists that they carry on
in secret with the help of Hickman. Lovelace exults that it is his
machinations, through Leman and Uncle Antony, that have turned Mrs. Howe
against Clarissa and removed that means of escape.
Lovelace’s friends send him a letter condemning his plan
to ruin Clarissa, whom even they can see is a superior being. Lovelace agrees
with their praise of Clarissa but mocks their sermonizing: he has
resolved to resume his scheming.
Lovelace is at a crossroads in this section, as he wavers
between his affections for Clarissa and his inherent libertine ways.
Clarissa’s consistent virtue seems about to win him over, and when
her father’s curse sends Clarissa into grief and illness, Lovelace
is worried and compassionate. He characterizes his proposal as a
way of keeping her on earth, which indicates that this despair might
have killed her without it. However, it also suggests that Lovelace’s
promises (and, essentially, his wicked schemes) are keeping Clarissa
away from heaven. After this incident Lovelace resolves to be honest,
but he is never fully committed to it, as he continues to build
on his contrivances, just in case he changes his mind. Although
he believes that marriage is the right thing to do, Lovelace acknowledges
that his inability to desist from his libertine intrigues will most
likely lead to grief for both him and Clarissa.
Lovelace’s resolution to be an honest man is quickly tested
upon arrival at Mrs. Sinclair’s house. The women there goad him
away from his albeit shaky resolution and their teasing has a strong
effect on him. The women cannot bear all of the blame, however:
as soon as he steps into Mrs. Sinclair’s house, the battle seems
to have been almost won by wickedness. The house brings out the
worst in Lovelace and reinforces his already evil nature: he describes
a battle with his heart, which is unusual in that the heart does
not represent Lovelace’s better or more caring self, but instead
embodies his villainous habits and responds to wicked temptations.
Indeed, if it is the women who tempt Lovelace to evil, he has himself
to blame for it, since he ruined them in the first place. In a sense,
then, Lovelace has brought himself and Clarissa to a place where
his own wickedness is concentrated and will entrap them both.
It seems that Lovelace enjoys testing the limits of his
power by putting Clarissa into more and more intolerable situations.
The party demonstrates that his wickedness knows no bounds, even among
other depraved characters like his rakish comrades. Although very
bad men themselves, Belford, Belton, Tourville, and Mowbray know
that Lovelace’s treatment of Clarissa exceeds their limits of bad
behavior and Clarissa’s grace, sense, and beauty shine through even
in the middle of a whorehouse, and are perceptible even to hardened
rakes. Their response is indicative of both her exemplarity and
his inhumanity. Lovelace’s motivation for exposing Clarissa to his
libertine friends is not quite clear, but it could be another of
his tests: he says that he wants to show her off to them, but their
vulgarity would threaten any hope that she’d be won over. This might
also explain his choice of the whorehouse for lodgings, as the whores
are jealous and resentful of Clarissa. Women’s cruelty, Lovelace
remarks, has no boundaries, while men’s stops somewhere. Where Lovelace’s
boundary lies remains to be seen, but it is well beyond even the
Although Clarissa’s innocence and virtue continue to hurt
her, she does have some kind of instinct for evil. She cannot content
herself with the idea of marrying Lovelace, and she intuitively
dislikes the whores even though they appear to be genteel ladies,
due to Lovelace’s arrangements of books and instructions for proper behavior.
But, naturally, Clarissa feels bad about her dislike and attempts
to quell her suspicions. Because Clarissa refuses to be obligated,
she also rejects Anna’s money, which might have made escape possible.
Her unshakeable codes of behavior once again help to place her in
The actions of the Harlowes also align with Lovelace’s
plots. Their remarkable implacability keeps Clarissa from returning
home and their refusal to send money gives her no way to go anywhere else.
Mr. Harlowe’s curse throws Clarissa into despair and into deeper
dependence on Lovelace. James’s scheme to have Captain Singleton
carry Clarissa off is quickly dropped, but it gives Lovelace endless
excuses to stay near her and to forbid her from going out.
Sally and Polly act as examples of what could happen to
Clarissa and also represent Richardson’s overarching theme of the
innocent woman’s subjection to the mischievous rake. Although some
of the books Clarissa finds in her room are put there to deceive
her, Sally and Polly are characterized by Lovelace as great readers.
They give evidence of their cultural literacy by occasionally bursting
out into poetic quotation. Gentility, in the case of Sally and Polly,
is only a screen over wantonness and cruelty. The fault for their
fall is placed in their upbringing, rather than their characters,
reminding the reader of Richardson’s characterization of the book
as a warning to parents as well as daughters. The mention of Lovelace’s
victim Miss Betterton, while her whole story is not yet known, provides
another example of the dangers posed by rakes to young women, and
Lovelace’s careless treatment of the threat of prosecution shows
that little recrimination is likely to come to offenders of the
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