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Letters 173–216

Summary Letters 173–216

Uncle Antony has proposed to Mrs. Howe, in a pompous, less-than-romantic letter. He sells himself on his health, money, lack of children, and collection of knickknacks; he commends Mrs. Howe on her frugality, fortune, and the fact that she has only one child (whom he hopes will not live with them). He notes that he is “none of your Lovelaces,” in that he is making his proposals as plain and direct as possible. After running the matter by Anna and getting only mockery for her pains, Mrs. Howe writes an equally ludicrous refusal but confesses a desire to see the knickknacks.

Dorcas has found and transcribed several of Anna’s letters. Lovelace reads them and is enraged by Anna’s insulting words about him. He sees that Anna has influenced Clarissa against him and finds out about the Townsend plot. Lovelace vows revenge on both girls. Egged on by the women of the house, Lovelace resolves to take more liberties with Clarissa. He treats her with enough anger and ardor to frighten her but is held back by his admiration of her. He decides he will have to surprise her at night. Clarissa had written a positive answer to his settlements, but she tears it in half when she gets back to her room. Lovelace reads this letter after Dorcas transcribes it and is softened by its display of generosity and virtue.

Lovelace makes an excuse to give up on the house plot when Mennell refuses to deceive Clarissa any longer. A strange man comes to the neighborhood, inquiring about Clarissa and Lovelace. Letters from Charlotte Montague and Lord M. pacify Clarissa. Lovelace decides to make himself sick in order to test Clarissa’s love. He takes ipecacuanha to make himself vomit, puts pig’s blood in the vomit, and instructs the women of the house to act as though the illness were very grave. Clarissa shows her love with her concern and tears; Lovelace is charmed. Clarissa knows that she has been “detected” and is confused about her position.

The man who has been hanging about is identified as Captain Tomlinson. He explains that he has been sent by Uncle Harlowe to ask whether Clarissa is married to Lovelace. If she is, Uncle Harlowe is ready to start a process to welcome Clarissa back to the family. Lovelace lets on that they are married, intending to get Clarissa to sign a note with her married name. The more he can get Clarissa to go along with this lie, the less leverage she will have in making him marry her and the more difficult it will be to run away.

Clarissa insists on telling Tomlinson the truth about her marital status. Lovelace explains that they have not yet married because Clarissa awaits reconciliation with her family, but he offers the settlements as evidence that the formalities have been put in progress. Tomlinson seems won over and professes his desire to help Clarissa be reunited with her family. Lovelace agrees to cooperate in the reconciliation. Clarissa is overjoyed at the prospect. She prophecies that her family will become warmer and warmer to Lovelace until they wonder how they could ever have opposed him. Lovelace is genuinely affected by her words and her happiness. He describes the “odd sensation” of being moved to actual tears. But in the next letter he confesses to Belford that Tomlinson is actually his friend Patrick McDonald. Lovelace has set up this trick to get Clarissa’s guard down, but he also says that he is being kind by giving her some real joy before her inevitable defeat.


Lovelace often says that revenge and love are his two dominant passions, and the complexity of his contrivances can be seen as a way of keeping them in balance—that is, of keeping open the possibility of happy marriage as well as of avoiding it and “keeping” Clarissa as a mistress. Lovelace’s “ipecacuanha plot” suggests that Clarissa can win him over with kindness, although Clarissa herself is surprised that she does feel tender toward him. However, she is also ashamed that she lets Lovelace see her feelings: she doesn’t seem to recognize the advantage that this discovery has gained for her. Nevertheless, things go on better between them after this incident, and the preparations for marriage appear to be moving forward, although, of course, Lovelace always leaves himself a loophole.