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Clarissa

Summary Letters 243–273
Summary Letters 243–273

Clarissa is changed by the rape and, in a way, freed from the burdens that have plagued her throughout her relationship with Lovelace. For the first time, she sees through one of Lovelace’s contrivances and so disappoints his plan to punish her for trying to escape. Furthermore, she is now trying to escape. She had tried once before, when she went to Mrs. Moore’s, but for most of the time at Mrs. Sinclair’s, Clarissa had tried to save herself through channels other than escape. She’s further liberated in the fact that the rape removes any possibility that she can reclaim a normal life: she sees that she can no longer hope for her parents’ forgiveness and so is no longer susceptible to Lovelace’s arguments for marriage. Marriage is no longer a possibility for her, as she now sees Lovelace’s true nature and is no longer fooled by his promises of reform. Furthermore, Clarissa considers herself a ruined woman, and as such an unfit wife for anyone. As a result of all this, Clarissa is able to act in a stronger way than she ever has before. Her only goal is to escape from Lovelace, and she does not waver in her resistance of him or her search for a way out.

In the letters and notes Clarissa writes after the rape, called her “mad papers,” she provides an unprecedented glimpse of herself. The writing here starkly contrasts with her writing in the first half of the novel, which is defined by careful thought and unrelenting discipline. Interestingly, her view of the rape focuses not on Lovelace but on the terrifying, monstrous figure of Mrs. Sinclair; while this seems peculiar, it’s possible that Mrs. Sinclair is the last person Clarissa saw while conscious. However, at least one critic has speculated that Lovelace is actually impotent and that it is in fact Mrs. Sinclair who rapes Clarissa. It is less of a stretch to suggest that Mrs. Sinclair embodies the wickedness that pulls Lovelace away from his love for Clarissa and toward the ruin of them both.

In the mad papers, Clarissa condemns herself as well as Lovelace and regrets the pride that has led her to this fall. At the same time, her virtue remains intact, although her reason is not. Her writing is in a very moral strain, seeking out lessons for herself and for others in her own story: in Paper VII, she writes of the “pernicious caterpillar, that preyest upon the fair leaf of virgin fame,” denouncing Lovelace’s predatory behavior with a nature metaphor. Her attachments to her family and to Anna dominate these papers, along with her condemnation of Lovelace and her sense that her life is over. The most famous of the mad papers is the last, Paper X. This is made up entirely of quotations, taken from well-known English poets including Otway, Dryden, William Shakespeare, Abraham Cowley, and Samuel Garth. The page itself is striking because the scraps of poetry are scattered over it at different angles, which was a very difficult thing for a printer to do. In showcasing Clarissa’s madness, Richardson also showcases his ability as a printer.