Clarissa

by: Samuel Richardson

Letters 274–332

Lovelace is in despair, saying he cannot see beauty in any other woman. Nevertheless, he pretends to be cheerful and saucy when his aunt and cousin confront him with his deception, and he seems to enjoy his ability to manipulate them. He convinces them to help him marry Clarissa. They decide to appeal to Anna for help, and when they visit her, Anna agrees with them that marrying Lovelace is Clarissa’s best option. She encourages Clarissa to consider it, but before she gets any reply, she also writes to Lovelace’s cousin, Charlotte Montague, frantically inquiring about Clarissa, who has disappeared from her lodgings. Lovelace discovers that the whores, thinking they were acting for his benefit, had Clarissa arrested for money owed them from her past lodgings at Mrs. Sinclair’s. Lovelace frantically implores Belford to hurry to the prison and get Clarissa out and also to clear him of involvement in this plot. He gets his aunts and cousins to sign onto a letter to Anna, explaining his innocence in this episode.

Analysis

Clarissa continues to show her power as she defeats Lovelace’s attempt to rape her by seeing through his trick, awes him and his minions with her dignity, and is ready to kill herself to avoid dishonor. He is finally vanquished, swearing that he will marry Clarissa at last. Clarissa also succeeds in making and carrying out a clever plan for escape, and for the first time she avoids capture in Lovelace’s web. Although she writes to Anna in confusion and makes a mistake by sending it into the reach of Mrs. Howe, Clarissa prevails with them without any pleading or lamenting: she writes to them with dignity and tells her story without sniveling. She blames herself for her rashness in writing to Lovelace in the first place and in leaving her parents’ house, but she gives Lovelace his full share of blame for his villainous trickery.

Thinking she is going to die soon, Clarissa is free from any hope or desire other than the lifting of her father’s curse. Because the curse included a wish for her punishment in the afterlife, and because Clarissa thinks the part of it that applied to living life had been completely accomplished, she is terrified of it.

As Clarissa gains in power, Lovelace loses his. His tricks no longer work on her, not even when he has all the whores of Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel helping him. She at last manages to successfully escape from him, and his barrage of pleading letters has no effect, even though they are for the first time in earnest. Belford, his best friend, refuses a request from him, and Clarissa reveals his cruel tricks to his own family. Lovelace loses his coming inheritance when Lord M. gets well again, and, most strikingly, his own contrivances begin to work against him when Mrs. Sinclair and her whores launch Clarissa’s arrest. His star is fading quickly, and nothing seems to be working in his favor.

This section reconfigures the allegiances and connections between the novel’s characters; all now finally seem to be stepping forward on Clarissa’s behalf. Belford is now unambiguously on Clarissa’s side and refuses to help Lovelace. The whores, previously Lovelace’s assistants in crime, are now unintentionally working against him. Clarissa, previously intimidated by Lovelace’s family, contacts Lady Betty directly and explains her case. Lovelace’s family is still willing to help him, but only to do Clarissa justice, and in collaboration with Anna Howe. Mrs. Norton and Hannah reappear as Clarissa’s still-faithful friends. Clarissa’s family remains on the edges of the scene, unchanged in their obstinacy. Nevertheless, the balance of allegiances has shifted from Lovelace’s corner to Clarissa’s.

Nevertheless, Clarissa is the real loser in the eyes of the world; her will may be inviolate and her virtue pure, but she is still a ruined woman. Anna’s and Mrs. Howe’s initial responses to her reveal this: although they are eventually won over, even Clarissa’s best friend and her mother reject her at first. That Anna, especially, would be so ready to condemn her best friend, whose virtue she has never doubted, shows just how serious was the situation of a woman who was raped. Clarissa’s only respectable option would be to immediately marry her rapist, which would bind her to a man who had committed an unspeakable violence against her. It is implied that anyone but Clarissa would have done this if she had the chance—that is, if the rapist would consent to marriage. Clarissa’s refusal to marry Lovelace is evidence of her exceptionality: She will remain pure, but as a consequence she will have no chance of worldly happiness.