Clarissa, Letters 31 – 80

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Letters 31 – 80, March 13th – April 5th

For had they not been imposed upon her by nature, when she was in a perverse humour, or could she have chosen her relations, would any of these have been among them?

I stuck to my guns and didn’t start a new book until I had caught up with some Clarissa. As long as the dates in the novel don’t overtake the actual date I’ve decided that means I’m doing alright. As ever, plot discussion and spoilers are limited to the next paragraph only.

This section contains the first of Lovelace’s letters. He claims extravagantly to be in love with Clarissa, but his previous character of a universal lover haunts him. We can gather that Clarissa is a prize rather than a wife and the pleasure of the catch is heightened by his dislike of her family and an opportunity to get one up on them. Clarissa tries to appeal to her uncles for help but they are a united front, rallying with her family. They assume she is rejecting their choice of husband as she only wants Mr. Lovelace. Clarissa claims to prefer Lovelace, but only because Solmes is such a bad match for her in terms of education and interests, she sticks to her previous assertion that she would rather remain single than marry either of them. After visits from various relatives, she is told she will be carried off to her Uncle’s house (complete with moat!) and married like it or not the following week. After offering to give up her inheritance, her parents then decide she can remain at home for a week as long as she spends one hour in Solmes’ company. Obviously this goes horribly, lots of shouting and weeping, for some reason Solmes thinks this is some kind of coyness and will continue his suit. Clarissa is to prepare for immediate travel whilst attempting to flee to stay with Anna Howe.

– Spoilers over! –

After such a long break from this book I initially had the same language struggles as I did at the beginning. But after some fair few pages, I got back into the swing of things. I find it difficult to compare Clarissa to modern novels, I suppose because writing letters to people is not the same activity it was in the 1700s. Considering it is a book filled with people writing incredibly long letters to (in many cases) people in the same house as them, it is actually quite exciting!

Now that I am a bit further into it, the characters are starting to gain more shape. As the tension increases, so does their passion, and the debates take on a more philosophical context. Richardson doesn’t shy away from discussing the different statuses of men and women or brothers and sisters. For a male writer in the 1700s when women were more of a margin, a commodity, his treatment of what marriage would be like for a young girl is surprisingly sensitive:

Once more, let me repeat, that this is not a small point to give up: and that it is for life. Why, I pray you, good sir, should I be made miserable for life? […] Marriage is a very solemn engagement, enough to make a young creature’s heart ache, with the best prospects, when she thinks seriously of it! – To be given up to a strange man; to be engrafted into  strange family; to give up her very name, as a mark of her becoming his absolute and dependent property: to be obliged to prefer this strange man to father, mother – to everybody: and his humours to all her own […] Surely, sir, a young creature ought not to be obliged to make all these sacrifices but fo such a man as she can approve. If she is, how sad must be the case! – how miserable the life, if to be called life!

Great paragraph, no? I’m certainly pleased I won’t be marrying an eighteenth century man.

In the last part of this commentary, I wasn’t enamoured with Clarissa herself: This has changed somewhat, as her arguments develop from the initial I just don’t want to. I have enjoyed the introduction of her Uncles, as they make me sympathise more with her parents views than I did at first.

Yes, I’m happy to have picked this back up. On a less serious subject of reading I have rewarded myself for all this Clarissa-ing by reading The Hunger Games trilogy. It isn’t a classic in a historical sense, but I may have to post about them because I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying them! Watch this space.