Clarissa, Or, The True Story of My Reading in 2012

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Merry Christmas! I hope it was wonderful for everyone. Mine was a very relaxing couple of days with family and I enjoyed it immensely.

As Christmas seems a concluding event to the year, it seemed especially satisfying that on Boxing Day I finished reading Clarissa. Yes, ours had been a year long affair, but like her family I neglected her terribly in the summer months. Now it is all over I feel quite sad but luckily I have the sense of achievement for comfort. Clarissa is an excellent read. Yes, really. If you want to be convinced to buy it, this is o’s post that convinced me.

Very well read.

Very well read.

When I started reading it back in January I was overwhelmed. The language was tricky and dense and despite my enthusiasm not a lot was going on in terms of plot. I read a few pages here and there until April, when I put the book down. And it stayed down. From time to time I would look at it sitting on my bookshelf and feel a bit guilty, but I started my War Books project so I wasn’t inspired to pick it back up. I knew that to finish it, I would have to read nothing but Clarissa until the bitter end and I wasn’t in the mood. Then came November and the awareness that I would have to start now or never if I didn’t want to be dragging my old reads into the new year. Funnily enough, I had managed to stop at just the moment Clarissa gets exciting. (Clever, me.) I made my schedule and stuck to it – actually I beat it slightly – and here we are.

Clarissa has got to be the ultimate classic: One of the very first European novels and one of Jane Austen’s favourite writers. I’m not quite sure why it is so neglected. Yes, it is incredibly long but that doesn’t stop us reading War and Peace or Les Misérables. Rather amusingly, in the Author’s Note at the end Richardson justifies the length of the novel by claiming that the details are what makes the story realistic and enjoyable, therefore why would you complain about getting a complete picture? (Incidentally on the Jane Austen note, there is a clergyman who is sent to check up on Clarissa who I’m sure must have been a basis for Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice.)

I wasn’t sure I would warm to Clarissa herself in the early stages because she’s so virtuous. I completely did, though. I fell for her hook line and sinker. I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone still ploughing through it, but what other end could there have been for her? And for Lovelace? The way the family separates and takes sides is so convincing and so much more interesting from only getting it through odd perspectives. I took sides too – I was always pleased when I turned the page and the next letter was one from Miss Howe or Mr Belford. The presence of Richardson at all was slightly mystifying because it really, honestly felt like I was reading real letters. Perhaps an obvious comment to make, but the characters are like Tolstoy’s – genuine people who change and adapt over time.

For a lot of this book I was only looking forward to finishing: I was counting pages and scheduling time. However, when I realised I was onto the final ten pages, I was gutted. I was so sad that something I had been carrying around and thinking about all year was leaving me. Read Clarissa for its characters and richness, for it’s often surprising plot, for its family drama, for its place in history, for its descriptions of a world far removed yet not so dissimilar from our own.

Just make sure you read it.

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