Pressured by her unscrupulous family to marry a wealthy man she detests, the young Clarissa Harlowe is tricked into fleeing with the witty and debonair Robert Lovelace and places herself under his protection. Lovelace, however, proves himself to be an untrustworthy rake whose vague promises of marriage are accompanied by unwelcome and increasingly brutal sexual advances. And yet, Clarissa finds his charm alluring, her scrupulous sense of virtue tinged with unconfessed desire.
Told through a complex series of interweaving letters, “Clarissa” is a richly ambiguous study of a fatally attracted couple and a work of astonishing power and immediacy. A huge success when it first appeared in 1747, and translated into French and German, it remains one of the greatest of all European novels. Its rich ambiguities – our sense of Clarissa’s scrupulous virtue tinged with intimations of her capacity for self-deception in matters of sex; the wicked and amusing faces of Lovelace, who must be easily the most charming villain in English literature – give the story extraordinary psychological momentum.
ISBN: 9780140432152 Publisher: Penguin Classics (first published 1748) Publication date: August 29th 1985 Pages: 1534
First and foremost this book was an exercise in endurance. It almost reminded me of a long running soap opera that one could not watch for many months or years, come back to it, and not feel like you missed you anything! Due to being determined to finish this book I persevered.
Initially it started off OK, giving an insight into how it was expected for women to marry certain people, according to her father’s wishes, no questions asked. It was very clear early on in this book that her brother, sister and father, had arranged, and expected Clarissa, to marry a wealthy man that she detested. Clarissa, being the surprisingly feisty woman (at least to her family) that she was, dug her heels in and refused to conform with their wishes. The family then went into damage control because they’d never come across this behaviour in Clarissa before so it took them off guard.
In the beginning, I was very supportive of Clarissa and hoping that she would get her wish and not be made to marry a man she didn’t love. I felt sorry for her in that her whole family was against her and making her life a living hell, including locking her in her room.
Clarissa was portrayed as being in love with another man, Mr Lovelace, or at least that was how it came across. She organised to secretly run away with him but when it came to do so, she changed her mind (something it became abundantly clear she was prone to do), in part because she wasn’t dressed in the correct clothes for travelling. It was from this point that I started to find Clarissa annoying and Mr Lovelace as patient, understanding, and generally kind.
It became very clear, the further in to the book I got, Clarissa’s fickleness showed up time and time again particularly where her emotions and reasoning were concerned. I forgave this in the early stages of the book and shook it off as understandable given her treatment by her family. However, the further into the book I got the more her behaviour irritated me. I wanted to go and ‘shake’ her and tell her to grow up and make up her mind what she wanted to do and stick to her decision. She was manipulative and kept going back on her decisions as often as the weather changes. So the bulk of this book detailed her indecisiveness with pretty much everything. She also seemed to spend a lot of time apologising, to various people, and trying to make amends for actual or perceived offences that she had perpetrated. She came across as very vain and superficial.
Overall I really think this 1500+ page tome could easily have been reduced to 500 pages without drastically affecting the story. In fact it may have actually added a whole new level of strength to the story, which was made up entirely of letters between Clarissa and everybody else. If you want to tackle this book be prepared to put in the hard yakka because it’s a huge marathon effort not a sprint!
Recommend for: Adults Rating: 2.5 stars