Clarissa: Month One

The first month’s worth of letters are under our belt, and it was rather enjoyable reading. There were only six letters for January, taking up less than twenty pages in my edition. I made a lot of notes from those six letters though. Here’s a recap of what we learn, and what piqued my interest.

Letter 1:
This dives straight into the story, no tedious preamble, just pitches right in. Clarissa’s friend Anna writes to say how ‘extremely concerned’ she is for all the turmoil Clarissa and her family are going through. She’s desperate to hear the gossip from Clarissa herself. We glean that there has been an altercation between Clarissa’s brother, James, and Mr Lovelace, in which the brother was both the aggressor and injured (literally) party. That James has a ‘natural imperiousness and fierce and uncontrollable temper’ is widely known. Clarissa too seems to be bearing some of the blame for the matter in public opinion, for encouraging Lovelace’s advances. Anna is less than reassuring to Clarissa, telling her that ‘Every eye, in short, is upon you with the expectation of an example.’ With friends like that…Anna also asks Clarissa to furnish her with the details of her grandfather’s will in which he gives Clarissa preference. Anna wants to send it to her aunt apparently, although I suspect Richardson is just using it as a way of giving us, the readers the opportunity to inspect the document.
Letter 2:
Clarissa’s reply is fairly extensive. She starts with some neat circular praise; Anna inadvertently praises herself when she praises Clarissa’s conduct as Clarissa takes her cues from Anna – this could go on forever. She declares she ‘will recite facts only’ about the Lovelace affair, but I don’t believe that for a moment. We find out some more about Clarissa’s grandfather’s bequest to her and a lot more about what led to the duel between James and Lovelace. Clarissa’s elder sister Arabella was the original object of Lovelace’s attention, and she was quite obviously taken with him, judging by her fretting in front of the mirror. Arabella gets a harsh assessment from her sister; she’s not a naturally good-humoured person apparently. That’s her sister and brother both inferior to Clarissa within the first two letters – Clarissa as paragon is being set up from the outset.
Letter 3:
This is a continuation of the previous missive. Some tension between the sisters over suitors is discernable, and Bella appears jealous of Clarissa as the focus of a union with Lovelace moves away from Bella and onto Clarissa. Lovelace’s character is discussed, and I had to laugh when Mrs Harlowe says that the only thing about him she objects to is his faulty morals. You’d think that might be a dealbreaker, but his fortune wins out. Lovelace begins trying to win Clarissa over, by writing to her, but she refuses to take any notice of those letters that are ardent towards her. Or does she? Her reason for not breaking off the correspondence all together is that to do so would require her to announce her reason for doing so – that seems tortured even for someone with such a high degree of sensibility as Clarissa.
Letter 4:
Here we find out why James hates Lovelace; it’s because Lovelace was so much cleverer and wittier at university than James. More jealousy. More details are given about the duel and its aftermath. Clarissa is upset by her public fame, and she thanks Anna for forewarning her and allowing her to relate the tale in her own words. The aforementioned will is included at the end of this letter; Clarissa was certainly her grandfather’s favourite.

Letter 5:

This is still Clarissa to Anna, and she confides that the affair is affecting her mother’s health. But, the woman is partly to blame for her own misfortunes, as ‘had she been of a temper that would have borne less, she would have had ten times less to bear’. I can’t help thinking that Clarissa is rather mean about her family. However, there’s no doubt that her brother is allowed an alarming amount of influence over the family; everyone waits for him to come and give his opinion, approval, or disapproval.  Perhaps Clarissa is right in her assessments after all.
Letter 6:
James’ behaviour is insufferable; he throws his weight around demanding to take charge of Clarissa and insulting her when he doesn’t get his own way. Clarissa is allowed to visit Anna after some discussion, much of which pertains to whether she ought to accept a call from Lovelace should he appear. I’m sure Richardson plays it straight, but as with Pamela when I read between the lines the women are less ambivalent towards the attention of their suitors than they avow.

My copy divided up by month
That’s it, we’re left waiting for Clarissa to return from Anna’s and resume their correspondence. Until 20 February, when #Clarissa continues.


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