Joseph Highmore, The Harlowe Family (Wikimedia)
For a great introduction to this painting take a look at Lynn Shepherd’s blog post here.
It was a long wait inbetween letters six and seven but it was worth it. After being dragged back from Anna’s house by her family, Clarissa is acquainted with their choice of husband for her: the dull Solmes. The four letters we get in February all concern this unpleasant turn of affairs.
Letters 7-9 are all from Clarissa to Anna. In the first of these she describes how her family receives her in a frosty manner. Her parents, siblings, and uncles are all ranged against her as she is accused of having received visits from Lovelace whilst staying with the Howes. Of course, Clarissa cannot deny this, but excuses it by saying that as he always asked for Mrs or Miss Howe there was no way of denying him. Lovelace’s social status entitles him to civility.
Clarissa’s brother James is behaving in an unpleasant manner, as seems normal for him. Bella too is getting as many digs in as possible. Clarissa demonstrates that she too can deliver an insult, telling Anna that ‘poor Bella has, as you know, a plump, high-fed face’. Go on Clarissa, you let it out!
In Letter 8 things get worse for Clarissa. Her parents are avoiding her, letting James play patriarch and proxy. Clarissa cannot possible accept Solmes, he doesn’t meet her idea of a refined and educated gentleman. But, as long as she refuses him she is effectively confined to the house and denied any communication with the outside world. She is even kept from church rather than bump into Lovelace. Although all her inclination is to obey her parents, she finds it impossible. Her father treats her harshly, demanding to be obeyed without equivocation.
All this spite and bluster riles Clarissa, and in Letter 9 the steel in her character is revealed. She plots to continue her communication with Anna and rails at the unfairness of her treatment. In Letter 10 we finally hear from Anna again in a lively and revealing missive. Anna is rude about all Clarissa’s relatives, and says they put money and status before happiness. She tells her friend that although Clarissa is the better person it is Anna that is more suited to dealing with the world. Anna also knows that Clarissa has more interest in Lovelace than Clarissa herself has so far admitted.
Luckily this time there is only a day to wait until the next letter, when Clarissa responds to Anna.
I’m enjoying this real-time read-along very much. Don’t forget to use #Clarissa for all related tweets. There are a lot of letters in March so it will be interesting to see what the Harlowes get up to next.