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Literature / Clarissa

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Clarissa's grandfather dies and leaves her, the youngest female, a large estate (compared to others) because he liked her the most. The family realise that she needs to be married off to a man good enough to run such an estate and who would be great to have connections with, so they decide on Roger Solmes, who Clarissa despises. As this is happening, Lovelace (a man of questionable standards) declares interest in Clarissa and leaves her sister, Bella, to seduce her which ends in a fight to the death with the eldest brother, James - Lovelace wins, injuring James. At Clarissa's refusal to marry Roger Solmes her family decide to lock her in the house until she complies but she manages to sneak out secret messages to her dearest friend, Anna.


Clarissa Or A History Of A Young Lady was Samuel Richardson's last novel and told entirely by letters between various characters.

It's also the longest novel in the English language (making it number five behind four French novels). Published in 1747-8 and part of the public domain can be read here for free.

There was a television adaption in 1991 starring Sean Bean as Lovelace and Saskia Wickham as Clarissa.


Tropes Appearing in This Novel

  • Abduction Is Love: That's how Lovelace does it.
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Roger Solmes, the man the family wants to pair Clarissa up with. He is the full package: not only considered unattractive by the object of his admiration, but also selfish, greedy, and bent on not taking no for an answer.
  • Abusive Parents: Mr Harlowe was intended as a father who used his daughter's duty to be obedient without upholding his duties not to be an evil dictator. His abuse was probably considered something commonplace, but sad and cringe-worthy. Mrs Harlowe may have been intended as a victim, but to a modern reader, she often seems like a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds or a Wangsty Manipulative Bastard, and with her obsession with getting obeyed by her daughter and pleasing her husband, she sometimes comes across as a plain Troubled Abuser.
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  • Accomplice by Inaction: The heroine's mother and her aunt look like this from a modern reader's perspective because they never oppose the father when he does his best to force the heroine into an arranged marriage. Richardson seemed to partially agree, at least for the good aunt Hervey, whom he describes in the preface as "lacking the courage to go against so strong a steam, [and] sailing with it"
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed. Clarissa's initial fascination with Lovelace wears off very quickly. And it took a long time to build itself.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Clarissa's family, and possibly Mr Solmes, who may want to marry her mostly for the money and lets her be pressured and bullied into accepting the match.
  • Arranged Marriage: Clarissa with Roger Solmes. While he is happy about this, she absolutely despises him and refuses marry him - meaning she gets locked in the house until she does.
  • Big Brother Bully: James is constantly rude to Clarissa but claims he's being over protective. This quickly gets out of hand and he and Bella are soon causing Clarissa serious harm.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Bella, who also accuses Clarissa of being such.
  • Blessed with Suck: Clarissa gets left a huge amount of money from her grandfather's will! Oh, she has to marry somebody the family decides is suitable.
  • Character Title
  • Dead Man Writing: Clarissa's final letters to her family and friends, all intended to be read after her death.
  • Death Seeker: Lovelace, after he reads Clarissa's will and suffers a Villainous BSoD.
  • Does Not Like Men: Anna; she compares all men to baboons.
  • Domestic Abuse: In those days locking your disobedient daughter wasn't so bad but it's abuse now.
  • Doorstopper: Longest book in the English language. The Penguin Classics edition of 1985 comes in at 1,536 pages. Stitch that, George R. R. Martin.
  • Double Standard: Given the time of writing it's understandable.
  • Duel to the Death: Lovelace and James Harlowe; Lovelace and Col. Morden. In the second duel, Lovelace intentionally gets himself killed.
  • Epistolary Novel: The novel counts the amount at over five hundred letters.
  • Even Evil Has Standards / Jerk with a Heart of Gold : DeconstructedTrope for the two libertine villains respectively. Yes, the libertines may have scruples to "ruin" a poor girl, but they have doubtlessly hurt countles people.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Backfires when Clarissa's maid overhears a particular phrase, which leads to her dismissal after Clarissa uses the exact phrase in a letter to her parents.
  • Final Speech: "LET THIS EXPIATE!"
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Nor did it appear that [Lovelace] was so bad a man as had been represented; wild indeed, but it was at a gay time of life."
  • The Ingenue: Clarissa.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The blurb on the back of the 1985 Penguin Classic edition spoils the ending.
  • Morton's Fork: Clarissa has the choice between Solmes and Lovelace.
  • Noble Demon: Lovelace, at least initially. Clarissa admits she's heard as many good things as bad about him, or at least, more credible.
  • No Sympathy: Clarissa's family to Clarissa, from the moment it's clear she doesn't want to help them in their social-climbing by litterally selling herself to Mr Solmes.
  • Prince Charmless: Lovelace.
  • Rape as Drama
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: After Lovelace rapes Clarissa, she goes into a catatonic state and when asked to retell her rape, she ca only write one broken, incomprehensible letter. She never truly recovers.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Between Clarissa and Anna.
  • Take a Third Option: As Clarissa is worrying about her decision between marrying Solmes or running away with Lovelace, Anna suggests she comes with her to London. It doesn't happen.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • These constitute some of the awesomest parts of the book, and definitely happens between Anna Howe and Arabella Harlowe. Ab awesome moment of this sort may have happened between Arabella and Anna's mothers.
    • Bella's mother begs Mrs Howe to refrain Anna from insulting Bella (worst sister ever to Anna's best friend). Mrs Howe's answer is full of possible Stealth Insult material. For instance: she says that she finds Anna's desire to visit her friend ridiculous because Anna's place is with her, her mother (Clarissa's abandonned her once she fled), and not with her poor exceedingly ill friend, a fallen angel bad example for all her virtues and great judgement. She then supposedly criticizes young people's romantic notions, and finally ends her letter with a postcript, in which she expresses her desire to bring Anna away to distract her minds from the sorrow of her ill friend, ending with this little gem :
      Mrs Howe: [Clarissa]'s ill-fortune afflicts us nearly as much as her rashness afflicts you.
  • The Resenter: Bella is this to Clarissa, because of her grandfather's will, which favors her, of the general preference her family shows her because she has self-control and a conventionally beautiful woman. There is also something about Lovelace because he spurned her and took interest in her younger sister.
  • Villainous BSoD: Lovelace after he sees Clarissa's will.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • Woman Scorned: A large part of Arabella's antagonism to Clarissa.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Clarissa's mother tries to make her daughter pity her for being pressured into obtaining Clarissa's Arranged Marriage, in order to force her to marry Mr Solmes.


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