Clarissa Group Read: My thoughts so far

Throughout 2012 I’m taking part in the group read of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, hosted by JoAnn of Lakeside Musing and Terri of Tip of the Iceberg. I probably won’t be posting an update every month but I thought it would be a good idea to at least post at the beginning, at the end and a few times in between.

For those of you not familiar with Clarissa, the book was published in 1748 and has over 1500 pages. The story is told in the form of 537 letters, the first being dated 10th January and the last 18th December. The idea of reading Clarissa over an entire year is so that the letters can be read on or close to the dates mentioned in the book.

January’s letters form a series of correspondence between Clarissa Harlowe and her best friend Anna Howe. In the first letter we learn that Clarissa and her family are involved in some kind of scandal and Anna wants her friend to tell her the truth about what has happened. Clarissa then replies to Anna with an account of the events that followed her family’s introduction to Mr Lovelace. At first Mr Lovelace had been interested in Clarissa’s sister, Arabella, before turning his attentions to Clarissa herself. It seems that Clarissa’s entire family disapprove of Lovelace, particularly after her brother James gets into a fight with him and is wounded. In the last of the January letters Clarissa has been given permission to visit Anna and stay with her for a few days.

I love the concept of reading each letter on the correct date, but I’ll admit I haven’t been sticking exactly to the schedule. I’m concerned that although January and February have a manageable number of letters (6 in January and 5 in February) some of the other months have a lot more to read (61 letters in March, for example). I don’t want to fall behind later in the year so I’ve been reading slightly ahead of schedule to make sure that doesn’t happen. I know this isn’t quite the idea of the group read but I think it’s the only way I’m going to have time to read the whole book before the end of December.

As I didn’t already have a copy of Clarissa I considered buying the paperback for the readalong, but in the end I downloaded the Kindle edition of the book, which is divided into 9 volumes. There are a couple of advantages to this, I think. I know from my experience of reading other books with 1000+ pages that they can be physically difficult to hold, so at least I don’t have that problem with the ebook version. And it also seems less daunting somehow to be reading 9 separate shorter volumes instead of one thick book.

I was expecting Clarissa to be a difficult book to understand as I haven’t read a lot of 18th century literature, but I actually haven’t had too much of a problem with the language. I wouldn’t describe it as an easy read and I certainly haven’t understood every word, as there are some that are no longer in use or that had different meanings in the 18th century, but I’m trying not to worry about that as long as I can still follow what’s happening. I’m enjoying the story so far and looking forward to continuing with it throughout the rest of the year!

24 thoughts on “Clarissa Group Read: My thoughts so far

    • Helen says:

      It’s definitely more convenient to read a 1500 page book on an ereader! I’ve found that there are a lot of advantages to having an ereader, though I still love reading actual books too.

  1. The Book Whisperer says:

    I had never considered reading this book, Helen, mainly due to its size but I didn’t know that it was done in letter form over a year – what a brilliant idea for a readalong. I hope you carry on enjoying and I’m looking forward to the final verdict (maybe it will inspire me to pick it up?) 🙂

  2. Cat says:

    Glad you’re enjoying it too. Seems most of us have settled for an e-reader because of it’s size.
    61 letters in March sounds a bit daunting compared to Jan-Feb but at least we won’t be waiting weeks for the next letter.

  3. JoAnn says:

    March and April have a lot more letters! Depending on my schedule, I may try to get a little ahead next month… we’ll see. So far, Clarissa is much more enjoyable than I was expecting. There are some strange words and phrases, and it does require my full attention, but overall I am pleasantly surprised.

  4. Adam Stevenson says:

    Eighteenth Century books are easier to read then nineteenth, although the language has changed (and thank goodness we don’t have to think about the various meanings of ‘sentimental’ for example) they are more direct, emotional and just plain entertaining, I find.

    What is setting Clarissa apart so far is the level of complicated psychology, which in terms of mental life, has far outstripped it’s contemporaries.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read much eighteenth century fiction at all, apart from a few gothic novels which I think were from nearer the end of the century. I would agree that so far Clarissa has been easier to read than some of the nineteenth and even twentieth century novels I’ve read!

      • Adam Stevenson says:

        I hate late nineteenth/ early twentieth century novels – I just want them to get on with it and stop faffing around with superfluities, but the eighteenth century ones, if they faff around – that is them getting on with it. (E.g Tristram Shandy).

  5. Terri B. says:

    Glad you are enjoying it! It is a commitment though, isn’t it. I downloaded Clarissa to my Kindle as well. The physical book is such a brick and the print is so tiny (especially at the end of the day when my eyes are tired). I’m not sticking to a strict corresponding date read, but trying to stay close-ish. I’ve listed out the range of letters for each month and will pace myself throughout each month. I figure if I do need to read ahead I’ll do so, write up my thoughts, and save them to post in the appropriate month.

  6. mel u says:

    I down loaded the same Kindle edition-reading long books is much easier for me on my Ipad then in a book and I can also adjust the print size. I do like how we are reading the book kind of in real time-

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