I’m taking part in a year-long group read of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson hosted by JoAnn and Terri. 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.
This is my first post on Clarissa since I started reading the book in January – I didn’t post an update in February as I wasn’t very far into the book at that point and felt I didn’t really have much to say about it. Following the group read schedule of reading the letters on or around the correct dates, January and February were lighter months in terms of the number of letters we needed to read (11 in total for those two months); March was much more intense (61 letters) and it didn’t surprise me at all that I soon found myself falling behind. This time last week I was starting to despair of ever making any progress with this book and was wondering whether I really wanted to continue with it – however, I decided to make a big effort to get caught up and I managed to finish the March letters this morning.
Like the January and February letters most of this month’s letters have been between our title character, Clarissa Harlowe, and her friend Anna Howe. Despite the fact that I’m now 3 months and 72 letters into the novel very little has actually happened in terms of plot advancement. Clarissa’s family are determined to keep her away from Lovelace and to force her to marry Mr Solmes, but Clarissa is equally determined not to marry him. It’s all getting very repetitive, with various members of the family pleading with her, commanding her or trying to bully her into doing as they request, and Clarissa refusing to give in to their demands. I was beginning to get impatient, wondering when Lovelace would eventually appear – and we finally heard from him in Letter 31.
Although Lovelace hasn’t yet done anything too bad (other than bribing one of the Harlowe’s servants to spy for him) it’s obvious that he really is going to be the villain Clarissa’s family and friends have suggested he is. He claims to love Clarissa, but it seems that he’s more interested in getting revenge on her family. I was interested to read Samuel Richardson’s footnote where he felt the need to explain some of Lovelace’s motives, as he was apparently disappointed that so many of his readers liked Lovelace and had been misinterpreting his letters. Personally I don’t there’s a single character in this novel that I actually like – though I do have sympathy with the position Clarissa is in and am very glad I’m not living in the eighteenth century!
After Lovelace’s appearance I thought the plot might start to move forward at last, but after Letter 72 things are still the same. The repetitiveness is very effective in showing how Clarissa is running out of options and how hopeless her situation is, but at the moment I feel as if the story is just going round in circles. I’m now ready to start reading the April letters and although I’m feeling much more positive about the book than I was a couple of weeks ago, I hope something is going to happen soon!