Clarissa Group Read: March update

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!

19 thoughts on “Clarissa Group Read: March update

  1. Elena says:

    I admire you all for compromising for a year! I don’t know if I’d be able to stick to a book for a whole year (or, if I did, if I could remember the beginning by July!). However, I’m sure one day I’ll get to read Clarissa, with patience and lots of free time 🙂

  2. alansgirl says:

    I had a time halfway through the month when I felt like giving up – the repetition becomes so boring but I did think this last week things picked up a bit and hopefully there will some action soon.
    I found SR’s footnote regarding Lovelace interesting too and have to admit to being a reader who didn’t think too badly of Lovelace.

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t think he seemed too bad at first either, but obviously I was wrong. I did enjoy reading his letters though as they made a change from reading Clarissa’s and Anna’s!

  3. Adam Stevenson says:

    I’m worried we will frequently find ourselves in these repetitive loops. For a book that shot out the traps so fast, it’s turning this first corner extremely slowly. I hope it can speed up at the next straight.

  4. JoAnn (@lakesidemusing) says:

    Congratulations on finishing the March letters! I fell behind a couple weeks ago and haven’t been able to catch up yet, but will eventually. There certainly aren’t any likable characters here and I’m sure Lovelace will turn out to be quite a villain. I’ve been reading this on my Nook, but will go back to the print edition and check the footnotes you mentioned.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t had time to read any more letters since Saturday so I’m already behind with April’s reading! By the way, I’m reading the free Kindle version and the footnotes were after Letter 27, if that helps.

  5. Liz Bailey says:

    Joining in here, because I read Clarissa many moons ago when I was researching the period for my novels. I read it along with Evelina, Pamela, Sir Charles Grandison (another Richardson), and a heap of other novels by Smollett and other 18thC authors. I found Clarissa very hard going, I must say, and I got pretty fed up with the sanctimonious hero. Grandison is much the same, though Pamela is a bit less difficult. Even Evelina tends to this kind of attitude of sighing after men who are uniformly upright and well-behaved, as against the Lovelace type. It seems to have been a backlash in fiction against the outrageous behaviour of men in general at the time, whereas in the Victorian era, the fiction seems to reflect that men were all goody-goodies (at least on the surface) and the women longed for a man with some guts! Clarissa is very typical of the earlier style, I thought. Good luck with keeping up! It’s not easy, but it does give a lot of valuable insights into the period.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I’m learning a lot about the attitudes of the period and I agree that it’s interesting to compare 18th century fiction with Victorian fiction. I haven’t read any of the other 18th century novels you mention, though I’ve been intending to read Evelina for a long time!

  6. christinasr says:

    A lot of your review sounds just like mine – pining after something, anything to happen! Getting one’s hopes up only to have the crushed. I’m hoping that April will see Clarissa out of the house for one reason or the other so we can get the plot to move along a bit.

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