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!

From one to six…

Before I started blogging I only ever used to read one book at a time. Now I’ve somehow found myself in the middle of six!

Here are the books I’m currently reading:

A Small Circus by Hans Fallada

Alone in Berlin was one of the best books I read last year, so I was excited about reading another of Hans Fallada’s novels. So far though, this one is not as good and I’m finding the plot quite confusing. I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to continue with it but will give it at least a few more chapters.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

This is the first of the Lymond Chronicles and the first Dorothy Dunnett book I’ve read. Dunnett fans will be pleased to know that I’m absolutely loving this book and have already ordered the next one in the series!

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

After reading The Rose Garden a few months ago I wanted to read another Susanna Kearsley book and was delighted to receive this one through Netgalley. I’m still near the beginning but I can already tell it’s going to be as good, or maybe even better, than The Rose Garden.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

With February marking the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth, I wanted to read one of his novels this month. I’m enjoying Great Expectations so far and finding it surprisingly easy to read compared to some of the other Dickens novels I’ve read. I’m reading a few chapters a day on my Kindle which I’ve found is a good way to get through some of these long classics.

Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

I started this Dickens biography in January. Not being a big non fiction fan, it’s taking me a long time to read this one as I’m only picking it up when I’m in the right mood for it.

Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

As I mentioned in a previous post I’m reading Clarissa as part of a year-long group read so I’m not expecting to finish it before December. This is another one I decided to read as an ebook as the paperback is just too big!


The six books that I’m reading at the moment are all different enough that I’m not having any trouble keeping them separate in my mind, but I do feel as if it’s been a long time since I actually finished a book!

How many books do you usually have on the go at the same time? Do you always finish one book before you start another or do you like to have a variety to choose from?

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!