So January and February was slow, slow, slow. So few letters. But March – wow. So many letters that I could hardly keep up. You can really tell that Clarissa is in so much trouble and is desperate, and that’s why she keeps writing and writing to her friend, Anna Howe. And Anna writes back because she’s so worried about her friend. Also, this is the month where we get to hear from Lovelace for the first time – the letters he writes to his friend.
I was so excited for this month. Finally we got to read a lot of letters and the story could really get going. Only thing is – it doesn’t get going. Nothing happens for the entire month of March. Yes, Clarissa writes and writes – but she just sits there in her chamber and begs her relatives to let her stay single and not marry Solmes.
This month we get to read the letters 11-71. So 60 letters all in all. Mostly, still, these are between Clarissa and Anna. I don’t like the letters from Anna that much anymore because the story only advances itself in Clarissa’s letters and since it moved so ever slowly in March, I only wanted to read the letters where there was a chance of something actually happening. Reading Clarissa became a struggle in March – which is also why I felt a bit behind this month and only finished March’s letters on April 3rd.
For this entire month, Clarissa is sitting in her room with her family trying to make her accept Solmes’ hand in marriage. Her father is raving around downstairs – ‘I will have no child, but an obedient one.’ (location 1659-63) – and he’s getting angrier and angrier. Clarissa is visited by her various female relatives – her mother, sister and aunt who all try to get her to agree to marry Solmes. Her mother is trying to guilt Clarissa into marrying Solmes by letting her know that she can prevent her mother’s life from being miserable. ‘Say not all the blame and all the punishment is yours. I am as much blamed and as much punished as you are; yet am more innocent.’ (location 3424-29) Her mother visits several times, each time trying harder and harder to get Clarissa to agree until she finally gives up on her.
Clarissa is being pressured from all sides – ‘Who at the long run must submit – all of us to you; or you to all of us? – If you intend to yield at last if you find you cannot conquer, yield now and with a grace – for yield you must or be none of our child.’ (location 2928-30), as her mother says. As the month goes by, Clarissa is becoming more and more desperate and searches for a way out of the marriage even though the fabric for dresses has arrived, a contract has been made up and she is being told that she has to go to her Uncle Anthony’s where she will definitely meet Solmes – and probably be forced into marrying him since there’s a chapel at Uncle Anthony’s.
She knows that she has no alliances in her family – even her mother has given up on her: ‘/…/ it was doubtless much more eligible to give up a daughter, than to disoblige a husband, and every other person of the family.’ (location 3368-74) . She keeps up her correspondence with Anna and Lovelace by hiding the letters in the garden and that’s all the support she has. She writes letter after letter to her family – but as the month goes by, fewer and fewer of them care to receive her letters. She even tries writing Solmes, telling him off for robbing her of her peace of mind, her family and friends and she accuses him of being selfish since he makes her suffer so and still persists. Her letter only encourages Solmes to keep on wanting her.
Anna encourages her to take possession of the estate her grandfather left her and thereby claim her independence. Clarissa does not want to go against her family by doing so. She does at one point offer to give the estate to her sister so that she can marry Solmes instead – and promises that she will remain single and let all her possession go to her siblings when she dies. But nothing that she offers, is accepted. Her family will see her marry Solmes no matter what it takes. Her father states at one point, that he can never forgive his daughter but might forgive Mr. Solmes’ wife … – and her parents will not see her before she is married to Solmes.
Meanwhile, Clarissa receives occasional letters from Lovelace and she admits to having – at times – a conditional liking for him. With her family trying to force her into a marriage with a man she truly dislikes, Lovelace is looking better and better all the time. Lovelace seems to be a very clever man. Throughout the month, Clarissa switches between preferring him to Solmes and truly disliking him. Lovelace uses her family’s attempt to force her to his advantage and says at one point: ‘this stupid family are all combined to do my work for me’ (location 4028). But we know that he is not a nice guy – already in letter 35 he mentions, that if he can’t charm her to come willingly, he might consider kidnapping and raping her.
The entire situation becomes a battle of wills. Clarissa’s family is determined not to let her marry Clarissa and Lovelace is determined to have her to get his revenge on her family. Clarissa becomes a pawn in their game and no matter what she does, she just ends up worse off. Clarissa concludes at one point – correctly so, I think – that Lovelace has more malice towards her family than he has regard for her.
I’ve read that Samuel Richardson tried to make Clarissa shorter but failed. After finishing with the March letters, I must say I could easily shorten this book. It’s so repetitive! She writes the same arguments over and over and over. As the month progressed, I started hoping for her brother to come up and drag her out of there, put her into a carriage and off she goes, just to have something happen. I’m actually starting to feel that she should at least obey somewhat and meet Solmes – it seems that she has formed an opinion about him without ever really meeting and talking to him. He sounds awful, he sounds like he would be a terrible husband – but come on, meet the guy! Do something!
I still find her brother annoying – but the problem is, I find all the characters in this novel annoying by now. Her brother says that ‘To put it out of your power to ruin yourself is the only way left to prevent your ruin.’ (location 5635-40) but everything her siblings do seem to be in their own interest. Clarissa starts talking about preferring death to marriage to Solmes: ‘/…/ there is no misfortune I will not submit to rather than yield to give my hand to the man whom I can allow no share in my heart.’ (location 6480-86) Still, I hardly care anymore about what happens to her – just as long as something happens!
At several points, there is talk about Clarissa is to be married in two weeks or going to her Uncle’s in two days – but every time I got my hopes up for some action, these things were postponed. And even though Clarissa starts to prepare to leave her father’s house by sending linen and letters to Anna, there is still no call to action. She still thinks that she can get her family to change their opinion.
March has really and truly been a struggle. I’ve complained so much about Clarissa that my boyfriend is asking why I even read on. But I’m hoping for some good to come – after all, I did like it a lot in January and February. Here’s to hoping that something will happen in April, that Clarissa will not use as many letters to describe it and that I will start caring again.