Virginia Woolf: Orlando (review)

18839 I have owned Orlando for years and been wanting to read it for even more years but Virginia Woolf is a bit intimidating to me. Even after having read – and really liked – To the Lighthouse, I still find her a difficult author to read. But since Orlando is so short, I thought it would be a rather quick read and decided to bring it and read it on our summer holiday. Well, I was wrong about it being a quick read but I was right to bring it with me on holiday because I have quite a bit of time to read when we’re on holiday and this book just needs that you give it some time. At least it does for me. It’s one of those books that forces you to read slower to grasp it all. Not only is it written in a way that makes you go more slowly, my edition also came with a lot of notes that I had to read because they – or at least most of them – actually added to my understanding of the novel. And add to this that I took quite a bit of notes while reading this, of course it will take several days to read these less than 300 pages.
Now who is this Orlando? Orlando is a young man born during the reign of Elisabeth 1. Or at least he is a young man for the first 200 years or so of his life because after that, he suddenly wakes up a woman. Already now, you should know that this is not a novel – or rather, a historical biography – to be read literally. This is in fact a long love letter to Virinia Woolf’s friend Vita Sackville West and at the same time, it’s a book about history and how it’s dominated by male figures. It’s about gender roles in general, about the genre of biography – and it’s absolutely wonderful. Yes, it’s difficult going and yes, this is one of those books that you really need to work at to really get – and I know that I didn’t get anything near to all that is to get in this novel.
One thing I really liked is, how Woolf plays with time in this book – and with how we perceive time and how we relate a life. Seemingly huge life events in Orlando’s life are only hinted at or maybe just mentioned in brackets and I like that, because it’s not always the so called big events that are the most important to us. But these events are the ones the biographer focus on because they are the documented ones and so, the biographed life gets a bit twisted when compared to the real life. And some people live lives filled with experiences while others are seemingly dead on their feet. ‘The true length of a person’s life /…/ is always a matter of dispute.’ (p. 211)
Oh, and Woolf’s funny too. I love how she got rid of an unwanted suitor by dropping a frog down his shirt! She had tried to get rid of him in a lot of other ways but he just kept on forgiving her because she was just a weak woman and they were alone so no one had to know that she cheated at games for instance. Or this quote: ‘/…/ of what nature is death and of what nature life? Having waited well over half an hour for an answer to these questions, and none coming, let us get on with the story.’ (p. 49) Or this one explaining why Orlando’s writing style has changed: ‘Also that the streets were better drained and the houses better lit had its effect upon the style, it cannot be doubted.’ (p. 77)
The best thing about this book is, that it really makes me want to study, to learn more about Virginia and Vita to be able to understand it more, to get more from it. It makes me want to read and read, to be an intellectual and a snob and go to fancy dinner parties with other people who cares about this book, who wants to spend hours talking about love, time, aging, biographies and how funny Woolf really is. It makes me want to take a class on this author, this book, and learn everything. And it makes me want to read her other books. It’s a sort of treasure map to the promised land, an unspoken guarantee that the more I know the more I will get from reading this – and this will go on forever. Few books makes me feel this way – although The Great Gatsby did recently – and it truly reminds me how diverse and wonderful literature is and how lucky I am to be a bibliophile.

  • Title: Orlando
  • Author: Virginia Woolf
  • Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
  • Year: 2000 (original 1928)
  • Pages: 273 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Related posts (other books read for The Classics Club):

Oh and read this post too over at Délaissé:

I read this one for The Classics Club and for my attempt at reading the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

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Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo (review)

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‘Wait and hope!’

So one of the major things you learn if you read The Three Musketeers is, that whenever a musketeer is in trouble, there will be fencing. Lots of duels and all fought with rapiers. So I sort of thought I knew what would be happening in this one. People would fence their hearts out and it would be swashbuckling madness. But The Count of Monte Cristo is a very different book than that. And definitely not in a bad way.

Where the morale of The Musketeers is about friendship and loyalty and is shown mostly through the positive behavior of these musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo is in some ways a more sinister book with a focus on how man shall be careful with playing God although still with an emphasis on being truthful and loyal. It’s a novel filled with smugglers, murders, poisoners, illegitimate children, young lovers and cruel fates – and revenge.

Edmond Dantès is a happy young man. Much beloved by his old father, his betrothed as well as his master, he is on the brink of making it. He has been promised the position as Captain on the ship he sails on and he is about to marry Mercedes, the love of his life. However, jealousy abounds around him and he is betrayed by three men he views as friends and is arrested at his own wedding party. When he is brought in front of the magistrate, however, he is sure to be freed because the magistrate seems so kind to him and, of course, because he is innocent.

However, this takes place in France at the time when Napoleon Bonaparte and the royal family is battling over who is to rule France and Edmond Dantès is not only caught in this but also get caught up in the magistrate’s own ambitions and family secrets.

So instead of being freed, he is thrown into a prison at Chateau d’If without chance of parole and is left there to die or go mad. But Dantès is lucky and not only survives but manages to escape and become a rich man because of a strange friendship he formed in prison even though he was put in isolation.

And this enables him to seek revenge on the four men who has ruined his life and turned him into a hard and bitter man; a man willing to wait and plot for years to achieve his goals: to give back to the people who treated him kindly and tried to help him – and to destroy the ones who ruined him.

It’s a book which roughly said is split into three parts. The first part is where we are introduced to Edmond Dantès and his family, friends and foes and where he is wrongly sentenced and put in prison. The second part is where he is setting the stage, networking and preparing for the third part which is his revenge on everyone who ever wronged him. I felt that the second part was a bit slower than the other two. I wouldn’t say it dragged but it was less of a thrilling read. Whether this was actually caused by the novel or because I started a new job at this point and only read about 10-20 pages maybe every other day, I’m not sure. Suffice to say that whether the one or the other was the case, I still really enjoyed this novel and am a bit surprised by myself that I haven’t read it earlier.

My edition, Everyman’s Library, has a preface by an Italian translator and I found it so strange that an French book translated into English should be prefaced by the person who had translated the novel into Italian – but it was engaging and interesting so I kept reading. And I must admit I blushed a bit when I reached the end of the preface and read the name of the translator. Umberto Eco. Okay, I guess then it was fair enough to have him write the preface…!

Despite it’s many many pages (1188 to be exact) and despite the fact that it took me 33 days to read it, this is not a difficult read. It’s engaging with a fascinating main character who one initially gains an incredible amount of sympathy for – but who still is very flawed. Dumas manages to create an enigmatic protagonist whom you start out with nothing but positive feelings for but then his actions and his complete focus on getting his revenge even though innocents get caught in the middle, makes him a character whose actions you really have to question. Man is not supposed to play God!

  • Title: The Count of Monte Christo
  • Author: Alexandre Dumas
  • Publisher: Everyman’s Library #320 – Alfred A. Knopf
  • Year: 2009 (original 1844)
  • Pages: 1188 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Related posts (other books read for The Classics Club):

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (review)

$(KGrHqJ,!h!E-7S82Jb6BP0N1CdgO!~~60_35Years ago, when I was a young teenager, I remember watching The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford. I was not impressed. I don’t remember anything from the movie except an image of Redford in a white suit. An image, I’m not even completely sure is from that movie and not from some other Redford movie. I think I was too young to understand it and until now, this has been my only impression of The Great Gatsby.

But since Baz Luhrman decided to make a new Gatsby movie, The Great Gatsby has been everywhere. So I decided that not only did I want to read the book, I also wanted to watch both movies.

Of course I started with the book. I was slightly taken aback by it’s slow start. Being a novel of only 188 pages, it seemed odd at first how many pages went by without Gatsby appearing. But when he finally did step into the pages of the book, I was instantly intrigued.

The novel is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, a young man who happens to live next door to the impressive mansion belonging to Jay Gatsby. From a distance, he watches the lavish parties thrown by Gatsby until finally he is invited and able to experience the extravaganza of Gatsby firsthand.

At this party, he meets Jordan Baker and is drawn into Gatsby’s inner circle and he finds out that Gatsby Is in love with a married woman living across the bay. Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby were sweethearts when they were younger but Gatsby had to leave for the war and when he returned, Daisy was married.

Gatsby has never forgotten his love for Daisy and both Jordan and Nick becomes involved, not only both with Gatsby’s quest to get Daisy back but with each other as well.

Gatsby struck me as such a forceful character. I was immediately intrigued by him. His desperate longing for Daisy and for the status in life, a marriage with her will mean, is apparent on every page and his plight is just so real. I remember walking past the house where the boy I had a crush on lived – over and over and over, just wishing for him to look out the window and notice me. Gatsby, having way more money than teenage me, moves in across the bay from his crush, stares longingly at the green light on her pier, throws huge glamorous parties in order to entice everyone to participate in the hope that one day, Daisy will show up and step back into his life.

Alas, such all-consuming love is rarely rewarded but maybe Gatsby’s love, devotion and ambition will be enough to ensure a happy ending?

It’s a heart breaking novel. A man who struggles so, who does everything in his power to become the man he thinks his one true love wants him to be. A man who is the loneliest man in the world when he stands on his own front lawn, bidding the last of his guests farewell, another night wasted, another night without Daisy.

This is a book and a character that will stay with me. I’m already looking forward to rereading it after watching the movies and getting their perspectives on the story, nay, the life of Jay Gatsby, billionaire and star-crossed lover extraordinaire.

For anyone who has ever loved and lost and longed for that lost love, this is the perfect novel.

‘So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.’ (p. 142)

  • Title: The Great Gatsby
  • Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Year: 1994 (original 1926)
  • Pages: 188 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Toni Morrison: Beloved (review)

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‘Nothing was in that shed, he knew, having been there early that morning. Nothing but sunlight. Sunlight, shavings, a shovel. The ax he himself took out. Nothing else was in there except the shovel – and of course the saw.’ (p. 185)

Even though Sethe has lived eighteen years in freedom, she is still haunted by her past. She is haunted by what happened on the farm where she was a slave, what happened with her children, what happened to her husband and her fellow slaves at Sweet Home. And most of all, she is haunted by the ghost of her baby girl, the dead baby who is living in the house with Sethe and her daughter Denver. The dead baby on whose grave only one word is written: Beloved.

After reading this novel, I had a conversation with my boyfriend about whether any of us could ever seriously hurt or even kill our daughters to prevent them from suffering a worse fate. It’s difficult to imagine a situation where we would have to make that choice – and even if it ever happened, I think we would both always hope that something would happen that would save them and that by killing them, we would take away any chance, however remote, of them ever leading a happy life.

Not so for Sethe. After living in slavery for years and finally escaping with her baby, after having sent her three oldest children to safety earlier, she will do anything to ensure that none of her children will ever have to suffer through what she suffered as a slave – even though she had it easy for much of that time. But of course, that’s not the point. What is the point is that when you are a slave, someone else is so much in charge of you that they can take everything from you, not just the few possessions you have or your family, but yourself too. ‘That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.’ (p. 295). And as a mother, you can’t let that happen to your children, can you? So instead, you choose safety by handsaw… and you protect your children best way you can. Even if it’s a gruesome way.

So what makes this book such an outstanding novel is not the story itself even though it is inspired by real events. It’s not the characters even though they stand out from the pages. It’s the writing. The way Morrison uses words is the true star of this book and the skillful way she tells much, but not all. You are not always sure what’s going on, sometimes you have to go back and reread a passage several times, but it’s always devastatingly beautiful. You have to use your imagination to piece it all together – and somehow, that makes it worse. The narrative is not told in a straight and linear way, you jump back and forth as Sethe remembers more and more of what she has hidden away but which the arrival of another slave from Sweet Home awakens in her again. I was confused several times while reading this book and then, towards the end, when she uses different POVs, different voices and even wrote parts in prose poem style, I was even more confused. But it’s a good confusion. It’s the kind of confusion that shows you that there is something here that’s worth coming back for, that you need to read carefully and concentrated and definitely more than once.

Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer winner and a Nobel Prize recipient – and rightly so, if I am to judge by this book. If the rest of her books live up to this standard, I’m impressed! I am not sure if she will become a new favorite author because I think her books might be too devastating – on the other hand, it was such a joy to read a book where an author was so much in command of her abilities and everything was just right. This is a novel you just have to read – there’s no way around it.

Beloved

You are my sister

You are my daughter

You are my face; you are me

I have you found you again; you have come back to me

You are my Beloved

You are mine

You are mine

You are mine (p. 255-256)

  • Title: Beloved
  • Author: Toni Morrison
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Year: 1987
  • Pages: 324 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

The final months of Clarissa

9780140432152Yes, I’m done with this thing and it’s actually a couple of months since I finished it. I just couldn’t face up to doing anything related to Clarissa after finally being able to put her to sleep – so to speak. But she keeps nagging me – until I write this post and my final review of the book, I can’t really let her go. And I want to be rid of her!

This is the last months of the book. If you haven’t read the book, there will be spoilers. Starting now, in fact!

So we’ve lost Clarissa already and still, Richardson soldiers on. Luckily, we’ve only got a few letters left, mostly dealing with the shock Clarissa’s death causes everyone who knew her. We get to know Anna a little better when she reveals that the real cause to her continuing postponing of her marriage, is because she has liked a man at one point whom neither her mother nor Clarissa approved of which caused her to be in opposition – even though she knew that man wasn’t all he said to be.

Both Lovelace and cousin Morden asks Belford to be the executors of their wills, should anything happen to them. Lovelace is returning to his old ways although he still claims he wants to reform. And of course, Lovelace and Morden agree to meet up – and of course, it all ends in another duel.

And then, we’re treated to a short review of all the characters in the book and what happens to them how they will lead their lives as well as a morality lesson.

And thus ends Clarissa – the longest novel in the English language.

And I have conquered it!

Related posts:

The books taken off from the 2012 version of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

So about three weeks ago I wrote about the new version of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and the 12 books that have been added to the just published version. At that point, I couldn’t find out which books had been taken off the list – but now I do. So here’s the list of the 12 books, the editors no longer feel we should read before we die.

  • Edward St. Aubyn: Mothers Milk
  • Paul Auster: Invisible
  • Paul Auster: The Music of Chance
  • Pat Barker: The Ghost Road
  • Peter Carey: Jack Maggs
  • Don DeLillo: Falling Man
  • Ian McEwan: Enduring Love
  • Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore
  • Ardal O’Hanlan: The Talk of the Town
  • Ricardo Piglia: Money To Burn
  • Ali Smith: The Accidental
  • William Trevor: Felicia’s Journey

So these books are no longer worth reading apparently. I’ve only read two of these – Don DeLillo’s Falling Man and Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore – and I haven’t read enough of the rest of the books still on the list to really be able to say if that’s true. I think it’s okay to take off one book by an author to add a better book by that author instead – however, I loved Kafka on the Shore. I haven’t yet gotten around to reading 1Q84 which is now on the list so I don’t know if it’s as good or maybe even better than Kafka on the Shore. But I’m definitely willing to give it a go.

Don DeLillo, as I’ve written before, confuses me. I’ve read Mao IIFalling Man and parts of Underworld and I really don’t get what all the fuss is about. I simply don’t get him or his work. I don’t understand quite what it is he wants with his books. I liked parts of Falling Man, parts I thought were brilliant, but overall, I didn’t like it all that much.  I gave up on Underworld and although I plan on giving it another go this year, I’m really not looking forward to it. And I don’t remember anything about Mao II except that I was disappointed in it. I really feel most like giving DeLillo this last chance and then give up on him, if I don’t like this book. But I’m pretty sure that there are more DeLillo books on the list so maybe I’ll just push them down so his books will be the last books I read from the list – DeLillo’s books and American Psycho

But these books are off the list – what do you think about it?

Related posts:

Clarissa in September

Well, September is the last month with a lot of letters. 65 letters. About five things happens in this book – and one of these is in this month. As with all readalong posts, there will be spoilers below.

As she was in August, Clarissa is preparing to die. She’s very ill and just gets more and more ill as the days pass. Her coffin is ordered and has arrived to her room. She has written and signed her will and is spending her time, preparing mentally for death and finds herself blessed with a gradual, sensible dead. She wishes to see no one from her family, not even mrs. Norton.

Lovelace is still Lovelace. He thinks Clarissa has triumphed more over him than she has suffered from him and calls everything that has passed between them a jest. Even though he still don’t believe that she’s that ill – or at least hopes it’s a plot to punish him – he dares not visit her for fear it will kill her. His friend Belford asks her to let Lovelace visit her so she can personally forgive him but she refuses. Which is a good thing, since Lovelace never learns. Even late, late in the novel, he only thinks himself guilty of a common theft…!

Meanwhile, in Clarissa’s family, Cousin Morden is furious with them, especially her brother. He is determined to not stay under the same roof as any in her family and he wants to make her his heir – if she lives.

But all the hopes of Lovelace, all the efforts from cousin Morden, all the non-believing from Clarissa’s family don’t matter. Clarissa was seriously ill and so, she dies. As usual in this book, when something exciting happens, you are not told directly or in very many details at first. You have to read on for that.

After her death, letters come from both mrs. Norton and Clarissa’s sister. Mrs Norton tells her that the entire family is now in her favor and that they have no conditions for seeing her anymore and even her sister’s letter is very kind. However – it’s too late. Clarissa herself leaves letters for her entire family and friends – and even Lovelace. Her letters are meant to give comfort and are filled with love. She begs both her brother and her cousin Morden to not do anything about Lovelace – she doesn’t want her fault to be continued after her death. And then she asks them to rejoice with her since she’s in a better place, she’s happy.

Lovelace on the other hand is devastated. He’s almost insane with grief and writes one letter where he wants her embalmed and wants to keep her heart in spirits where he always can see it. Because he considers himself her husband, he wants to take care of everything and wants to interpret her will as he sees fit. Her family too wants Belford to step down as executors but he resists and carries through everything in her will to the letter – which is a good thing since her siblings have some issues with the will. But finally, her parents step up and overrules her brother so they do their part in getting her will carried out exactly as she wanted.

Even her brother has regrets now: ‘I meant nothing but the honour of the family; yet have I all the weight thrown upon me.’ (41340-47)

Cousin Morden takes her coffin home and makes sure she’s buried as she wanted to be, by the foot of her grandfather’s coffin. Her brother swears revenge on her dead hand and Anna comes to see Clarissa one last time.

Clarissa’s posthumous letter to Lovelace is written with the intent to save her soul and right after her death, Lovelace is devastated. He recovers quickly, though, and soon, he hopes to be what he was ‘/…/ once more the plague of a sex that has been my plague and will be every man’s plague, at one time or other of his life.’ (42908-15)

Even though I have enjoyed this book more in this second half, it still has major faults. Now, I’m not going to comment at this point on the goodness of Clarissa and the evilness of Lovelace – both being total with no shades of grey – I just want to mention the lack of editing and a sense of what to include and what to omit on Richardson’s part. He writes Clarissa’s entire will – and she has thought of everything. It just gets sooooooooo boring to read on and on and on what she wants to give to whom and why. The true shortcoming of this novel is simply put that everything takes too long. Every letter is too long, every thing that has happened is penned out in so many details that even the exciting things gets less so.

“And thus died Miss CLARISSA HARLOWE, in the blossom of her youth and beauty: and who, her tender years considered, has not left behind her her superior in extensive knowledge, and watchful prudence; nor hardly her equal for unblemished virtue, exemplary piety, sweetness of manners, discreet generosity, and true Christian charity: and these all set off by the most graceful modesty and humility; yet on all proper occasions manifesting a noble presence of mind and true magnanimity: so that she may be said to have been not only an ornament to her sex, but to human nature.” (40837-42)

Related posts:

The 2012 version of the 1001 list

Every two years, a new edition of the 1001 books you must read before you die list is out. Every time, those of us who tries to work through the list, is anxiously awaiting to see how the new additions and removals will influence our percentage of finished books.

The new edition was published on October 1st and so far, we know for sure that 11 new books have been added to the list and 1 book that previously has been on the list but was removed, has been put back on. We also know which 12 books have made the cut.

Here’s the 12 books that have been added to the 2012 version:

  1. Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending
  2. Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha (was on the 2006 list but got taken of for the 2008 list – now it’s back on)
  3. Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad
  4. Jeffrey Eugenides: The Marriage Plot
  5. Jonathan Franzen: Freedom
  6. Chad Harbach: The Art of Fielding
  7. Nicole Krauss: The History of Love
  8. Lorrie Moore: A Gate at the Stairs
  9. Haruki Murakami: 1Q84
  10. Philip Roth: Nemesis
  11. José Saramago: Cain
  12. Ali Smith: There but for the

However, it gets interesting when we look at the books that have been removed. So far, I’ve only been able to find 8 books that have been taken off the list in this edition.

Here’s the books that have been removed:

  1. Paul Auster: The Music of Chance
  2. Pat Barker: The Ghost Road
  3. Peter Carey: Jack Maggs
  4. Ardal O’Hanlan: The Talk of the Town
  5. Ian McEwan: Enduring Love
  6. Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore
  7. Ricardo Piglia: Money to Burn
  8. William Trevor: Felicia’s Journey

If 4 more books has been taken off – and to keep the list on 1001 books, 4 more books have to be taken off, then the number of books which have been on at least one of the (so far) 4 different versions of the list, totals 1306 books you must read before you die. 1306! That’s quite a lot of books!

I’m rather excited about the new version. I have only read one of the books that have been taken off – Haruki Murakami Kafka on the Shore. But another Murakami has been added so I’m okay with that. I have yet to read 1Q84 so I don’t know if it’s better/more influential than Kafka on the Shore but it feels okay to me to exchange an author’s older work with a newer one if the newer seems more important. So since I had only read one book of the ones we know have been removed, the removals don’t influence my total that much. Although of course the addition of 12 books that I haven’t read, does set me back.

Of the 12 books that have been added to the list, I own 5: A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Marriage Plot, Freedom, 1Q84 and There but for the. And of the remaining 7, 2 are on my wish list: The Sense of an Ending and The History of Love. This means, that of the 12 added books, I already have an interest in reading 7! And have heard of all the rest as well. So I feel good about the new additions. Although it is a bit weird to have Memoirs of a Geisha on the 2006 list, then take it off the 2008 list – and then put it back on in 2012.

And that’s of course always the issue with newer literature. How do you know if it will be influential and important – or even considered good in a decade or two? The older literature, the books written by Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Fitzgerald and more, you know they are good. You know their importance. But do you know that yet of Ali Smith or Jennifer Egan? I don’t know – as I said, I haven’t read them yet. But I’m eager to find out!

I’m actually trying (not very hard, it must be said) to read all books that have ever been on any one of the lists. Which means (say it with me) 1306 books! 
I have read 76 books from the list – which means I have 1230 to go. Or at least, 1230 books until the list is changed again in 2014… I better get on with it!

How do you feel about the new additions to the list?

Clarissa in August

Well, I didn’t read any Clarissa in August which means that I had to read a lot in September instead. I’m starting to run out of intelligent new things to say – maybe I have been for a couple of months. It’s still long, it’s still repetitive (although not as much as in the first half), I still like it when I’ reading it but it’s a chore to pick it up. And so on and on, month after month. I’m nearing the end now and I’m looking forward to being finished. Especially after Lindsey Sparks, another participant in this read-along, finished it. (Read her take on it here.)

But let’s return to the task at hand. Let’s see what Clarissa was up to in August. In August, we have letters 382-456. All in all, Clarissa consists of 537 letters so I’m getting very close to the end!

Despite everything that has happened so far, Lovelace still wants Clarissa. Even if she is to die shortly, she shall die a Lovelace if he has anything to say about it. His family still pleads for Clarissa to marry him and to save his soul. However, Clarissa will not sanctify his wickedness by vowing at the altar, no matter who argues in his favor.

While Lovelace’s family are extremely kind to Clarissa and wish to include her in the family, her own family is still rather harsh. Not only do they send a young foolish man (who believes himself a very intelligent intellectual and flaunts it at all occasions) to spy on her, they also write her very harsh letters, asking her if she’s pregnant. A question, Clarissa doesn’t want to answer. The pregnancy rumor is started by this silly young man because he finds Clarissa ill and staying in bed… – a nice comment on how gossip begins! This rumor actually makes Clarissa’s family suggest that she leaves the country to go to a plantation in Pennsylvania.

Lovelace has still not learned. He wants Clarissa – and if he can’t have her, he considers molesting her or her friend, Anna Howe. Despite promising to stay away, he comes to visit her. Clarissa, however, has been warned by Belford and has left her lodgings. Lovelace still schemes, trying to get Clarissa’s landlords to like him so they will talk him up and let him in to visit her.

Clarissa gets some of Lovelace’s letters from Mr. Belford and despite liking the way, he portrays her, she still finds more satisfaction in the hope that she will be dead within a month than she does in thinking about all the pleasant things that will come from a marriage to Lovelace. She makes Belford her executor as well as the protector of her memory and seeing how well Lovelace writes about her, she decides not to write her own story, deciding to use her last time more useful in preparing for death.

She still wishes to be forgiven by her parents but it becomes less and less important to her for her own sake and more important to her for their sake. She doesn’t want to be visited by her family because their grief would disturb her too much. She is at peace with dying.

It is clear that she is becoming more and more ill by the amount of letters she writes. Most of the story in this month is told by Belford and Lovelace with a few letters between Mrs. Norton, Clarissa’s family, Anna Howe and Clarissa. She is even given last sacrament at one point. And has ordered her own coffin – and has it brought to her room!

It is very clear that she has no intention of seeing Lovelace before she dies. However, in a very cleverly written letter she gives Lovelace the impression that she will be reconciled with her father and go to his house soon and when there, she will meet Lovelace. This gets him out of town, happily so. For a brief moment, the reader thinks she has been tainted enough by Lovelace to start lying – but of course, the ever noble Clarissa could do no such thing. Lovelace is shocked that Clarissa might have lied to him – he thinks it very wrong for good people to break their word and finds it as bad as his attempts against her! And he definitely doesn’t want to be made to look a fool in front of his family to whom he has bragged about his soon reunion with Clarissa.

One thing that is really, really annoying me is that it seems like the publishers of my (kindle) edition didn’t think anyone would read this far. It seems like they’ve stopped editing the thing and the text is so full of mistakes. Names are spelled (very) wrong, there are suddenly numbers in the text instead of words – and it’s just so enervating to read something so full of errors!

All in all, not a month with a lot of things happening. Clarissa is declining rapidly throughout the month, Lovelace still wants her and is scheming to get her and Belford is becoming more and more in awe of her. Richardson’s writing is still too long and repetitive – for instance, the entire scene with Belford attending to his friend Belton’s death bed could have been shortened dramatically – or even cut.

Something big will come in September – and then, the book is almost over.

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Clarissa in July

‘/…/ I will own to you that once I could have loved him – ungrateful man! – had he permitted me, I once could have loved him.’ (29650-29663)

Once again I must admit that this month has been rather good. Very good in fact. This second half of the novel is so much better than the first half. I guess the first part with Clarissa sitting in her room, arguing with her family, was necessary to introduce us to all the characters, really show what type of person Clarissa is – and what type of persons her family and Lovelace are, as well as show precisely what options women had in those days. It was boring, though. But then she ran away, things started to pick up, we reached the climax of the novel (not narrative climax, mind you, since the biggest event in the novel is only hinted at) and ever since that, it has actually been rather enjoyable to read about Clarissa’s troubles.

When July begins, Clarissa has managed to escape from Lovelace and Mrs. Sinclair’s house. She is writing letters to various people, investigating the stories Lovelace has told her to find out to what extent he has been lying to her. What she finds out, is hardly surprising – to us. He has been lying about almost everything, as she finds out.

She also has to patch things up with Anna Howe after Lovelace having interfered in their correspondence without either woman knowing. Anna is very angry with Clarissa – she doesn’t understand that when Clarissa had escaped Lovelace, why she then returned to London with him but when Clarissa has explained how he tricked her in Hampstead, everything is soon back to normal between the two best friends.

But although Clarissa has finally outsmarted him and has escaped his clutches, she is not well. She is wishing for death after having lost what’s most dear to her – her reputation and moral high ground. She is well aware that she can no longer be the epitome of female behavior since she left her parents’ house the way she did. She doesn’t take on the blame for what Lovelace has done to her but she still feels the wrongness of her actions and it weighs heavily on her mind.

Something that Lovelace simply can’t understand. He is stuck in the country at his uncle’s assumed death bed and he can’t understand her reactions. Since he violated her, it’s not her fault and therefore, she should just get over it. He simply doesn’t understand that she can think herself the worse for what was done against her will and thinks she will forgive him in time.

However, since Clarissa has written his aunt to investigate his stories, Lovelace has to stand trial for his family. Since his entire family are desperate to see him marry Clarissa, they are not happy to see how he has acted and to hear about the way he has been (mis-)treating her. They pity her a lot and decides to try to get her to agree to marry him since that’s the best thing they can do for her. They decide to appeal to Anna Howe to get her to use her influence with Clarissa and Lovelace agrees to marry her if she will have him – although he is still a player: ‘What a punishment would this come out to be, upon myself too, that all this while I have been plundering my own treasury?’ (31144-50)

But while Lovelace’s relatives visits Anna and get her to try to influence Clarissa, Clarissa disappears! At first, no one has any idea where she is. It turns out that she has been arrested, accused of not paying her rent to Mrs. Sinclair. Sinclair and her band of merry prostitutes think they are doing Lovelace a favor by this but he is furious. They want to take Clarissa back to Mrs. Sinclair but she absolutely refuses and is taken to a sort of prison where they visit her often and torment her. Luckily, Lovelace sends his friend Belford to rescue her – and this is the start of a beautiful, though unlikely, friendship.

Belford is shocked when he sees Clarissa – he is shocked by what Lovelace’s actions has led to. Even though Lovelace is not directly responsible for Clarissa’s arrest, Belford still decides to punish him by withholding a bit of information from him for a little while – which drives Lovelace completely mad! (And gives us a rather amusing letter 335.)

Despite everything that has happened, Lovelace still plots. He begs Belford to copy the letters Clarissa and Anna writes to each other. He has no understanding of Clarissa despite his claimed admiration for her and he doesn’t believe she can die of a broken heart. He can’t understand how she can forgive her parents for acting out of character – but not him, for acting completely in character. He doesn’t get that when she sells some of her clothes, it’s both her way of ensuring her independence and because of her firm belief that she will not live long – and again, Lovelace draws a blank: ‘Some disappointed fair ones would have hanged, some drowned, themselves. My beloved one only revenges herself upon her clothes.’ (32959-64) He doesn’t get the severity of this action.

Although Anna urges Clarissa to accept Lovelace as her husband, she completely refuses – and earns Anna’s admiration for this since this is completely in Clarissa’s character. She talks the talk – and she walks the walk! For Clarissa, it’s an easy decision. She has more pleasure thinking about death than about Lovelace – besides, she admits that her pride has not been mortified enough to have him as a husband. Her biggest concern is to get her father to lift the curse, he has inflicted upon her – and with her mother’s interference, she succeeds which is hugely important to her. In fact, she is full of remorse for the way she has acted towards them: The event has justified them, and condemned me. They expected nothing good of this vile man; he has not, therefore, deceived them: but they expected other things from me; and I have.’ (33540-46)

Clarissa is rather settled in her ways towards the end of July. She has had the curse lifted, she is over the shock of what was done to her (or so she claims) and she feels sure, that Lovelace will stay away from her. She has a new friend in Belford and plans on making him the executor of her will. Now all she wants, is a final blessing from her parents.

We do get a rather beautiful letter from Clarissa’s mother, struggling with the expectations of her family and her love for her child. This clearly shows that it is not easy for her and that she would like to do something for Clarissa – but that as long as she can’t, she don’t want to see letters from Clarissa, since it will only upset her.

One huge bomb is dropped towards the end of the July letters – by both Lovelace and Clarissa’s mother. What happens if Clarissa is pregnant? It is not resolved in these letters so it’s a bit of a cliffhanger (imagine using that word when talking about Clarissa?!?) for August. Lovelace says that if she’s pregnant, she will live and legitimate the child. I’m very curious about this.

My main annoyance with Clarissa now, is Lovelace’s letters. They seem to go on and on, sometimes preaching about clothes or other things and it does get a bit annoying.

It has sometimes been a struggle to read Clarissa and I have been doubting if I would actually make it all the way through. But now I’ve read 73% of the book and I can start seeing the finish line. Now, I’m interested in the book, interested in what happens and I definitely plan on finishing in October and I’m actually looking forward to the last third of the book. Hopefully, the last part will live up to my expectations.

Not all other participants in this year-long read-along have fared as well. You can see how the other participants in Terri and JoAnn’s read along are doing here.

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