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!

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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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Clarissa in June

June has been rather thrilling, at least for Clarissa. Or well, as thrilling as Clarissa ever gets. Much has been said by me about Clarissa and the struggle it is to finish it, the repetitiveness of it all, the need for an editor and more, but in June, I must say, Richardson stepped up his game. This has definitely been the best month so far! I have actually been wanting to pick up the book to continue with the story and find out what would happen! And that is because June is the month. This is the month everything has build up to and this is month that will definite everything that is to come.

As always, I start by summarizing what has happened this month but in this month, I’ll also draw some comparisons to Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White. I can’t believe I haven’t thought about the similarities between these two novels earlier!

Lovelace is actually trying to  obtain a marriage license but also still trying to test Clarissa’s virtue and he still wants revenge for (perceived) grievances. Lucky for him, there’s a small fire in the house and Clarissa gets scared and he gets to be in her room while she’s in her bed, in her nightie. He allows himself some freedoms which makes Clarissa beg him to leave her – or to kill her, since her honor is dearer to her than her life. He leaves after extracting a promise of forgiveness from her – and is very impressed with her virtue.

Clarissa is shocked and very angry after this. She cares no longer what others think – Lovelace has made her vile to herself. Even though Lovelace thinks higher of her for her resistance, he still thinks she should forgive him as she promised. She writes him that she will not see him for a week – and he thinks she’s scheming and that if she insists on it, he will have her in his own way.

But for once, Clarissa catches a break. She manage to escape from Lovelace and Lovelace looses it, he’s mad about loosing her and even madder about being outwitted by her. But Clarissa’s escape definitely shows how young and inexperienced she is and it’s really easy for Lovelace to track her down and starts weaving his net again, telling stories to the women she’s staying with that will ensure their sympathy for him, not her. Still Clarissa is resisting him with everything she’s got – and her resistance is almost getting to be too much for Captain Tomlinson too. He’s also starting to have second thoughts and to feel that Lovelace is acting wrong when he pursues Clarissa in this way and don’t just marry her. But Lovelace isn’t done. Since Clarissa already resents him so much, he don’t think she can resent him even more for making one last – and final – attempt at her honor and virtue. And then, he wants her to forgive him – out of love for him…

Since Clarissa’s escape, Lovelace has stepped up his game. He has intercepted a letter from Anna Howe and starts faking letters between the two women, thereby adding to his hold on Clarissa. This has been even more necessary for him since Anna has found out that Clarissa has been living in a whorehouse and suspects Captain Tomlinson to be an impostor. He also succeeds in making the women in the house suspect Anna so they will help him prevent her letters reach Clarissa uninterrupted.

He has two women pretend to be his aunt and cousin and they come and visit Clarissa. They persuade her to come back to London with them to pick up her things. Once they’re back at Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel, they slip out and Clarissa is once again completely in the hands of Lovelace and the women in Mrs’ Sinclair’s house.

And now is the time to stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens because this is the key moment of the book.

Lovelace finally decides to put Clarissa to the ultimate test. He rapes her – with the aid of some kind of medication. He is astonished at her reaction. She sinks into a stupor so deep that he fears for her wit. She stays so for a week before she starts getting better. And when she does, Lovelace is shocked by her reaction. She’s not even close to forgiving him – which doesn’t come as any surprise for anyone who’ve read so far. Lovelace’s friend Bedford is even surprised that she has survived what Lovelace has done to her. And all she wants, is to be locked up in a private madhouse.

She tries to escape again and again. She is rather composed most of the time since she now hates herself more than she hates Lovelace, hates herself for not listening to her family and for not seeing his true colors earlier. But she despises him for robbing himself of his wife’s virtue and swears that she will never ever be his wife. He is mortified that she refuses him – but still schemes. Luckily, Clarissa doesn’t fall for his next scheme that would have made her fall in the hands of an even worse brothel madam than mrs. Sinclair.

When this fails and when Lovelace have to go to his sick uncle, he comes up with another huge scheme, involving all the ladies in the house. However, Clarissa outsmarts them all – and makes Lovelace wants her even more. He goes to his uncle and keeps sending messages to her, trying to get her to name a church.

However, when Clarissa is left on her own in the house with no Lovelace, she finally manages to escape. For good, we take it. And she starts writing letter after letter to find out to what extent Lovelace has tricked her. She writes her friend Anna, she writes Lovelace’s aunt, she writes her old nanny Mrs. Norton – and from everyone she hears, that what Lovelace told her was a lie.

So now we’re at a breaking point in the story. Clarissa has escaped Lovelace but she’s not at all well. She has lost what she valued the most, her virtue and the love of her family. I guess the rest of the book is about how she copes with this.

Incidentally, I just want to point out that for a ver very very wordy book, it sure doesn’t spend a lot of words on it’s climax. This is what Lovelace writes to his friend to announce what he has done: “And now, Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives.” (letter 257). You will be in your full right to feel a bit cheated at this point! Still, the letters leading up to and down from this climax, are just amazing. The letters Clarissa writes in her madness just after, are so tragic and full of sentiment, just heartbreaking. I’m almost positive that this novel is actually worth reading!

How come I’ve never thought about the similarities between Clarissa and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins? The Woman in White was published in 1860, about 100 years after Clarissa. But there’s a lot of similarities in the stories (and of course in the epistolary format). In both, a women is kidnapped by a very charming scoundrel – and what my thoughts about the similarities have made me think more about, is the extent to which we can trust Clarissa. And Lovelace. What we know of what happens between them, is all told from their points of view – and can we trust that they don’t embellish at times to make themselves look better? Especially Clarissa, in fact, since she has the most to loose … Is Lovelace the only one to blame for Clarissa’s rape? Is it only naivety and a lack of knowledge of men and the world that made Clarissa think she could trust him – or did she think she had virtue enough to change him? Or was she just so much in love that she couldn’t see straight (Anna has several times tried to make her admit that she had fallen in love with him.)

(I know I didn’t write much about the similarities between The Woman in White and Clarissa but that’s because too much will ruin The Woman in White for those lucky ones who’ve never read it. I did write about some of the common themes in Moll FlandersFanny Hill and Clarissa in my recent post about Moll Flanders.)

These are my thoughts about June – and lo and behold, I’m actually looking forward to reading July’s letters!

You can see how the other participants in Terri and JoAnn’s read along are doing here.

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To network or not to network – Armchair BEA day 3

So day 3 of Armchair BEA has arrived. I have to say I’m really enjoying BEA. I’m exploring blogs, participating in twitter parties, chatting with other bloggers, getting inspiration for books I absolutely need to read and more. I’ve already added several blogs to my Google Reader, blogs that I’m really eager to explore. Everyone is friendly and eager to participate, eager to talk about what we all love: Books. This way of networking online is definitely a hit!

So BEA today is all about networking. We’re supposed to talk about how we use our blog to get involved in our community and share positive experiences about interacting with our local literary community.

For me, however, there’s a big but. I write a blog in English but I live in Denmark so English is my second language. This means that most people read books in Danish. A lot of books are translated to Danish – but, of course, even more books are not translated. I read many books that are not available in Danish so I started my blog to talk with other people who read the same books as I do. This means that the literary community here are not interested in the same books as I am so a lot of the events hold no interest for me.

That being said, there have been events that I wanted to participate in but couldn’t for one reason or another. Sometimes, because I didn’t have the opportunity with two small children, other times, sad to say, because I couldn’t be bothered to get my butt moving. There are some nice events happening in my local area from time to time and also, in the country as a whole. I’m still sad I missed seeing John Irving – but it would have meant a more than two hour train ride each way and I simply didn’t have the time (or money) to do that. Still, I want to make an effort to try to get out more and do bookish stuff with real people – and not just the lovely internet people!

I want to talk a bit about online networking too. I don’t really do much to promote the blog. I post on twitter when I post something new. I visit other blogs and comment when I feel I have something to say. I participate in challenges. I have to say one of my favorite online events are the year long read-along of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. Joann from Lakeside Musing and Terri B. from Tip of the Iceberg have done a great job hosting this and since we’re all struggling with this novel, we’re kind of having a small community thing going on, all working together against our common enemy. So I’m really enjoying this even though the book isn’t always thrilling and exciting…!

Anyway, my favorite thing about book blogging is getting to share and discuss what I read and what others read. Therefore, my main reason for networking is to make people stop by the blog and hopefully inspire them to share a comment so we can get a discussion going. And that’s what I love about Armchair BEA – every time I log on my blog these days, there’s so many new comments and I’m so thrilled about it. I hope this will continue after BEA with the new bloggers I’ve gotten to know in these days.

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