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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October and November – ‘Monthly’ Wrap Up

Yes, I admit to beeing behind on my wrap up posts – and just about everything else blog related. I blame work mostly – and that pretty much suck since I don’t get paid to work and because of that, I would really much prefer just reading and blogging. But it’s necessary to work and so we must try to find work as best we can. But lame excuses aside, I’ve been reading tough and long books these months so I haven’t read all that many books. The best thing, though, is that I finished Clarissa (and the crowd goes wild…) and I also read and loved Les Misérables. So two huuuuuge novels finished and although I’ve cheated and read Clarissa all year long, it only really counts in the month, it’s finished. I’m not sure I can complete argue for why that is but that’s one of the rules of (my) reading.

Anyway, this of course means that I’m hugely behind.

Skærmbillede 2012-09-30 kl. 19.55.03

See, already 2 books behind on October 1st. But it should get much, much worse.

Skærmbillede 2012-11-02 kl. 12.52.02

In one short month, I went from being two books behind to being 5 books behind. I mostly blame Les Misérables for that. It took me a month to read – but it was worth it. However, it did seriously mess up my goal of reading 52 books this year. And then I began reading The Kindly Ones in November too and well, any chance of reaching 52 was just gone.

  1. Samuel Richardson: Clarissa. Clarissa, Clarissa, Clarissa. So many months spend reading about this young woman who flees an arranged marriage and ends up in the hands of a womanizer. It could have been so good but it wasn’t. 3 stars.
  2. Jean M. Auel: The Land of Painted Caves. A dreadful end to a series that started out so so good. In this one, we follow Ayla’s training to become a Zelandonia but also relationship issues with Jondalar. After reading the last three books in this series, I have to say that Auel should have quit while she was ahead. 2 stars.
  3. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. This is an amazing book, well worth it’s status as a Classic. Jean Valjean as a character is so real and so flawed that you forget he is just a character. His relationship with Colette is one that all fathers will recognize, I think. Add to that Hugo’s fantastic grasp of language, which enables him to write beautiful about the sewers of Paris, and you can easily see why this book is so good. 5 stars.
  4. Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere. From beginning to end, I loved this book! Richard Mayhew’s adventures in London Below are just so much fun. Gaiman’s grasp of language is amazing and I love how well he uses London as a setting and plays with well known place names. 4 stars.

As you can see, I’m also so behind on writing reviews. I promise I will try to get them written before the new year.

I have finished almost all my challenges this year. Reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere finished my second to last challenge. However, I have to realize that I will not finish my own reading list and challenge for this year. I still need to read 12 books, I need to read Neil Gaiman American Gods, Don DeLillo Underworld, the first volume of Coppleston’s history of philosophy as well as a non-fiction book about collecting and then finish reading Sherlock Holmes…  I’m not going to make it. So I will focus on reading as many books as possible because there are so many books I desperately want to read – and then set some new goals for 2013.

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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)

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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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The World’s Most Difficult Books

So we all love lists, right? And especially lists of books, yes? Now, the Guardian has published a list of the 10 most difficult books and asks, how many have you read? Here’s the list:

  • Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  • A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
  • The Phenomenology of Spirit by G.F. Hegel
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  • Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
  • The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
  • The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein
  • Women and Men by Joseph McElroy

The list has been put together by Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg from the Millions, apparently after researching it for three years. As always with such lists, they immediately open up for debate and so the writer of the article, Alison Flood, speculates that she would probably have included Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and maybe The Waves by Virginia Woolf instead of To the Lighthouse.

It seems that every author is only allowed one book on the list – otherwise I think Ulysses by James Joyce also would qualify.

Now, I’ve read two of these (To the Lighthouse and Being and Time) and 70% of Clarissa as well as parts of The Phenomenology of Spirit. Most of the others I haven’t even heard of (except of course Finnegans Wake). Being and Time is definitely difficult – Heidegger talks about being and ontology and when he runs out of words, he invents them himself. It requires multiple readings and lots of thinking to get this book. The Phenomenology of Spirit is also a difficult book.

When I think of To the Lighthouse, I recall it as being very difficult and as a book I didn’t particularly like. However, when I go back and read my review, I can see I gave it 4 stars and were very impressed with the way she crafted the book – and that it made me think of Hegel! I think a lot of people find stream of consciousness difficult and that’s probably why this book is on the list, however, sometimes I think you just have to go with the flow and let the words wash over you … if that makes sense. I can see that I was very impressed with Woolf when reading this and wanted to read more books by her – and somehow I have forgotten this and have just been very intimidated by her. I need to read Woolf soon!

I don’t find Clarissa difficult – just very, very, very long, repetitive and boring at times. But not difficult.

A book I found difficult is Will Self’s How the Dead Live. I can see my review is only about 15 lines long and for everyone following this blog, you know that I don’t write short reviews! It confused me – but some parts of it has stayed with me and pop up in my thoughts from time to time so maybe I need to tackle Will Self again. His newest, Umbrella, is longlisted for the Booker so maybe now is a good time?

Now, how many of these have you read?

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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Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders (review)

When I was a teenager, I read Robinson Crusoe several times and I really liked it. So when I was in Brighton in 1994 to study English, I picked up several books in a cheap Wordsworth edition. One of these was Moll Flanders, and although it sounded good, I mostly picked it up because of Defoe being the author. And let me just say, right off the bat, this is nothing like Robinson Crusoe. And not just because of the obvious differences in the stories. No, I thought Crusoe was a really great story – and well, I’m just not quite sure how I feel about Moll Flanders. (Sidenote to myself: I need to reread Robinson Crusoe soon!)

From the get-go I want to make it perfectly clear that, when reading this book, you never doubt that you are reading the work of a very skillful writer. You can feel the talent on every page and even though I at times felt that things ought to feel repetitive (page after page after page about Moll’s criminal career), they just never did. This material in the hands of a less skilled writer would have been a complete disaster. As it is now, I’m basing most of my 3-stars rating on the skills of the writer and thereby the inherent quality of the book, not the story itself – although one could have hoped that he could have made a better novel out of his material.

The story itself is rather simple. In the shape of an autobiographical memoir of the main protagonist Moll Flanders, we follow her life from childhood to she is in her 70s. The entire book is actually summarized perfectly in it’s subtitle: ‘Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continued Variety for Threescores Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest and died a Penitent.’ And yes – that’s exactly what this book’s about. And doesn’t it sound exciting and thrilling? Why yes, it does. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite read that way.

I think the main reason for my lack of enthusiasm for this book, is it’s main character. Moll Flanders, as she calls herself, is all in all not very likable. I lost count of how many children she had through the book but in the end, she only seemed to remember having one. She leaves several children on several occasions – never to speak of or think about them again, it seems. Even though I know she’s forced into a lot of the mischief, she freely admits that she a lot of the time only repents if she gets caught – and then she only repents of the fact that she got caught. I do get that all her bad luck comes in part from making one bad decision when very young and then having some bad circumstances thrown upon her and because she lives in a time where women didn’t have a lot of options – but still, she does come across as a woman so focused on securing her own hide that she tramples whatever gets in her way. It may be that that was the only way for her – but when reading her story, you don’t get a lot of sympathy for her character and since this novel is completely focused on her, she needs to be interesting enough to carry this. And she’s not.

I’m not sure if I’m damaged by reading John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (also 1748) but I’m a bit tired of reading these 18th century books about ‘fallen women’, roughly put. It may be a bit unfair towards Moll Flanders since this is the first published of these three, but the best thing about Moll is that she is much more a get-goer than both Clarissa and Fanny. I rated Fanny 2 stars back when I read it in 2009 and even though I’m not done reading Clarissa yet, I’m so far planning on rating it 3 stars. So these are definitely not books I really love. Both Fanny Hill and Clarissa are rather repetitive and I think the only reason Moll Flanders doesn’t feel the same way is that Defoe is the better writer.

If you choose to see these three books in the context of the emancipation of women and see these books as showing the situation of women and how their dependence on men sometimes placed them in bad situations, forcing them to make choices like prostitution and theft, they do become more interesting. I have only a very cursory knowledge of the suffragette movement and feminism or the roots of each of these but I think books like this paved the way for the equality between men and women – and of course, that owns them a lot of favor. And in that line of thought, it’s interesting that all three books are told from the point of view of a woman – but written by men. Even more so because I think the female voice feels true in all three.

I do feel that there’s an interesting field of study here – the role of women in these 18th century novels as well as the portrayal of women as whores – and not whores as immoral beings who get punished but rather as women down on their luck who end up better than they started, and often better off because of their immorality. I think it could be interesting to read Daniel Defoe’s other novel Roxana (which seem rather similar to Moll Flanders) as well as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (although I need to finish Clarissa first and have a long breather before committing to another of Richardson’s works) and also Justine (1740) by Marquis de Sade which, however, doesn’t seem to be in favor of women’s right in spite of it having the same seemingly morale as the Defoe, Cleland and Richardson novels – immorality pays and the moral ones suffer, again roughly put.

Without having much literary scholarship to base it on, I feel that Charles Dickens is carrying the social indignation’s torch, lit by Defoe, into the 19th century. He too focused on those down on their luck and just like Defoe, his huge knowledge of the world he was living in and, especially, how the lower classes lived, is the main inspiration for the novels.

Now all these three books are on the 1001 books you must read before you die list – and my feeling about all three of them is that they are included because of their context and social importance, more than their literary merits even though the editors of the book argue otherwise …! They must find some worth in them since all three have survived all three editions of the list – and they are worth reading, definitely. I just don’t think I will read either of them again.

So after writing a review mostly focusing on the social context and literary history, I have to come out and state plainly that although I somewhat enjoyed Moll Flanders, it’s not a novel I see myself returning to and it’s more the context it was written in and the implications it might have had, that interests me, not so much the novel itself.

(And finally – don’t you just love when the books you read, compliment each other so you can have talks and discussions with them and yourself about their meaning, value, importance and so much more???)

  • Title: Moll Flanders
  • Author: Daniel Defoe
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
  • Year: 1993 (original 1722)
  • Pages:  339 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars:  3 stars out of 5

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Clarissa in May

So Clarissa and I are still getting along. Somewhat. Or at least I’m still eaves-dropping on all her letters as well as those from her friends and others. I decided to try a different approach this month. Instead of trying to read the letters on the appropriate days, utterly failing and then playing catch-up for the last few days of the month or maybe in the first days of the next month, I  instead spent some days towards the middle of the month, reading nothing but Clarissa.

I’m still not quite sure about Clarissa. I mean, I like it when I read it (for the most part, that is) but when I put it down, I don’t particularly want to pick it up again. So that’s why I just wanted to read it in a few days and get into it instead of reading some pages every day but not really wanting to. And I must say it worked. I really enjoyed the few days I spent reading nothing but Clarissa.

Even though it’s not like Clarissa been up to a whole lot this month – she’s still living in the same house, still trying to figure out what to do.

In May, we got to read letters 161-219, so quite a few letters. We start of right after the disastrous dinner party where Lovelace lost a lot of the respect Clarissa had got for him. However, the dinner party has made all of Lovelace’s friends love her and they think it would be a shame and a pity to to ruin a lady liked this, a lady in whose fall none but devils can rejoice. Lovelace, however, still thinks she has to pay for her behavior at the dinner party and since he thinks that a woman of education will not yield before she is attacked: ‘There may possibly be some cruelty necessary. But there may be consent in struggle; there may be yielding in resistance.’ (16401-6) Oh, he’s so not a nice guy.

Clarissa tries again to patch things up with her family – she has Anna Howe try and reach out to them. Anna writes Mrs. Norton to have her talk to Clarissa’s mother but the answer is not positive: ‘we are stripped of our ornament, and are but a common family! Can the willful lapse of such a child be forgiven?’ (17255-60). Both the attempt to establish a better standing with Clarissa’s mother and favorite uncle fail.

Clarissa now knows that there’s nothing to do besides patch things up with Lovelace since marrying him is her only option. Yet she still argues with him. I do understand why he is annoyed with her at times. Especially since his pride can’t stand that she’s not equally in love with him and therefore, he wants revenge. I also think that Clarissa could solve the entire situation if she knew more about the world and of men, she could fix it all and make Lovelace love her for ever if she just showed him a little kindness.

Lovelace’s friends keep urging him to do the right thing and not do her brother’s work for him by ruining her. Lovelace’s uncle, Lord M,  also writes to Lovelace’s friend Belford because he and his family worry about her safety and Belford really tries to get Lovelace to stop all his tricks and just marry her.

After Lovelace has staged a conversation between the women of the house (the brothel) and himself, making sure that Clarissa overhears it, things are better between them than ever. But Lovelace still schemes, he steals her letters – and he gets so angry when he reads what Anna writes about him, so angry that he would love to break Anna’s spirit. Things go a bit downhill from here and the women in the house urge him to try greater familiarities with Clarissa, since things can’t possibly get worse between them. He tries but can’t bring himself to do it – even though she says she hates him. Still, his thoughts are not exactly kind:  ‘/…/ I can marry her when I will. And if I do, after prevailing (whether by surprise or reluctant consent), whom but myself shall I have injured?’ But even against his will, he is impressed with her when she stands her ground and talk about how matters shouldn’t go further between them if she hates him.

However, they patch things up and he does seem in earnest about wanting to make her happy. But it mortifies his pride that he would still rather live single than with him. Especially since he wants a wife who worships him and do his every bidding with a smile – including sending him her maid if she thinks he will like her…!

So he wants to try a few more tricks and see if he can have her before making her legally his. He makes himself sick to draw her to his bed. If she shows compassion, he will too. And it worked – she was concerned and cared. However, what he doesn’t know is that Clarissa feels very uneasy and feels like she exposed herself to him. She’s still unsure about whether she should leave him – especially since Anna Howe may have a contact that can give her a safe place to stay.

But now, something happens. A captain comes to their house and he scares Clarissa a lot. However, it turns out that he comes with a message from Clarissa’s uncle Harlowe. He wants to patch things up between them and later with the rest of her family. Clarissa is extremely happy – she talks about how wonderful it will be to be welcome back at Harlowe place and be able to bring Lovelace with her. But – it turns out that this is another trick: The captain is not real. I was so shocked by this! I thought he was real and that there maybe was a chance of reconciliation. So instead of things looking better than ever for Clarissa, they actually look worse. And that’s where we leave her in May, convinced of her future happiness but instead, things look darker for her than ever before.

There have been a few really good letters this month. I so enjoyed reading Uncle Anthony’s courtship letter to Mrs. Howe – and almost just as much reading the letter from Anna Howe to Clarissa, telling about the conversation she and her mother had had about it. This side story is a nice and humorous detour from the main plot that can be a bit same-same.

Still, I actually really enjoyed spending time with Clarissa this month. Even though I really liked the idea of reading each letter on it’s corresponding date, I don’t think the history really works being read that way. It need to be read more closely together than that so in June, I’ll try to read to it all together as well.

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Clarissa in April

Even though the April letters have been much more enjoyable than the ones in March, I’m having a hard time balancing Clarissa and the other novels I read. I somewhat like Clarissa – for the most part – but it’s not like I’m dying to pick it up again when I put it down. I still think it’s way too long. And repetitive.

But with that being said, April started with a bang. Well, not right away. It starts out with Clarissa still sitting in her chamber, trying to avoid being married off to Mr. Solmes. She has agreed to meet him and her entire family thinks that’s her first step to accepting him. When she meets him, her family leaves the room so she can be alone with him.She tells him off really harshly and when her uncle Anthony comes into the room, she begs him to be free of the marriage. He tells her, that the more she opposes it, the worse it shall be for her. She replies that she will suffer the cruelest death rather than be miserable for life but her uncle doesn’t care and tells her she will be married within a week. Her brother enters and prevent her from leaving and tells Solmes to keep persisting because after two or three more struggles, she will be his. As Clarissa rightly points out about Solmes and why she now wants to marry him even less, ‘/…/ for he that can see a person he pretends to value, thus treated, and approve of it, must be capable of treating her thus himself.’ (loc 8968-73).

Things escalate from here and even though Solmes says he will give her up, her father insists that they shall marry and then her siblings support him. Of course. She argues with her brother and uncle and Solmes intervenes. Clarissa thinks it was designed so to make her see him in a better light. Still, her father is so angry he wants her to leave immediately without packing. Her room is searched and when they doesn’t find anything, she’s allowed to stay a little longer. But when she leaves, she will no longer be allowed pen and paper – and thus, she will be completely without options.

Clarissa is desperately trying to find a way out of the marriage and the whole situation. Lovelace has let her family know that if they force her to go to her uncle’s, he will stop them. To avoid that, they want to have the marriage in her chambers. Her family prepares for the wedding and doesn’t care if she’s ill – they think she fakes it. Uncle Anthony visits Anna Howe’s mother to ensure that they don’t interfere – and don’t allow Anna to help Clarissa. Leaving her without any other options than Lovelace.

So she’s corresponding with Lovelace, arranging to go live with his aunt – or at least, just leave. Lovelace tells her that all he wants, is to free her and she trusts him. They agree on an escape plan but then, Clarissa has second thoughts. She writes a letter to cancel – he doesn’t pick it up, though, so she’s forced to meet with him to tell him in person. However, when she meets him, she goes off with him, tricked by the clever Lovelace. (Finally some action!)

So now, Clarissa is on the run. Lovelace stays close because he clames to be afraid of what her family will do to get her back. He offers to get her old maid back but knows she’s sick and can’t come. He goes to Windsor to look at lodgings for her or so he says but in reality, he doesn’t. There’s a sinister reason for every nice suggestion he makes. He plays her all the time. Even though he at times seem to have second thoughts and seems to really care about her, he is trying to test her virtue and always scheming. ‘If I can have her without [marriage], who can blame me for trying?’ (12676-82) It’s really interesting to see their letters detailing the same conversations, Clarissa always trying to find out if she can trust him and Lovelace constantly being one step ahead, planning mischief. They’re trying to outsmart each other and are two wills battling it out. And he’s not only playing her. He’s still playing her entire family, making her brother intend to kidnap her back and getting uncle Anthony to go to Anna Howe’s home and make sure there’s no help for Clarissa from that source.

Still, he asks her to marry him and eventually, she accepts. But even though they’re not married, he gives that impression in their new lodgings in London – lodgings, she thinks she chose but which in reality he chose and with people running it, that he knows and pays. He wants to trap her pretending to be his wife in front of witnesses. She’s mad at him for this but he persuades her.

Lovelace is really starting to show his true colors. So much in fact, that his friend is urging him to treat Clarissa well. I really like his bigger involvement in the story. He is the master schemer and it really shows now.

So – the letters in this months saw a huge change. Clarissa escaped her home and is now entirely in the clutches of Lovelace. She’s at his mercy. Things can still go either way. She has not played all her cards but she is running out of options. April consisted of the letters from 73 to 160 so there was a lot of reading to do and at times, it was riveting and exciting and really enjoyable. But I’m having trouble picking up the book. I enjoy it while reading it but when I put it down, I don’t feel like picking it back up.

This is a story of a sheltered woman who has always been pampered and have had everyone catering to her every need. Now, she’s suddenly on her own, experiencing real life for the first time, struggling with the biggest player of her time. She’s eloped and has left her family. Thrilling stuff, right? No … not really. I don’t know how Richardson did it but he made all this so so so very boring. If this novel had been only half as long, it would have definitely improved it. I know he tries to show how few choices Clarissa had and by having her write letter after letter, he wants to underline her anguish of not being able to both please her family and her heart even though she desperately tries to find another option. So yes, I get what he wants to do – but he could have done it in a lot fewer pages.

Finally, yes, I know that I’m so very late with this post but after finally finishing the April letters, I had to pluck up my courage to actually write about it. But here it is. Now, halfway through May, I still have to start reading the letters from this month …

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