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Posted December 28, 2013
Posted April 9, 2010
Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady is one of the first English novels published. I actually read this for my "Rise of the English Novel" class last semester. This is one of the better abridged versions of the Richardson's actual text--which I think is over 1,000 pages, if I am not mistaken.
It is a bit of a slow read, but if you are setting out to read Clarissa, you probably are already aware that it was written in the 1700s and reflects the rather verbose writing style of the time. Yet even though the language is a bit roundabout, there is rich, RICH story here, and original, even for today. It is an epistolary novel, so the plot unfolds through a series of letters between various characters. The main focus is Clarissa Harlowe, of a somewhat wealthy family, who want their virtuous daughter to marry for monetary reasons (typical of the time). It seems Richardson is one of the first men to recognize that this view of marriage is unfair, and that women should have more agency. It's hard to give a good summary without giving away everything, but I'll tell you, the story features a self-proclaimed rakish character, Robert Lovelace, who wants to possess Clarissa, yet her family hates Lovelace and would rather her marry the "odious" Mr. Solmes. This is an interesting situation for the characters as Lovelace usually gets what he wants, Clarissa has to struggle with sexual urges and her standard of propriety, and her family feeds off of Clarissa's suffering.
--Personally, I think that this novel employs themes of vampirism, though the idea of the vampire was not even available to Richardson at the time. I truly think Lovelace embodies the modern vampire, and that Clarissa's family acts vampirically too. Very interesting considering, like I said, it was only since the mid 1900s that vampires acquired their sexual appeal.