'Oh thou savage-hearted monster! What work hast thou made in one guilty hour, for a whole age of repentance!'
Pressured by her unscrupulous family to marry a wealthy man she detests, the young Clarissa Harlowe is tricked into fleeing with the witty and debonair Robert Lovelace and places herself under his protection. Lovelace, however, proves himself to be an untrustworthy rake whose vague promises of marriage are accompanied by unwelcome and increasingly brutal sexual advances. And yet, Clarissa finds his charm alluring, her scrupulous sense of virtue tinged with unconfessed desire.
Told through a complex series of interweaving letters, Clarissa is a richly ambiguous study of a fatally attracted couple and a work of astonishing power and immediacy. A huge success when it first appeared in 1747, and translated into French and German, it remains one of the greatest of all European novels.
In his introduction, Angus Ross examines characterization, the epistolary style, the role of the family and the position of women in Clarissa. This edition also includes a chronology, suggestions for further reading, tables of letters, notes, a glossary and an appendix on the music for the 'Ode to Wisdom'.
Samuel Richardson (1689 - 1761) was born in Derbyshire, the son of a joiner. He received little formal education and in 1706 was apprenticed to a printer in London. Thirteen years later he set himself up as a stationer and printer and became of the leading figures in the trade. He printed political material, newspapers and literature. He began writing Pamela as a result of a suggestion from friends that he should compile a book of model letters for use by unskilled writers. Pamela was a great success and went on to write Clarissa, one of the masterpieces of European literature.
Review by John Purcell
I would prefer to live in a world in which every person had read Clarissa. It is a comprehensive course book in empathy. After having read it, if someone was consciously cruel we could say that they in fact knew better, that they knew the consequences of their actions and we could safely punish them without fear of error.
Unfortunately, just as surely as we feel equipped to do good after reading Clarissa, we are just as expert in doing wrong. To give such a comprehensive picture of virtue, Samuel Richardson was forced to give an equally comprehensive survey of evil.
In fact, one of the great successes of the novel is the portrayal of bad guy, Lovelace. It could be argued that every single urbane crook depicted in fiction, film and stage play has its origin in Lovelace. Alan Rickman in Die Hard would not be the uneasy delight he is without the DNA of Lovelace.
But the virtue of this complete depiction of evil is that we can never perform a foul deed without the shadow of Lovelace lurking behind us, causing us to be conscious of our act. Such consciousness gives us a second to make a choice.
It seems extraordinary to me that one of the earliest and most successful novels is also one of the best. Arguably, the best. Like Shakespeare’s plays, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa is a world book, one that should be taught in schools across the earth. Its subject is humanity, its devices are our virtues and vices, and its power is its unshakable truth.
I recommend this book to you but I don’t want to hear that you did not like it, or couldn’t finish it, or that you thought it was rubbish. This is the one book I feel entirely confident in saying, if you can’t read it, if you don’t like it, if you find it dull, that is no fault of the novel.