Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Clarissa" Volume 1 by Samuel Richardson

Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
Vol 1: Letters 1 - 44
Published: 1748
Rating: 5
Other posts: 2012 Year long reading co-hosted by Terri and JoAnn
Challenge: The English Novel audiocourse bibliography

This has the distinction of being the longest English novel and at just under 1,500 pages, my paperback is HUGE.  I prefer reading the free downloads (9 volumes) on my iPad.

Like Pamela, Richardson's use of the epistolary format is brilliant, allowing the reader to see the events from each character's point of view.  In Volume I, most of the letters are from Clarissa to her best friend, Anna Howe but we also hear from both of C's parents, her uncles and one aunt, the horrible brother and sister, James and Arabella (think Cinderella's jealous and vengeful stepsisters, hundred fold); Mr. Lovelace, the handsome, rich scoundrel who relentlessly pursues Clarissa;  Mr. Solmes, the ugly and disagreeable chosen husband for Clarissa whom she despises, and Anna.  The view is close and personal.  Richardson uses all the novelist's tools within these letters: scene and setting, description and dialogue.  It is fascinating to read.

Regarding the plot, not a whole lot happens within the first 44 letters but the story remains interesting and the drama/tension between the characters is high.  Clarissa is pressured from all sides to marry Mr. Solmes, a wealthy man whose fortune, if tied with the Harlowe family could result in a coveted peerage for James.  When she continues to refuse, she suffers the ultimate "time-out", banished to her room, sees her personal maid dismissed and must resort to corresponding with her family members living in the same home via, you guessed it, letters.

I am taking notes while I read and writing down favorite quotes.  At this pace, I may be reading this book for most of the year!   Here are a few quotes and why I like them.

Anna writes very candidly about the greed and envy that motivates James and Arabella's actions against Clarissa.
Avarice and envy are two passions that are not to be satisfied, the one by giving, the other by the envied person's continuing to deserve and excel.  Fuel, fuel both, all the world over, to flames insatiate and devouring (Letter 10).   
Poisons and poniard have often been set to work by minds inflamed by disappointed love, and actuated by revenge.  Will you wonder, then, that the ties of relationship in such a case have no force, and that a sister forgets to be a sister? (Letter 15) 
...they must look upon you as a prodigy among them, and prodigies, you know, though they obtain our admiration, never attract our love.  The distance between you and them is immense.  Their eyes ache to look up at you.  What shades does your full day of merit cast upon them?  Can you wonder, then, that they should embrace the first opportunity that offered, to endeavor to bring you down to their level? (Letter 27)
Anna and Clarissa both recognize that wealth does not equal happiness.
...none of your family but yourself could be happy were they not rich.  So let them fret on, grumble and grudge, and accumulate; and wondering what ails them that they have not happiness when they have riches, think the cause is want of more, and so go on heaping up, till Death, as greedy an accumulator as themselves, gather them into his garner (Letter 10: A to C). 
I am fully persuaded, that happiness and riches are two things, and very seldom meet together (Letter 19: C to A). 
Both girls liken C's situation to being a bird caught in a snare.
My brother got me into his snares; and I, like a poor, silly bird, the more I struggle, am the more entangled (Letter 22: C to A).  
I most heartily despise that sex! ...but to be cajoled, wire-drawn, and ensnared, like silly birds; into a state of bondage, or vile subordination; to be courted as princesses for a few weeks, in order to be treated as slaves for the rest of our lives (Letter 27: A to C). 
In spite of tremendous pressure to marry Solmes, Clarissa remains stubborn in her refusal. 
But surely they will yield - Indeed I cannot.  I believe the gentlest spirits when provoked (causelessly and cruelly provoked) are the most determined.  The reason may be, that not taking up resolutions lightly - their very deliberation makes them the more immoveable (Letter 14: C to A).
Letter 30 - finally one from Mr. Lovelace to his friend, John Belford. This letter reveals LL's pursuit of C to be motivated by a selfish and vain love; she rejects him which makes him want her more. This is very reminiscent of Mr. B in Pamela. What is it with men?  They like the chase, the pursuit, the challenge, the conquest?  The following quotes show his true colors to the reader which makes it even more awful when we see Clarissa's skeptical distrust of LL slowly eroding.  I want to warn her - watch out!

He makes plans "to secure her mine, in spite of them all; in spite of her own inflexible heart; mine without condition; without reformation-promises....bringing that sordidly imperious brother to kneel at the footstool of my throne."  As he imagines his victory..."then the rewarding end of all!  To carry off such a girl as this, in spite of all her watchful and implacable friends and in spite of a prudence and reserve that I never met with in any of the sex; - what a triumph! - What a triumph over the whole sex! - and then such a revenge to gratify....."

With writing like this, I am looking forward to reading Volume II.

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