Well, after finishing U.S.A. at 1,300 pages or so, what better way to follow it up than to write a review of a novel that’s even bigger?
What surprised me most about this novel is how readable it is. For its size and the era in which it was written, this is one of the most readable novels I’ve tackled. That is very definitely something to be thankful for.
The story basically revolves around the eponymous heroine Clarissa who, being the sole inheritor of her grandfather’s estate, finds herself the victim of family plotting when they attempt to force her to marry a man she has absolutely no feelings for.
Resolutely standing her ground only results in Clarissa being completely isolated by her so-called family who virtually imprison her in solitary confinement within the family home.
Fearing that she will be dragged to the alter and committed against her will, she seeks escape and the supposed safe house offered by Lovelace, a man who comes across as a valiant aide in time of trouble. We readers however, are aware of his ulterior motives as Richardson relates his tale entirely in letters between various of the characters.
Clarissa’s frying pan becomes Clarissa’s fire as she discovers Lovelace’s true purpose. And while this plot is enough to drive the novel on for hundreds of pages, it does start to drag and get bogged down in itself towards the last of the 9 volumes. I found the ending to be unrealistic and laden with melodrama. It also has everyone neatly fall out on either the good or bad side of things which is a shame for a novel that is attempting to explore some very real issues.
Still, Richardson’s novel is a masterful study of misogyny. Lovelace (the pronunciation of whose name is no coincidence) writes some absolutely writhing letters to his friends in which you can’t help but see Richardson’s criticism of his contemporary “rake.” It’s scathing.
And through it all, of course, Clarissa’s virtue remains a bastion of impregnability. If this had been written by a woman, it would be a seminal feminist text. But it wasn’t, so it isn’t. Too bad.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings