Clarissa's Way of Death

In Clarissa, Samuel Richardson finds "an exemplar to her sex." But her story does not provide a model to live by, as such a qualification may lead one to expect. Only in the afterlife does Clarissa presumably receive what she deserves. The life suggested by her example is untenable. Clarissa's death is the inevitable result of her unrealistic, unimpeachable virtue a virtue that is defined less by what she does than by what she will permit. Her death serves not only a narrative end in the novel, but the demands of psychological realism. Richardson respects the conclusion made inevitable by the very "divinity" of Clarissa's personality. This heroine can have no other conclusion. Her death-drive is a fundamental aspect of her character, one present since the very beginning of the book.

Though she is an extremely rational heroine, she is not necessarily reasonable. Like all young people, she wants happiness but her idea of it is impossible to live, an almost childish fantasy. Her devotion to "the single life" is not only a resistance to an unwanted match, but a refusal to have her purity blemished. Her purity and her virtue are the building blocks of her selfhood, but these elements have been...

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