Clarissa Analysis

Samuel Richardson's novel Clarissa has the qualities of an adult fairy tale. It's a story designed to warn against temptations, much like Grimm's Fairy Tales would teach moral lessons to young children. The difference here is setting. While most fairy tales feature children encountering magic, Richardson writes about a young woman dealing with social strife in 18th century England. Clarissa's is a tale designed to frighten young women into remaining chaste and pure. Another important difference is that the protagonist is not the one to learn a lesson in this case. It's Clarissa's family who repent or are punished for their evil ways.

Clarissa's sister Arabella is being courted by a rogue named Lovelace, but when he meets Clarissa he falls for her. The two strike up a correspondence, but her family soon grows to despise him, especially since her brother James has an unsettled conflict with Lovelace from their college days. In order to dissuade their rebellious daughter from soiling their family reputation by taking up with a man like him, her parents force her into an engagement to another, older man. She refuses and runs off with Lovelace. He will not consent to marry her, but he continually tries to manipulate her into having sex with him, even raping her at one point. She remains firm in her commitment to chastity, even after being raped. In the emotional fallout after her rape, Clarissa leave Lovelace, stops eating, and fades away. She makes out a will and dies, frustrating Lovelace one last time. He eventually engages in a duel with one of her cousin's and is killed. Throughout all of this drama, Clarissa is trying to make amends with her parents, but the refuse up until their deaths.

In the end Clarissa is punished for her rash actions with Lovelace when he rapes her. That's the last straw for her from which she cannot recover. The mental anguish which she experiences afterward, knowing her innocence has been stolen, causes her death. This cautionary tale is a warning to naive girls not to run off with their lovers because it often ends like this. Lovelace was always a scoundrel, but he turns out to be irredeemable. Since Clarissa's parents were trying to prevent this very outcome, they were correct in trying to dissuade her from the relationship. Their motivations were tainted, however, by their preoccupation with their social position and family reputation which she threatened with her indiscretions.

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