The seven volumes of Clarissa: Or, The History of a Young Lady, published in 1748, are a shortened version of the novel—the longest in the English language—that began to flow from the author’s pen sometime before 1744. Various people read manuscript versions of the book from that date forward. Subsequent editions in 1749 and 1751 were drastic revisions of the first and restored some of the earlier deleted material.
Clarissa Harlowe is the second and favored daughter of a good family. In a break from tradition, she has been left an estate by her grandfather. She is pursued by Robert Lovelace, an aristocrat, who cannot marry her until he finds a way to make her less attractive older sister, Arabella, reject him.
In a convoluted plot, Clarissa’s brother James fights with Lovelace and then, vengefully, arranges for Clarissa to be married to Mr. Solmes, a man she deplores. Ultimately, Lovelace tricks Clarissa into going off with him to London, where he installs her in a brothel. Clarissa suspects Lovelace’s motives and escapes to lodgings in Hampstead, but Lovelace follows and prevails upon her to seek refuge with his cousin and aunt, who are really prostitutes posing as relatives.
They take her to a brothel where Lovelace drugs and then rapes her. Following this event, Clarissa lapses into a period of madness and is faced with the crucial decision of whether to marry Lovelace. Readers, through being exposed to...
(The entire section is 438 words.)