Letters 1-5 Summary

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Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady, written by Samuel Richardson, was first published in a serialized form beginning in 1747. There were several volumes, with the complete collection published in full in 1748. Clarissa is a tragic story and was meant to be read as a parable to provide a moral lesson for women in mid-eighteenth-century England. 

The novel begins with a letter from Anna Howe sent to Clarissa. In this letter, Anna mentions that a Mr. Lovelace has wounded Clarissa's brother in the arm. Anna portrays Clarissa's brother as being in the wrong, having provoked the duel because of his short temper.

Anna also asks Clarissa about the rumors that are circulating about Lovelace having been a suitor whose attentions were once focused on Clarissa's older sister but may have been diverted later to Clarissa. Anna tells Clarissa that everyone pities her for the recent events. She asks that Clarissa offers her own explanation for what has happened.

In closing, Anna also requests that Clarissa send a copy of Clarissa's grandfather's will to Anna's Aunt Harman. Although this Aunt Harman is not acquainted with Clarissa, Anna states that her aunt has grown fond of Clarissa and believes that Clarissa deserves to be the favored heir of her grandfather's estate.

In Clarissa's response to Anna, Clarissa tells the story about her sister, Arabella, and her relationship to Mr. Lovelace. Lovelace was introduced to the family, supposedly for the purpose of meeting Arabella. Lovelace is described as very handsome with a bad reputation toward women.

At first Arabella feels she is not pretty enough for Lovelace, but later she decides her looks are passable and so her interest in Lovelace increases. However, she becomes discontent with the man because he pays very little attention to her when he visits.

Eventually Arabella turns down Lovelace's advances. Lovelace is not discouraged, however, as he sets his sights on Clarissa. Because of a proposal by Clarissa's uncle, Clarissa is thrown into a relationship with Lovelace. The uncle wants Lovelace, known for his wide travels as well as his skill in writing, to compose a travel journal for the uncle's son, who is about to begin an exploratory journey. Because Clarissa is also well regarded for her writing skills, she is asked to edit Lovelace's compositions.

This creates an excuse for Lovelace to correspond with Clarissa. However, when that correspondence begins to include some of Lovelace's more personal feelings for her, Clarissa warns him she will cease to assist him if he continues in that personal vein.

Lovelace responds favorably, but this does not stop his pursuit of Clarissa. He often visits at the home, and it is well noted that his attentions are focused on Clarissa. Clarissa announces to her brother and sister that she has no interest in Lovelace.

If this is so, her brother says, Lovelace should be prohibited to enter the house. When neither Clarissa's father nor Clarissa feels they have the right to do this because Lovelace comes from a well-established family and is a man of financial worth, the brother, James, takes it upon himself to stop Lovelace.

The next time Lovelace comes to visit, James stands in the doorway and refuses to allow Lovelace to pass. Lovelace insists, and this is what provokes both men to unsheathe their swords, which results in James receiving a wound.

This confrontation causes discomfort within the family. Clarissa hears that James had insulted Lovelace, and because she defends Lovelace, she is ostracized by her brother and sister. The father is angry at Lovelace for hurting James.  

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Letters 6-10 Summary