Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 661
Mr. Harlowe, a domineering man who cannot understand how his children can disobey him. He arranges a loveless marriage for his daughter Clarissa. When she refuses to obey his commands, he locks her in her room, with only an insolent servant allowed to see her. After her elopement with Robert Lovelace, her father disowns her and will not let her have clothes or money. Not until she is dying does he lift his ban and seek a reconciliation.
Clarissa Harlowe, his young and beautiful daughter, who accepts Lovelace’s attentions as a way of escaping from her father’s demands. Thinking that he is taking her to the home of Lord M———, his kinsman, she flees with Lovelace, only to be put into a house of ill repute where, for fear of being tracked down by her father, she claims to be Lovelace’s wife. Once she escapes, only to be dragged back, drugged, and raped. Escaping again, she is caught and jailed for debt. She is freed but goes into a physical decline and buys her casket, inscribed with her death date: the day she left the Harlowe home. Though the repentant Lovelace now wants to marry her, she refuses him. Despite letters from her contrite family—for the whole novel is told in letters—she dies, to the grief and remorse of all.
Arabella, the older Harlowe daughter. She hates Clarissa for attracting her own suitor, Robert Lovelace.
James Harlowe, Clarissa’s older brother, selfish and domineering, like his father. Having known and disliked Lovelace at Oxford University, he starts rumors that Lovelace is a profligate. He is also jealous of Clarissa because she is the heiress of their wealthy grandfather.
Robert Lovelace, a young Englishman of noble family. Brought by an uncle to the Harlowe home as suitor of Arabella, he falls in love with Clarissa. Because of his choice, he is spurned by the whole family. In revenge for their insults, he determines to seduce Clarissa and gets her to run away with him under promises of marriage, only to break his word. Finally, when he discovers he really loves her, he vainly offers her marriage. After her death, he goes to France, where he fights a duel with Clarissa’s cousin, Colonel Morden, and is killed. He dies repentant of his crimes.
John Belford, a friend of Lovelace who frees Clarissa from jail by proving that the charges of debt against her are false. He receives from Lovelace letters that narrate the course of his courtship and his perfidy.
Roger Solmes, a rich, elderly, but uncouth man chosen as Clarissa’s husband by her father. When Clarissa writes to him begging him to end their relationship, he refuses.
Mrs. Sinclair, the keeper of the London bawdy house where Clarissa is kept prisoner.
Colonel William Morden
Colonel William Morden, Clarissa’s cousin, who tries first to reconcile Clarissa and her family and then to persuade her to marry Lovelace. He finally avenges her death when he kills Lovelace in a duel.
Miss Anna Howe
Miss Anna Howe, the friend and confidante of Clarissa; through their interchange of letters, most of the story is told.
Aunt Hervey, who wants Lovelace to marry Arabella.
Uncle Harlowe, who brings Lovelace to the house.
Mr. Mennell, who manages the affairs of Mrs. Fretchville and wants to rent her apartment to Clarissa.
Hannah, Clarissa’s faithful servant.
Mr. Diggs, the surgeon who looks after James Harlowe’s wound after he and Lovelace duel.
Elizabeth Lawrence, Lovelace’s aunt, who wants to meet his “wife.”
Charlotte Montague, a cousin of Lovelace.
Dorcas Martindale, who tries to help Clarissa escape.
F. J. de la Tour
F. J. de la Tour, who writes the final letter describing the duel and death of the chevalier Lovelace.
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