Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 675
Harlowe home. Country estate of wealthy English gentry, near the village of St. Albans, to the northwest of London, it is presided over by a tyrannical patriarch, and its gardens are enclosed by an iron gate. It represents an Eden from which the heroine is lured by the satanic Lovelace into disobeying her father. It also represents the heroine’s virginal body and mind, locked against Lovelace. Eventually, she is tricked by Lovelace into opening the gate and is abducted by him in the fatal error that begins her tragedy. The Harlowe home should offer a haven from the world for Clarissa, but it is so fraught with conflict that it becomes her first site of persecution when her siblings turn against her in jealousy, and her father tries to force her to marry a wealthy but odious man. After she forfeits her father’s protection, she is never perfectly safe from Lovelace again.
St. Albans inn
St. Albans inn. The first stop after Lovelace abducts Clarissa in a coach. Lovelace pretends that they are brother and sister and makes up a story to explain why Clarissa has no luggage and is angry at him. Clarissa is frantic to get herself out of Lovelace’s “protection,” while Lovelace himself, peeved by her romantic resistance of him, resolves to carry her to a location that he controls.
Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel
Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel. House on London’s Norfolk Street. Lovelace gives Clarissa a choice of places to go, recommending London, ironically, for the privacy it can offer her. He invents letters attesting the character of the widow Sinclair’s house, pretending it is the lodgings of a respectable officer’s widow, whereas in fact it is a private brothel presided over by an intimidating, elderly, and grotesque woman who uses the name “Mrs. Sinclair” as a pseudonym. Here Clarissa is surrounded by unsavory people who resent her for her virtue, almost as though the brothel is a parody of the Harlowe home. Clarissa is at pains to defend herself against Lovelace’s elaborate ruses to “test” her virtue.
Mrs. Moore’s house
Mrs. Moore’s house. Lodgings of a respectable widow in London’s Hampstead Heath neighborhood, and the place to which Clarissa escapes when she becomes suspicious of Lovelace’s intentions. After tracking her down, Lovelace tells Mrs. Moore that Clarissa is his wife, who has run away from him in a nervous, spoiled fit of pique. He moves into the house with his servants and tries to persuade Clarissa to return to the “Widow Sinclair’s.” He finally manages to entrap her there by a ruse, and with the collaboration of Mrs. Sinclair and her prostitutes, he drugs Clarissa and rapes her.
Smiths’ house. Shop and lodgings of an honest glove-dealer and his shopkeeper wife on King Street in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood. Clarissa escapes here from Lovelace and remains safely until she is found out by Sinclair, who has her arrested coming out of church for not paying the bill for her room and board.
Rowland’s house. Police officer’s home in London’s High Holborn neighborhood. Arrested and detained here, Clarissa chooses to stay in the prisoner’s room, a “shocking” garret with bars on the windows and a locked door. She is subjected to persecuting visits from the spiteful prostitutes and is generally humiliated and dejected by the experience. When Lovelace learns what has happened he is furious and sends his friend Belford to tell Clarissa that she is permitted to return to the Smiths’ without any danger of harassment from him. Worn out and disheartened by her persecutions and tired of life, Clarissa begins to waste away and becomes bedridden. As one of her final actions she orders and designs her own coffin. She dies in her room at the Smiths’ with the coffin beside her, dreaming of returning to and being received as a prodigal daughter in “her father’s house,” that is, her Heavenly Father’s house.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 249
Castle, Terry. Clarissa’s Ciphers: Meaning and Disruption in Richardson’s “Clarissa.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982. An influential book, which provides an interpretation from the points of view of feminism and reader-response criticism. On the alleged textual incoherence in Clarissa, Castle asks: How can one expect coherence from a violated woman?
Doody, Margaret Anne. Chapters V through IX in A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1974. Provides lively, informative, and authoritative discussion of themes and imagery in Clarissa. The source of much sympathetic interpretation of Clarissa and Richardson’s other novels.
Goldberg, Rita. Sex and Enlightenment: Women in Richardson and Diderot. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Highly intelligent discussion of Clarissa as a “mythic” book—a model for young women to follow. Examines the consequences to young women and their society of attempting to adhere to the prescribed model.
Hill, Christopher. “Clarissa Harlowe and Her Times.” In Samuel Richardson: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by John Carroll. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1968. The seminal account of the social background of the novel. Includes examination of the economy, Puritanism, and attitudes toward the individual, the family, and marriage.
Warner, William Beatty. Reading Clarissa: The Struggles of Interpretation. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. Uses deconstructionist approach to question any supposed need to establish a single authoritative text to Clarissa. Argues for the aptness of the novel’s conflicting texts. Claims that Lovelace is the hero of the novel.
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