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Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady by…

Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1747)

by Samuel Richardson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (21)  French (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
This was written as a collection of letters from the parties concerned. A playboy and a virtuous maiden. He is determined to conquer her and ingratiates himself upon her family who is looking for advancement in their social standing. She sees him for the devious corrupt man that he really is and desperately tries to avoid him. He is so charismatic that everyone seems to be against Clarissa. Kidnapping is involved. Can Clarissa maintain her virtue when the world is against her? A wonderful read. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Let's be clear about this: this book is far, far too long for modern reading habits. Not all that much happens in its 1500 pages (pages which are, I would guess, maybe one and a half to twice as long as normal pages). If you want to read it, don't sit down and try to read the whole thing straight. It's really not that much fun. I heard somewhere that in the 18th century people treated books the way we treat TV programs: pick it up, put it down, come in in the middle, have a conversation while you're reading it etc... No need to read it through in a handful of sittings, pondering every last word.

That said, it's a pretty good story, and great for academics, of which I am one. This might be *the* novel of modernity. It's all here: issues of sexuality; issues of independence and autonomy; the odd relationship between the nobility and the newly arriving bourgeoisie; the role of religion in all of this; bizarre accounting practices (tell me again how many minutes a day Clarissa spent at her various tasks?) And it's a masterpiece in literary terms as well. Richardson's prose is lovely, and the main characters all have distinct voices and personalities; he plays around with his narrative in very interesting ways and stretches the epistolary novel to its bursting point. He is to epistolary novels as Wagner is to classical music. The difference is that people generally find what came after Wagner to be unlistenable, whereas what came after Richardson - especially from Austen forward - is far, far more readable and enjoyable.

Not sure why anyone would read this, though, unless they had an interest in literary history, or the type of personality which just wants to do the hardest thing out there. If you just want a good story about a virtuous young woman (no shame in that), I don't know, maybe try the BBC mini-series version. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Review: It says a lot that out of the 1499 pages of this novel, I only though the last 100 superfluous. If you like melodrama you will adore this novel. Completely comprised of letters between the characters, the minutiae of their psychological/spiritual motivations are enumerated beautifully. The characters are everything here. Clarissa, the virtuous maiden, Lovelace, the villain, and a host of both true-hearted and villainous minor players inhabit these pages. I absolutely loved this, with the exception that I think the ending was unnecessarily drawn out. ( )
  hemlokgang | Oct 2, 2013 |
I read this thing in its epistolary-entirety over the summer before learning that only sections of it were assigned. I think I got a bit more out of it than my classmates and was impressed by how the character of Lovelace overpowered Richardson. ( )
  KidSisyphus | Apr 5, 2013 |
More than any other book I write about, I feel in no way qualified to give an opinion on Samuel Richardson's Clarissa. Where do I start?

Firstly, this is a long novel. The Penguin Classics edition is 1,499 pages long. The font is very small and the pages are quite large. This reproduces Richardson's original version of Clarissa as first published in several volumes in 1747 and 1748. Richardson seemed to revise this original text quite heavily and some later editions have another 200 pages added. I think the free ebook versions use the longer, later texts but I'm not sure.

Secondly, if you decide to read Clarissa you'll need to get rid of all our 21st century and 20th century ideas about what a novel is or should be. This book is long and, most of the time, nothing happens. Even when something does happen, you don't get to read about it happening: Clarissa is an epistolary novel (written in the form of letters) so you only get to read about events through the characters' letters after they've happened.

Thirdly, do not attempt the Pearl rule* (or, if you do, you'll need to increase the Pearl rule by at least a factor of 10). I found it took me quite a long time to adapt to the style of writing and the pace and I struggled most in the first 500 pages. I found it really started to get going somewhere around the 700 page mark and the last 500 pages flew by.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to quote Samuel Johnson who said Clarissa was 'the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart'. With all the books published in the 250+ years since Clarissa was first brought out I can see there could be some uncertainty about Clarissa still being the first book but I would definitely argue for it being in the top ten. The characters are not all pleasant, but they are all real and they all have different voices and styles in the letters they write. I think that must be difficult enough to do in what we think of as a normal length novel, surely it must be harder when you have to sustain this across almost 1,500 pages?

Finally, I should note that Clarissa is not going to be a book for everyone (and that's ok). It's long and not much happens. Clarissa herself spends most of the novel in various unpleasant situations and that's difficult to read about - most of my struggles at the beginning of the novel were because it felt very emotionally claustrophobic. It is often described as boring and there is justification for that. I disagree (quite strongly I think) but I can understand why people find it boring. To quote Samuel Johnson again, 'if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself'. That's (thankfully) a bit of an exaggeration but there was a lot of frustration expressed on the group read thread.

I felt rather uncertain about rating Clarissa. In the end I gave it 5 stars because it's so memorable - I'm sure the book and the characters will stay with me for a long time and also because on finishing it, I found myself thinking that this would really reward rereading (not going to happen soon though) and it's rare that I think that on finishing a book. I would definitely say I enjoyed my experience of reading Clarissa, although there were points when I struggled. I'm pleased and sad to have finished reading it and I don't think there's higher praise to give a novel than to say I felt sad to have no more left to read. Recommended, with caution.

*The Pearl rule, courtesy of Nancy Pearl, says "If you still don't like a book after slogging through the first 50 pages, set it aside. If you're more than 50 years old, subtract your age from 100 and only grant it that many pages." ( )
4 vote souloftherose | Dec 31, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richardson, Samuelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ross, AngusEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I am extremely concerned, my dearest friend, for the disturbances that have happened in your family.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140432159, Paperback)

‘Oh thou savage-hearted monster! What work hast thou made in one guilty hour, for a whole age of repentance!’

Pressured by her unscrupulous family to marry a wealthy man she detests, the young Clarissa Harlowe is tricked into fleeing with the witty and debonair Robert Lovelace and places herself under his protection. Lovelace, however, proves himself to be an untrustworthy rake whose vague promises of marriage are accompanied by unwelcome and increasingly brutal sexual advances. And yet, Clarissa finds his charm alluring, her scrupulous sense of virtue tinged with unconfessed desire. Told through a complex series of interweaving letters, Clarissa is a richly ambiguous study of a fatally attracted couple and a work of astonishing power and immediacy. A huge success when it first appeared in 1747, and translated into French and German, it remains one of the greatest of all European novels.

In his introduction, Angus Ross examines characterization, the epistolary style, the role of the family and the position of women in Clarissa. This edition also includes a chronology, suggestions for further reading, tables of letters, notes, a glossary and an appendix on the music for the ‘Ode to Wisdom’.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:19 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Based on the 18th century novel by Samuel Richardson, this is the original tale of fatal attraction and dangerous liasons. A wealthy young heiress, famed for her virtue, is sought by a man wishing to seduce her and destroy her reputation. For the first time in his life he becomes genuinely infatuated with his prey, and sows the seeds of his own fate.… (more)

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