Clarissa – an enormous epistolary novel from the 18th century on many lists of classics, but which few have read. I joined up this year long project to read Clarissa. I’ve done this also with Sherlock Holmes and have started Proust. At the end of the year, I’ll probably have read 4 books. Since I’ve started it and gotten through the first six letters which was the January assignment, I figured I’d at least report on that. The book is a livelier read than I expected, but Clarissa is not exactly a personality for the modern day. According to her friend, she’s Miss Perfect, but she seems pretty far from perfect to me. Standards were different then, naturally, but it seems all too easy to read this in two different ways – first, take it at face value: Clarissa Harlowe is a little saint with a horrible family and it’s no flaw in her that she reports quite thoroughly on all the flaws in her highly flawed family to her best friend in letters, turns down every suitor, despises her admittedly jerky brother, and will somehow get entangled with this bounder Lovelace despite her professed disdain and her family’s abhorring him. This came as a surprise to me. It should be easy not to get involved with someone your family and you both profess to hate. If her family loved him, I could see that being a problem. If she loved him, I could see that being a problem, but hell all she has to do is sic her hotheaded brother and uncles on him and be free. But maybe she will and he kills them all. I’m not very far yet.
So far, what’s happened. She’s just filled her BFF in by letter on the sitch. To wit: first her sister and now she is receiving the attention of one Lovelace, a hotheaded jerk her sister liked and then pretended not to when he didn’t really woo her. He didn’t because he was into Clarissa. Clarissa disdains him though occasionally writes to him because she’s too refined not to for some 18th century reason. Her family first liking him takes against him and her brother and Lovelace duel. The brother is wounded, but nobody dies so we have hundreds of pages to go. Clarissa’s uncles are also trying to fight with Lovelace. Lovelace wants to have his way with Clarissa and behaves quite well around her — for now. She’s about to go visit her BFF and I’m sure trouble will arise.
The second way is, of course, to take everything she says with a grain of salt, but perhaps later on she won’t seem so The Lady Doth Protest Too Much. I don’t see why she had to write him at all even if she did write very little.
Here’s hoping I can keep up with this, Sherlock, Proust, and actually read some other books as well. I’m being so ambitious this year, aren’t I?