Study Guide

Clarissa

Clarissa Introduction

If you've ever tuned into a telenovela, you know they're about as addicting as a can of Pringles. Well, Clarissa is the ultimate soap opera. Between the family drama, the duel, the secret trysts, and—ahem!—the shocker ending, Clarissa is soapier and sudsier than a bubble bath. Except, y'know, eighteenth-century-style.

And let's be honest, Shmoopers. Samuel Richardson could write a heck of a soap opera when he wanted to (and even when he didn't want to). By the time Clarissa hit the scene in 1748, Richardson had already proven he could write a super-sexy story. You might say Pamela (1740), Richardson's original claim to fame, set the will-she-or-won't-she formula that had all of London reading late into the night. They were so up-in-arms about Richardson's racy style of writing that they formed two camps: the Pamelists and the Anti-Pamelists.

Richardson knew when he had a winning formula, and—like Coca-Cola—he didn't mess with it. Clarissa borrows a bunch of plot points from Pamela, including the virtuous heroine, the devastatingly handsome and devilish dude, and all of those letters. Good thing for Richardson's pocketbook, because even the Anti-Pamelists had to get their Richardson fix by the time Clarissa rolled around.

Long before Americans asked "Who shot J.R?," the British wanted to know if Clarissa would succumb to the dastardly Lovelace. And did she?

Read on to find out. 

What is Clarissa About and Why Should I Care?

Clarissa is your girl. You might say she'll explain it all.

We'll show ourselves out.

Okay, okay, we've actually got a lot to say before heading out. First of all, everybody wants to get all up in her love life. Her sister is more into sabotaging all of Clarissa's happiness than hair-braiding and boy talk. And if it isn't bad enough to have a grumpy brother, he has to go and try to murder Clarissa's new boyfriend. Can you even imagine the Facebook drama?

Clarissa might have it a bit worse than the rest of us, but she gets savvy pretty quickly about running interference with her majorly intense family. (Forget about passing notes in class—Clarissa has to find a trustworthy servant to deliver her letters.) And, just like an episode of a '90s sitcom, Clarissa ends with a moral. Richardson always has a moral up his sleeve. The trick is figuring out which moral makes the story tick. Is Clarissa's busy-body family right to be extra-cautious about Lovelace? Or did they inadvertently cause the whole fiasco by being so nosy?

Dating might be better suited to laugh tracks than tragedies these days, but in the eighteenth century, these were big questions. Because most women couldn't earn their own money, they were completely reliant on men to protect them—first fathers, then husbands. Choosing the right husband was literally a life-or-death decision; no wonder all the dads wanted to do the choosing.

In fact, the only choice a girl really had was the power to say no. Even though Clarissa is super-virtuous and obedient, she doesn't have a problem saying "No way, Jose!" to her dad when he wants her to marry Solmes. So, maybe her decision doesn't turn out so well—but would Samuel Richardson say that it was all her fault? Or would everything have turned out fine if her dad had just respect her decision?

Bet you can guess what we think the moral is. 

Clarissa Resources

Websites

Dirty Minds Think Alike
Samuel Coleridge totally thought Richardson had a "vile" mind. But he liked it!

Keep the Fans Happy
Lovelace was such a hit with lady readers that Richardson got some serious pressure to rewrite the ending.

Movie or TV Productions

Clarissa: The Mini-Series
Richardson wrote Clarissa in pieces, giving readers the chance to write in with their takes on the potential ending. If you want to watch the series as it was intended to be read, check out this mini-series.

Articles and Interviews

Interview with Clarissa 1.0
We might have to wait a while longer for that tell-all with our girl. In the meantime, check out this (fictional) interview with Pamela Andrews, the prototype for Clarissa Harlowe. Juicy questions include "What's your favorite word?" (Virtue, obviously).

Straight from Sammy's Mouth
It's the closest we'll get to picking Samuel Richardson's brain: here's a letter he published in the Rambler about ladies misbehaving in church. Clarissa, is that you?

Father Sam
Want to know more about the guy some called the "Father of the Novel"? And which of his books did Jane Austen call her favorite ever?

Video

Star-Crossed Lovers (Sort of)
Watch Clarissa sneak out to meet Lovelace in the garden in the 1991 mini-series. We have to say, the Lovelace casting is spot-on.

Sing a Song of (Pamela)
Again, Clarissa gets the short end of the stick for her predecessor, Pamela. Switch "Mr. B." and "Pamela" for "Lovelace" and "Clarissa," and nearly everything still applies—except the tragic ending. What can we say—Richardson loved to recycle plots!

Audio

Rest Your Eyes
Eyes weary from reading one of the longest books in the English language? Librivox has got your back.

Images

Clarissa Does Cartoons
Ever wonder what Clarissa would look like as an anime character? You're welcome.

The Girl Got Away!
Check out this eighteenth-century rendition of Clarissa flying the coop.

Ned Stark=Lovelace?
What comes to mind when you think of literature's most handsome villain? If you said Ned Stark from Game of Thrones, you're in luck: actor Sean Bean has played both roles.