Although Richardson occasionally throws us a funny bone
(what's up, Dorcas-the-toad?) the main tone of the book is dark and moralizing.
It's the kind of story where you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Remember, Richardson got reamed for easing off on the moral stuff in Pamela, so
Richardson isn't about to give us a happy ending here.
But even so, the dark moments at the end of Clarissa are really dark. Think
of Clarissa's extended death scene: "We thought she was gone; and each
gave way to a violent burst of grief" (481.18). And that comes after a whole two
or so volumes of dying.
And then there's the capital-M Moral. Although it's more
than a little cringeworthy for a twenty-first-century reader, we have to
remember that morals were Richardson's bread and butter. Let's just hear from
Lovelace at the point when Clarissa is definitely on her deathbed: "Tell
her, oh tell her, Belford, that…I can
have repented—Tell her of my frequent deep remorses" (470.6).
In other words: repent, ye sinners; and ladies—don't let yourself be raped, but
if you do, make sure manage to die without actively killing yourself.
The moral might fall short today, but it went the distance
back in the day.