Study Guide

Clarissa Principles

By Samuel Richardson

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The intention is, I tell you plainly, to mortify you into a sense of your duty (22.23)

Daddy Harlowe thinks Clarissa is lacking morally, and he isn't afraid to tell her so. But we can't tell if he's just laying it on thick with the moral stuff in order to make her obey him, or if he really does think she's violating an important principle. 

I should easily, I think, detect a hypocrite: and <em>this </em>man particularly, who is said to have allowed himself in great liberties, were he to pretend to instantaneous lights and convictions […] (36.24)

Clarissa's B.S. detector is pretty good, and she catches on right away that Lovelace doesn't have much in the way of principles. Then again, she clearly thinks she can change Lovelace for the better, so maybe we won't take advice from her <em>just</em> yet. 

She flies a thought that I can <em>less </em>dwell upon—a <em>cruel </em>thought!—but she has a poor opinion of the purity she compliments me with, if she thinks that I am not, by God's grace, above temptation from this sex (145.7)

Okay, so Clarissa isn't above mere mortals. She's definitely attracted to Lovelace, but she's determined not to cave in and do something she'll regret. Too bad that her principles don't stand up to rape and drugging. 

How many ruins has she prevented by attaching me to herself!—by engrossing my whole attention! (159.4)

Lovelace is pleased as punch because he thinks Clarissa has prevented him from further mischief. But does it count if he's planning to do something extra-terrible? And do you really want to let your moral behavior be dictated by someone else?

By your account of your wretch's companions, I see not but they are a set of infernals, and he the Beelzebub (164.6)

Anna always sees right through Lovelace's schemes. Seems like she's subtly hinting that Clarissa's morals might easily be corrupted—even if she's the only one who thinks so. 

He is constantly accusing me of over-scrupulousness (173.3)

If we had to sum up Clarissa's approach to life in a word, "over-scrupulousness" wouldn't be a bad pick. Brain Snack: "over-scrupulousness" was a religious thing back in the eighteenth-century. It meant that you were just a leeeetle too concerned about following all the rules, and it was considered just about as bad as being a flat-out sinner. (Here's a modern look at it.)

Indeed she was a little displeased with last night; because, on our return from the play, I obliged her to pass the rest of the night with the women and me, in their parlour, and to stay till near one (198.6)

When Lovelace does something immoral with Clarissa nearby, her only recourse is to give him the silent treatment. A little juvenile, but it's a classic for a reason—at least she gets to stick to her principles, even in a slightly unprincipled way. 

Now is my reformation secured; for I never shall love any other woman! (225.1)

Lovelace is totally tongue-in-cheek here, even though it ends up being true. Too bad that it takes Clarissa dying to instill any principles in the guy. 

Such an adorer of virtue to be sacrificed to the vilest of her sex; and thou their implement in the devil's hands for a purpose so base, so ungenerous, so inhuman! (258.4)

Belford's got some major insults up his sleeve: not only does he consider Lovelace to be totally vile, but he thinks Clarissa is way out of his league—morally, at least. 

We all know your virtuous prudence, worthy woman; we all do. But your partiality to this your rash favourite is likewise known (376.1)

Although this seems like it could easily be addressed to Clarissa, it's Mrs. Harlowe telling Mrs. Norton to keep her nose out of family business. Clarissa's reputation for "virtuous prudence" is basically in shambles at this point.

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