Friday, 25 May 2012



The story

Pamela has been the servant girl of Lady B. for many years. When the noblewoman dies, Pamela is very sad: she loved Lady B. because she had always been very good to her and given her an education far beyond her means. Mr B., Lady B.’s son, offers to let her remain in the household and Pamela accepts with gratitude,  but it soon becomes clear that Mr B. intends to seduce her . He then offers to send her home to her parents, but the coachman, who is one of Mr B.’s men, drives her instead to Mr B.s country house, where she is virtually a prisoner. The girl, however, resists all of her master’s advances until Mr B., who is really in love with Pamela, finally asks to marry him. The second part of the book shows Pamela and Mr B.’s married life. Pamela is the model wife and MR B. too is in the end  converted to a sober well-regulated life.

The first English best-seller

Pamela was the first  first best- selling novel in England.  It was written almost by accident. As a printer, Richardson was asked to construct a set of “familiar letters,” models to help country people write to their families. Some of these letters were supposedly from a servant girl to her parents, asking what she should do when faced with her master’s sexual advances. Richardson’s friends enjoyed this plot and asked for more of it, and he published Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded in 1740. According to Richardson, Pamela was a new form of fiction writing altogether, an exercise in instruction through entertainment. The novel was an instant sensation. Its moral precepts formed the themes of church sermons as well as newspaper debates, while its plot and characters inspired musical adaptations, continuations, operas, and even waxworks. Pamela also received its share of criticism and parodies, most notably Fielding’s Shamela and Haywood’s example of a best-seller in the history of English literature. The book was immensely popular not only in England but also in Europe where it was soon translated into all major languages and turned into a play (in Italy, Carlo Goldoni wrote two comedies after Richardson’s novel: Pamela Nubile and Pamela maritata.

The Debate on Virtue Rewarded

The reason for such widespread yet contrasted success  was implicit in the theme of the novel: a poor 15-year-old girl dares to resist her master’s improper sexual advances and does so with a sense of the moral  value of her resistance;  in the end she makes  the young nobleman marry her on her own conditions: he must accept to lead a sober, Christian married life. To many readers Pamela was a heroine and hers was the triumph of virtue. For a portion of the reading public , however,  Pamela was not so much a virtuous girl as a crafty young lady  who tried to climb the social ladder by becoming a nobleman’s wife.

The triumph of the middle class

Quite aside from the moral question, Pamela was felt by many to be a socially dangerous book, encouraging servant maids to oppose their masters’ wishes. There was some truth in these objections:  Pamela, in fact, put forward the values of a middle class that prided itself on its rectitude and morality as opposed to the freer life-style of the nobles.  When Pamela says: ” my soul is of equal importance with the soul  of a princess”, she is not just making an obvious Christian statement, but also strongly stating her right to be respected quite apart from her social status.

The novel symbolically celebrates not just the marriage of Pamela to Mr B., first  her persecutor and then her loving  husband, but  also the union of England’s  two most  powerful classes: the nobility and the bourgeoisie, or middle class. And, in real  history as in the novel, it was the new middle class that  forced the nobility into acceptance of their ideals and way of life.

 The first phychological novel

Sexual violence is always present or latent in Richardson’s stories and the heroines’ feelings about their persecutors are not clear-cut. This ambiguity makes  Pamela the first psychological novel written in English. This study of the characters’  feelings and their inner motivations was achieved by Richardson through a clever and innovative use of the epistolary technique. The letters are in fact full of incidents, and the dialogues  are mostly in direct speech. 

Lovelace kidnapping Clarissa
Following the success of Pamela, Richardson undertook a more ambitious project when he began Clarissa. While almost all of the letters in Pamela are written by Pamela, there are four principal writers in Clarissa, resulting in a more complex plot as well as a much longer novel. Richardson also set out to raise the social level of his story. Instead of the voice of a spunky servant girl, he adopts the language of the upper classes and sprinkles the novel with members of the peerage. He takes his goal of moralizing through entertainment further than he had in Pamela, writing a story that is less of a conduct book and more of a Puritan parable.

The story
Clarissa 2
Clarissa is a beautiful and virtuous young lady whose family has become wealthy only in recent years and is now eager to become part of the aristocracy. Clarissa's grandfather leaves her a substantial piece of property upon his death and a route to the nobility opens through Clarissa marrying Robert Lovelace, heir to an earldom, but a libertine. Clarissa’s brother, James, obstacles the decision provoking a duel with Lovelace, who is now seen as an enemy to the family. James also proposes that Clarissa marry Roger Solmes, who is willing to trade properties with James to concentrate James's holdings and speed his becoming Lord Harlowe. The family agrees and attempts to force Clarissa to marry Solmes, whom she finds physically disgusting.

Desperate to remain free, she begins a correspondence with Lovelace, her previous betrothed,  and when her family's campaign to force her marriage is at its height, Lovelace convinces her into eloping with him. Scared, Clarissa goes with Lovelace and  remains Lovelace's prisoner for many months. She is kept at many lodgings and even a brothel where the women are disguised as high-status ladies by Lovelace himself. She refuses to marry him on many occasions, longing — unusually for a girl in her time — to live by herself in peace. She eventually runs away but is discovered by Lovelace and is tricked into going back to the brothel.

Lovelace, who means to marry Clarissa in order to avenge the treatment he received from the Harlowe family, wants to possess Clarissa's body as well as her mind. He believes that if she loses her virtue, she will be forced to marry him on any terms. But Lovelace is at the same time charmed by Clarissa’s virtue and strength, he  is more and more impressed by  her, and  he finds it difficult to believe that virtuous women do not exist.

The pressure he finds himself under, combined with his growing passion for beautiful Clarissa, drives him to extremes and eventually he rapes her by drugging her.

Lovelace's action hurts Clarissa deeply, she is more adamantly opposed to marrying a vile and corrupt individual like Lovelace. Eventually, Clarissa manages to escape but becomes dangerously ill due to the mental duress she has been under for so many months

Clarissa is sheltered by the kind but poor Smiths and during her sickness she gains another worshipper - John Belford, another libertine who happens to be Lovelace's best friend. Belford is amazed at the way Clarissa handles her approaching death and laments over what Lovelace has done.  Eventually, surrounded by strangers and her cousin Col. Morden, Clarissa dies trusting in a better life after death. Belford manages Clarissa's will and ensures that all her articles and money go into the hands of the individuals she desires should receive them.

Lovelace seems to have moved on but Belford sends him Clarissa's will. He is shattered when he reads it and can live no longer Lovelace asks Morden for a duel (although not directly) and they meet somewhere in Italy. Lovelace fights Morden and lets him kill him, he wants to die: he pretends to be not injured and goes after Morden many times - each time receiving another deadly blow. Lovelace dies a day afterwards. Before dying he says "LET THIS EXPIATE!"

Clarissa's relatives finally realise the misery they have caused but discover that they are too late and Clarissa has already died.

The Tragedy of Clarissa

Clarissa Harlowe,  is caught and doomed by two different wrong attitudes she refuses to be subjected to. Her family’s set of values , they  would force her into a loveless marriage to improve their fortunes. Outside the orbit of the Harlowes stands Lovelace, nephew of Lord M. and a romantic who held the code of the Harlowes in contempt. In her desperate straits, Clarissa appraises too highly the qualities that set Lovelace beyond the world of her family, and, when he offers protection, she runs off with him. She is physically attracted by,  if not actually in love with,  Lovelace and is responsive to the wider horizons of his world, but she is to discover that he wants her only on his own terms. In Lovelace’s letters to his friend Belford, Richardson shows that what is driving him to conquest and finally to rape is really her superiority. In the correspondence of Clarissa and her friend Anna Howe, Richardson shows the distance that separates her from her confidant, who thinks her quixotic in not accepting a marriage; but marriage as a way out would have been a sacrifice to that same consciousness of human dignity that had led her to defy her family. As the novel comes to its long-drawn-out close, she is removed from the world of both the Harlowes and the Lovelaces, and dies, a child of heaven. In providing confidants for his central characters and in refusing to find a place in the social structure into which to fit his sorely beset heroine, Richardson made his greatest advances over Pamela. He was determined, as his postscript indicates, to write a novel that was also a tragedy.

Notes from

1.Encyclopedia Britannica online

2. Sparknotes

3. Wikipedia

3. Elio Chinol, English Literature vol. 1 , Liguori Editore, 1980

4. A. Cattaneo e Donatella de Flaviis, Cakes and Ale, vol. 1, Signorelli Scuola 2009

Watching and Listening Activities

1. A clip from BBC adaptation of Clarissa

2. Listening Comprehension Activity - Listen and fill in the gaps

Click HERE and listen to an excerpt from BBC4 Radio Drama Clarissa (if it doesn't work for you, download Clarissa The Flight mp3 file from the widget box in the sidebar on the right) +  Download the worksheet "Clarissa and Lovelace: The Flight" and fill in the gaps while listening

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