Family Day, Late morning
I have just finished the mega novel known as Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson and I should be happy if I never have to see that beast again. I was excited to pick up this book, because I had heard a lot about it and it sounded like it could be interesting. Boy, was I wrong! I figured it was a larger novel so I made a quick trip to the Vancouver Public Library on January 2nd so I would have time to finish it within a month. I knew it was a large novel, but I was completely unprepared for just how large! The book is huge and physically intimidating sitting at just under 1500 pages. My jaw dropped as I stared at it sitting on the shelf, then I quickly picked it up and checked it out before I could change my mind. Thankfully, I have taken to carrying a giant tote around the city with me so I was able to lug the beast home!
Clarissa is a novel composed entirely of letters back and forth between all of the principal characters in the story. It follows Clarissa Harlowe, a young, pure girl in her downfall at the hands of a rake named Lovelace. The story to me seems a little too trite to be taken seriously. Essentially, a good pure innocent girl is taken advantage of against her will and, her heart is broken beyond belief until she dies, but justice is served to the evil doers in her death as they are raked with guilt (some even dying a horrible death) as punishment for all they have done. It is basically just an extremely long, and terribly dreary (read: boring) parable on how purity and goodness are traits that will get you far in life (or in this case the afterlife). The story could only be more simplistic if she was vindicated in her life rather than her death. Here is the purpose of the novel as described by Richardson in the Postscript: "We find that (in the dispensation of Providence) good and evil happen alike to ALL MEN on this side of the grave: and as the principle design of tragedy is to raise commiseration and terror in the minds of the audience, we shall defeat this great end if we always make virtue and innocence happy and successful". So essentially, Clarissa is a parable about living the good life in order to reap eternal rewards.
I am not sure why this novel became a classic novel, but it is interesting to note that Samuel Richardson ran his own publishing house and essentially self published his own novel. This would explain how the terrible book came to print, and also the length (which in my opinion adds very little to the novel). I have read several books, where the length added to the books rather than took away from them. I can think of two off the top of my head: Vanity Fair and Middlemarch. Those books flew by and I was engaged in the characters and cared about the story. I found the characters believable and even though they weren't perfect I enjoyed reading about them. I hated every single character in Clarissa.....Clarissa included. The only person I ended up liking a bit by the end was Belford who was Lovelace's best friend. I found every one else whiny and flat. They annoyed me and there were a few times I couldn't help, but scream profanities against them out loud.
Let this letter serve as a warning to other reader's; if you are not working on a list of novels, as I am, and you aren't a glutton for punishment avoid this novel like the plague. You can thank me for the torture that you will avoid and the drudgery that will be bypassed later. It is only by sheer force of will and stubbornness that I was able to keep the 50 page a day pace to finish this novel and tick it off the list of 100. If I wasn't determined to read every last one of the Novel 100 I would surely have given the book up before the end.