It's time for our February Clarissa check-in. Last month we began a yearlong project to read the 537 letters (roughly 1500 pages) of this epistolary novel around their corresponding dates and discuss our progress at the end of each month. Terri, from Tip of the Iceberg, and I are alternating monthly hosting duties. It's my turn this month, so leave your link and catch up with other participants here.
After a prolonged silence for most of the month, we've had five letters over the past several days. The first four were from Clarissa to Miss Howe, but in the fifth letter we finally heard from Miss Howe.
When word of Lovelace's visits to the Howe household reaches Harlowe family, Clarissa is abruptly summoned home. Although she is never alone with Lovelace, Clarissa feels his "rank and fortune entitled him to civility". Her family, of course, does not agree and Clarissa is subjected to even harsher treatment at the hands of her brother and father. They are more anxious than ever to marry her off and have chosen Mr. Solmes.
Clarissa is confined to the house. She is not allowed out, even for church, and visitors are prohibited. Her correspondence has also been curtailed, but Clarissa has found alternate means to continue communication with Miss Howe and asks her friend for advice.
Miss Howe thinks Clarissa might not be aware of her true feelings for Lovelace: "For a beginning love is acted by a subtle spirit; and oftentimes discovers itself to a by-stander, when the person possessed (why should I not call it possessed?) knows not it has such a demon." She warns Clarissa to proceed with caution and believes Lovelace has "seen more than I have seen; more than you think could be seen --more than I believe you yourself know, or else you would let me know it."
A Few Quotes:
Clarissa on Mr. Solmes:
"... find it impossible I should ever endure him. He has but a very ordinary share of understanding; is very illiterate; knows nothing but the value of estates, and how to improve them, and what belongs to land-jobbing and husbandry." L8
"... all I say against him is affectedly attributed to coyness: and he, not being sensible of his own imperfections, believes that my avoiding him when I can, and the reserves I express, are owing to nothing else: for, as I said, all his courtship is to them [her family]; and I have no opportunity of saying no, to one who asks me not the question. And so, with an air of mannish superiority, he seems rather to pity the bashful girl, than to apprehend that he shall not succeed." L8
Miss Howe on the Harlowe family:
"You are all too rich to be happy, child. For must not each of you, by the constitutions of your own family marry to be still richer? ....none of your family but yourself could be happy were they not rich."
Thoughts and Impressions:
After a long silence, the action really picked up over the last week. I was able to read the letters more quickly, too, and think I'm finally getting used to the writing style.
Clarissa is obviously in a very bad spot, practically under house arrest, but it seems like she may be getting ready to assert herself. In letter nine, we learn her family "all have an absolute dependence upon what they suppose to be meekness in my temper. But in this they may be mistaken; for I verily think, upon a strict examination of myself, that I have almost as much in me of my father's as of my mother's family." Has she had a flash of great insight into her temperament or discovered an inner strength she never knew she possessed?
It was a pleasure to finally read a letter written by someone other than Clarissa. Miss Howe provides an interesting perspective on the developing relationship between Clarissa and Lovelace. She sees her friend, possibly unaware of her true feelings, in danger of falling for Lovelace. The more Clarissa's friends/family are against him, the more Clarissa seems inclined toward him. Miss Howe believes Lovelace understands this and and will use it to his own advantage.
I am anticipating a dramatic and exciting March. The letters increase in frequency (sometimes two or three per day) and will now require more discipline to stay on track. I hope I'm up to the task!