Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Clarissa Group Read: January Update

This month we embarked on a yearlong project to read Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. The epistolary novel, published in 1748 and purported to be one of the longest novels in the English language, contains 537 letters written over the course of a year. The goal is to read the letters around their corresponding dates and discuss our progress at the end of each month. Terri and I will alternate monthly hosting duties.

Visit Tip of the Iceberg to leave your link and find collected January posts.

Plot summary:
There are six letters written in January - all between Clarissa Harlowe and her dearest friend, Anna Howe. The first correspondence, initiated by Miss Howe, expresses concern for her friend over a recent incident that has wreaked havoc within the Harlowe family and incited public discussion. Miss Howe asks for a complete account of events from her friend's perspective. Clarissa obliges with a series of five letters.

Mr. Lovelace is presented to the Harlowe family as a suitor for Arabella, the elder daughter, but appears to show no real interest in her. He even takes her "consenting negative" as a final rebuff. Within a couple of weeks, his attention shifts to Clarissa. While Mr. Harlowe does nothing to discourage the match, Clarissa's older brother, James, arrives from Scotland and voices an intense dislike of Lovelace. He holds a grudge dating back to school days and has threatened to disown Clarissa if she marries Lovelace. Meanwhile, rumors of Lovelace's "faulty morals" abound. Clarissa claims she will not allow a relationship to divide her family.

Tensions escalate until James and Lovelace end up in a sword fight, with James sustaining a nonfatal injury. He will recover fully, but cannot rest until Clarissa is safely married. James bullies his father into discouraging Lovelace's advances. It is decided to send Clarissa to Miss Howe for a visit.

A Quote: 
from Clarissa's final letter to Miss Howe:
"Will you engage, my dear, that the hated man shall not come near your house? - but what an inconsistence is this, when they consent to my going, thinking his visits here no otherwise to be avoided! But if he does come I charge you never leave us alone together."
Thoughts and Impressions:
Although I'm still getting used to the language, Clarissa is much more readable than I expected. Starting with just six letters in the first month has been a nice way to ease into our project. The stage is now set... I'm anxious to see where things go from here.

Can Lovelace really be as bad as James thinks? And what about Clarissa? Will she abide by her family's wishes, or do I sense a streak of independence... and possibly deception?

The most important development this month was on a personal level. After reading these first six letters, it became obvious that my huge paperback poses a problem. Not only is it cumbersome, but the print is very small. To top it all off, I realized the pages are yellowing.

I took my Christmas gift certificates to Barnes & Noble and purchased a NOOK Simple Touch. I can't wait to read February's letters now!


  1. Oh golly I wish this one was in my TBR Double Dare pile. I love the idea of reading the letters on the days they were written. I love, love, love that idea. And I own the book, but alas, I did not put it in my Double Dare pile. So I am going to have to wait until next year to do this.

  2. I do think this would be fun especially considering my year of letter-writing (which is going very well!)
    Congrats on the Nook.

  3. Ahh - I definitely want to read one, and the size is certainly daunting, so a year-long group read is a great idea. Wish I had known about it sooner so I could plan and buy the book (I look for it everytime I'm at the store, but no one ever has it - I'll have to break down and buy it online sometime).

  4. I too can't wait to find out if Lovelace is truly that bad!

  5. Glad you're enjoying it too - it's great to see everyone so enthusiastic. I decided to read on my Kindle too because of the size.
    I have a feeling Clarissa will rebel against her family - compared to them Lovelace doesn't seem too bad - so far!

  6. Thomas - If you still want to join in, I promise not to mention it to James;-)

    Care - Glad your letter-writing project is going well. That's quite an undertaking in itself!

    Adam - It's not to late to join in if you can locate a copy. There were only six letters in January and February is also a very light month - it would be easy to catch up.

    Terri B. - I have a feeling we're in for a wild ride with Lovelace. Can't wait until he makes an official appearance!

    Cat - I think we're in for a little rebellion, too... this could get even more interesting! So glad I can read the upcoming letters on my Nook.

  7. I'm interested to see what you all think! I really did not like Pamela, I'm curious to see if Clarissa is any better.

  8. I had to double back my copy in plastic so it survives the read, it is satisfying hulking it out my bag on the tube though, the heft is satisfying.

  9. Enjoy the book. I find the Nook is perfect for big "chunksters" like this!

  10. This is one of those stories that really appeals to me. I'd like to find out what happens to Clarissa in the year ahead of her. The characters look interesting.

  11. IngridLola - I've heard a few Pamela horror stories. So far this is very engaging... we'll see where we go from here.

    I lodge in Grub Street - You must get some funny looks on the tube when you haul out a book that big!

    Kathleen - Thanks! I may even attempt War & Peace next year... it could finally be possible with the Nook ;-)

    Margot - The appeal factor is pretty high for me right now, too. I never expected this to be so engaging!

  12. I absolutely loved the quote you chose, as it points to Clarissa's frustration with her parents -- and her obnoxious brother James. Thanks so much for inviting us to join in for this read along, as I am already enjoying Clarissa's unexpectedly modern vibe!

  13. Col - With a family like that, I'm afraid Clarissa has a tough road ahead of her. Glad you are reading with us -on to the February letters!

  14. I just know that I'm going to enjoy reading about your experience with this book for the year!!! I'm glad that you now have this hefty tome on your Nook!!!

  15. Syaci - I think reading this on my Nook will make a huge difference!

  16. Yay for reading it on your Nook. I'm reading mine on my phone, which is quite convenient. Neither of my libraries even had a copy of the book. They must think no one in their right might would check out such a huge book, lol!

  17. Shelley - Reading on your phone sounds like a great alternative... you'll have it with you at all times! ;-) I'm really hoping the rest of the book is as entertaining as these first few letters. We'll see.

  18. Congrats on your Simple Touch purchase!! My husband loves his, but in spite of working for B&N, I still prefer the printed version of books.

  19. Les - I would almost always rather read an actual book, too, but this one is just too heavy and the print is is too small. When I finally get around to reading War & Peace, it will be on my Nook.


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