Sunday 1 April 2012

Clarissa Big Read, March


I am still impressed by the amount of true and realistic psychological detail included in this book of a kind that many novels cannot (or choose not) to portray. I can’t, offhand, think of a book that feels more like going into a real situation with real people. However, Richardson has now included in the book an element of life that I’d rather not have in my fiction, repetitiveness and tedium.
It started well, with the lovely and spritely Miss Howe. I love Miss Howe, she is my favourite character. I love how she openly says things like, ‘I have no patience with any of the people you are with,’ and the way she longs to be in Clarissa’s shoes for a month so she can solve her problems with her bolshy ways. I also enjoyed her description of Solmes, particularly of his scary smile, one that settled back to its ‘natural gloominess’ slowly, as if his smile muscles were ‘rusty springs’. It seems a perfect description of a certain kind of person.
Perfect too was her advice about men, ‘distance to the man wretches is best I say’. If only it were possible for poor Clarissa. 
So, the net tightens, everything is becoming claustrophobic, the letters are increasing in length and frequency. It’s at times uncomfortable to read as her formally close and beloved family clamp down on her. Her brother and sister are prodding and poking her for fun, her uncles have no sympathy, her servant has been dismissed and a Mrs Norton, who she greatly admires, has been banned from visiting - but still Clarissa refuses to even consider Mr Solmes. As she says,  “I believe the gentlest spirits when provoked...are the most determined.”
The main action in March consists of different members of the household arguing their case for Clarissa to marry Solmes, and her replies against the idea. As the month goes on, she tries different tactics - agreeing that she does have a soft spot for Lovelace to appease them (even though she mostly doesn’t) offering to be locked up with her friend or work up in Scotland at her brother’s house there. She tries being angry, she tries being reasonable, she tries pleading and begging but none of it is working for her. 
I found the earlier debates with her mother to be the most effective. Two women, both utterly trapped by their position as meek, agreeable women on opposite sides of an issue and neither able to back down or compromise whilst at the same time seeing each other’s point of view. I found these parts affecting and effective. But it does start to go on, arguments going back and forth for 214 pages does become as repetitive as listening in on a Harlesden phone call (“Do you know what I mean bruv? Bruv? Bruv? Do you know what I mean? Bruv, Do you know what I mean?” &c. &c.)
Some highlights... well, we get a poem. The ‘Ode to Wisdom’ by Elizabeth Carter, the lady that Samuel Johnson boasted “Could bake a pie as well as she could translate Epictetus.” I enjoyed the poem more for change of pace then any other reason.
We also met Lovelace. Once in the garden as reported by Clarissa, where he behaved very well and also in his own words to his mate Belford. Unfortunately for the modern reader, his learned and jokey tone that I presume to be very hearty and lively to an eighteenth century reader adds a little more distance between him and the modern day reader then I expect was originally intended. 
He writes two letters in March. One detailing the inn where he is staying at the budding romance he observing between a girl he calls his ‘Rosebud’ and her possible lover, Johnny; the other about Clarissa. I prefer the first letter. There is something about his close observation of the girl, the romanticisation of her in his mind and his pleas to Belford not to destroy her that manage to be both creepy in a stalkerish, obsessive way, and oddly magnanimous. The second letter, where he shallowly extolls Clarissa’s wonderful purity and in the same breath details his desire to revenge the family immediately places him in the role of moustache twirling villain. I hope he is developed more and we get to meet the man that readers fell for.
Other hopes for the future, that a little more happens or at least a few more memorable parts.
We keep persevering.

As always, get the rest of the gossip from the big read by clicking here.
All yours

1 comment:

  1. None of these people strike me as particularly likable, but if I had to choose a favorite character it would be Miss Howe. The exchanges between Clarissa and her mother were a highlight for me this month. You make an excellent point - they are "both utterly trapped by their position as meek, agreeable women on opposite sides of an issue and neither able to back down or compromise whilst at the same time seeing each other’s point of view" .

    Lovelace does not impress and I am expecting the worst. Still a week behind in the letters right now, but I will catch up eventually.