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Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady

3.33  ·  Rating Details ·  6,533 Ratings  ·  252 Reviews
Pressured by her unscrupulous family to marry a wealthy man she detests, the young Clarissa Harlowe is tricked into fleeing with the witty and debonair Robert Lovelace and places herself under his protection. Lovelace, however, proves himself to be an untrustworthy rake whose vague promises of marriage are accompanied by unwelcome and increasingly brutal sexual advances. A ...more
Paperback, 1534 pages
Published August 29th 1985 by Penguin Classics (first published 1748)
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Emmalisa Have you read "The Governess of Highland Hall" by Carrie Turanksy - a very delightful read!

Community Reviews

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I would never recommend this book to anyone.

I will say that first off, despite my love of it, despite the fact that it will remain present in my consciousness a long time, and I may write things on it, may deliberately continue my interaction with the text in the way that one sometimes does after finishing a book that has had such an impact upon them.

For it was a completely devestating eight hundred closely written pages, letter after letter after letter. One knew from very early on where the pl
Jul 28, 2010 Manny marked it as to-read
For people who haven't seen the haiku version:
To Miss Howe: send help!
I've been ravished in Book Six
with three more to go
Nov 09, 2009 Ellen rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, novels

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a nun or a convict.

In my romanticized view, both situations provided a room and isolation. What more could anyone want? Space and isolation: the perfect ingredients to read endlessly and without interruption.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, and my notions about being a convict were particularly skewed. There’s nothing romantic about being imprisoned, and Clarissa--more than most fictional characters would have much to say on the t
Apr 07, 2012 Paul rated it liked it
Shelves: 18th-novels
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sherwood Smith
Once you accept the lugubrious plot of the longest English novel (pure and innocent girl is Wronged, fades away into angelic death) this book is fascinating on so many levels.

Apparently Richardson worked on it for years. And that includes after initial publication--he amended it significantly twice, after reading both published and private reviews. Unfortunately his emendations mostly were additions to hammer the point home that no, Clarissa realio trulio was saintly and pure and good and submis
Jul 20, 2013 Kate is currently reading it
Update 10/15

Oh my god you guys, did you know Goodreads has a character limit for reviews? And I seem to have run up against it. HOW APPROPRIATE.

Continued here.

Update 10/1

Not much progress, but I’m updating again because last night I had my first Clarissa-related dream – and it was a nightmare, about Lovelace coming to get me. I don’t remember much about it. I woke up, was pissed off, went back to sleep, and then the damn thing started up again.

So, this seems like as good a time as any to post
Sep 14, 2010 J rated it did not like it
The experience of reading this book is akin to being dragged though a bog of broken glass and tobasco sauce. Face down. By a very slow mule. The story's intent is to show that the ultimate virtue a girl can have is passivity no matter what awfulness the world sends her way. I read the 600 page ABRIDGED version for school and was so traumatized I didn't read another book for a year. Samuel Richardson should be boycotted out of the Canon. Wolstonecraft kicked his ass.
Vanessa Wu
Sep 07, 2011 Vanessa Wu rated it liked it
A lot of nonsense is talked about Clarissa. It's essentially a rape fantasy, ending in the death of the victim. Condense it down to 60,000 words, stick a distressed nude on the cover and, if it isn't banned, it would sell like hot cakes on Amazon.

According to Lord Macaulay, once entered in Clarissa, you are infected by her and can't leave off for a minute.

On the other hand, says Samuel Johnson, if you were to read this for the story you would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself.

So, t
Apr 10, 2012 Meredi rated it really liked it
Make no mistake, this is 1494 pages of Clarissa declaring, “Indeed, indeed, I never can marry thee (vilest of wretches)!” And yet, and yet it’s weirdly compelling although I think it loses momentum around page 1359 and becomes plaguy preachy. This is Extreme Unrequited Love, 18th century epistolary style with enough scandal and froth to make it an easy holiday read.

Few favourite quotes:

“I do assure thee, Jack, that thou less deservest praise than an horse-pond…” (Lovelace)

“And I believe that an
Mar 14, 2010 Bettie☯ rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Laura, Wanda et al
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Carey Combe
Bettie's Books

Four part TV series from 1991. It didn't make me change my star rating any, yet was enjoyable enough to view.

David Rain
Jun 08, 2012 David Rain rated it it was amazing
One may as well admit it at once: this is not a novel everyone will enjoy. Some will find it intolerable. At a million words, it’s the longest novel in the English language, and very slow-moving, perhaps the most slow-moving novel ever written, even considering Proust and The Magic Mountain. It’s hard to read, or at least to start. But once this book grips you, you are gripped. There’s nothing else like it in literature. The sheer narrative power is overwhelming. By the time you’ve finished this ...more
Jan 11, 2012 Amy rated it liked it
This book was a text I needed to read for one of my English courses, and I'm happy that I got to read it. It was interesting to read an epistolary form of literature. The reader gets deeply involved with the characters (especially Clarissa). I fell for Lovelace even though he was a horrible character, but his wickedness was attractive in an odd sort of way.

There were two things that took away the two stars (contains spoilers):

1. Length. I read the abridged version which was ridiculously long. I
Free download available at eBooks@Adelaide.

And the audio version at LibriVox..

From BBC Radio 4 - Classical Serial:
Dramatisation by Hattie Naylor of the 1748 novel by Samuel Richardson.

The beautiful young heiress Clarissa Harlowe is dangerously attracted by the wiles of the notorious libertine Robert Lovelace. Threatened by an imminent marriage arranged with the odious suitor her family have found for her, Lovelace persuades Clarissa to flee with him.

Clarissa Harlowe ...... Zoe Waites
Robert Lovel
Noran Miss Pumkin
Aug 06, 2008 Noran Miss Pumkin marked it as to-read
I cannot resist thick books, and this one is 1,536 pages!
What an astonishing novel! It has taken me the best part of a year to read Clarissa, yet despite its great length and the fact I knew the outlines of the story before I began, the principal emotion I felt throughout was tension—what would happen next? Richardson is a master at postponement—given the novel’s subject, perhaps we might even call it seduction—spinning things out until suddenly there is resolution and the story moves on.

The first section of the novel, for example, principally an exch
4.5 stars

"I cannot go on."

Frankly, for how often people in this novel write this, the reader themselves may find themselves staring at the 1,400+ tightly-packed remaining pages in horror, and thinking, if only you bloody hadn't.

No, I did not read it all. I think my abridgement probably totalled over 1,00 pages though, which, in three days, is not bad. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this once I started. It's a surprisingly modern novel in many ways; though Clarissa may be a perfec
Justin Evans
Nov 08, 2009 Justin Evans rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Let's be clear about this: this book is far, far too long for modern reading habits. Not all that much happens in its 1500 pages (pages which are, I would guess, maybe one and a half to twice as long as normal pages). If you want to read it, don't sit down and try to read the whole thing straight. It's really not that much fun. I heard somewhere that in the 18th century people treated books the way we treat TV programs: pick it up, put it down, come in in the middle, have a conversation while yo ...more
Jan 03, 2009 Mitch rated it it was amazing
I am thrilled at the prospect of completing this novel. I've read a great deal of fiction and this - the longest novel ever written, I believe, - is better than much of it. It is so subtle, so complete in its awareness of gender and human nature; the syntax and style seems to anticipate what I love in Henry James, that I will be sorry when it is done and I have to bid farewell to Lovelace, Harlowe and company, above all their magnificent correspondence. This novel to end or begin all novels asks ...more
Dec 22, 2015 Martin rated it did not like it
Our long national nightmare is over. After two months of sheer torture, I'm finally free, and it is good to know that I can never have a worse reading experience as long as I live. It isn't possible. Why do I say that? Because this is the longest novel in the English language (by words: 969,000), and even if something sucks as hard, I won't have to deal with it for so long. And besides, the long novels I know are on my horizon due to my 1,001 Book Reading Project are more likely than not to be o ...more
Mar 19, 2012 David rated it really liked it
It is extremely surprising to think that this book was written by the same author as "Pamela." Sure, this one can get a bit preachy in spots and can dwell on a few things that don't really advance the plot, but the difference is astonishing. This is the far superior work. It is actually moving, very developed, human characters who really come alive and engage the soul. Though I think "Pamela" would have been better if cut from 500 pages down to 150 or 200, I find very little here that I would cu ...more
Alexander Santiago
Written entirely in the epistolary style (comprised of nothing but letters between the protagonists, a first for a modern novel, and as the insipiration for de Laclos' "Les Liasons Dangereuses" over 30 years later), Clarissa Harlowe, the much beloved and golden daughter of the wealthy Harlowe family, is the sole heir(ess) of a large fortune upon the death of her grandfather.

Thinking of the prosperity of the family and the family name, her parents are inducing her to marry the very wealthy Mr. S
Nov 05, 2009 skein rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-star
I love this book. I don't care what anyone says. I love Pamela, too, and was thoroughly angry at Shamela. (I read & own the condensed version of Clarissa, for time's sake, although I read the first four books of the long version - does that matter?)

Clarissa is a far cry from Pamela's moralizing moral morality, that's for damn sure. The characters are dark & intense: Clarissa's vile family, Lovelace's obsession and desire and - I believe it - love; even Anna Howe seems a little too inter
Nov 19, 2012 Ruth rated it it was amazing
Reading this book was a transformative experience. It may be the longest book written in English, but I didn't want it to end and grieved when it did. I went into a sort of stupor afterward and couldn't find anything satisfying enough to pick up and read next. It is an epistolary novel, mostly letters between just four people. One might wonder how such a thing can spread to 1,000 pages, and rightly so. Ben Jonson said you want to hang yourself reading it, and sometimes that's true, but don't wor ...more
Spencer Cox
Apr 25, 2012 Spencer Cox is currently reading it
The unabridged version. This is going to be awhile...

Five months later and I'm 1/3 of the way through. I have been wishing violence on her for at least the past three months. This is not good in a heroine.
Petra Eggs
Jul 11, 2012 Petra Eggs rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
4.5 stars. Deserves a great review. If you like Trollope, you'll like Richardson too.
Mar 30, 2017 StaceyJEM rated it it was ok
Never again.
Peter Ellwood
Nov 29, 2013 Peter Ellwood rated it it was ok
Perhaps the original bodice ripper, but it’s still no excuse for this slow-motion torture.

I’m giving up at the end of volume 5. The thought of another 4 volumes of this dreary, glacier-like progress towards – well, anything really – has defeated me. I no longer care that Lovelace is going to drug Clarissa and rape her at some point in the next 1,000 pages: I just want to read a normal piece of literature again. For a while the sense that I hate not reading a book to the end has kept me going, b
Jul 15, 2011 Faustina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me about 14 months, but I did it! I read the longest novel in the English language. And it was so worth it! You have to take your time reading it, but this story is nothing short of haunting.

"Clarissa" is an epistolary novel. So I (attempted) to read at least one letter a day. For a year, these people were part of my life. They started to seem real. Their problems and the things they were doing seemed real.

I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5, not because it's so long, but because the
Aug 16, 2011 Valorie rated it it was amazing
Ok it was reallllllly long but i couldnt put it down. I loved it. I dont think we have enough examples of purity, charity, falial duty and general goodness. Modern writers are always trying to make their characters more 'real'. Well I dont like the way most real people behave so I like examples I would like to follow. Im allready 'real' enough myself. I dont need any help in that direction. Anyway total classic. If you dont believe me read some of the other reviews on goodreads. Tons of people r ...more
Helen (Helena/Nell)
May 17, 2011 Helen (Helena/Nell) rated it it was amazing
This review will be in four volumes, one published at the end of each of the next four decades.

I loved this book. I may be one of the few people in the Western World to have read it several times, but the last of these several times was decades ago, when I still thought I would complete a doctoral thesis on Richardson. But since then, I have NOT done a whole set of things I thought I would do.

Richardson is not widely renowned for his sense of humour. But his irony is a precursor of Jane Austen,
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Samuel Richardson was a major English 18th century writer best known for his three epistolary novels: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753).

Richardson had been an established printer and publisher for most of his life when, at the age of 51, he wrote his first novel and immediately became one of the most popular and adm
More about Samuel Richardson...

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“I know not my own heart if it be not absolutely free.” 36 likes
“Tired of myself longing for what I have not” 26 likes
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