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Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  7,879 ratings  ·  351 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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Kenneth It's even better the second time. Hugely influential novel, and it's a page-turner, actually. Some very intense stuff happens later on. …moreIt's even better the second time. Hugely influential novel, and it's a page-turner, actually. Some very intense stuff happens later on. (less)
Kathleen Flynn I don't think there is any novel quite like this one. But Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu has some wonderful Gothic creepiness and a similar theme of …moreI don't think there is any novel quite like this one. But Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu has some wonderful Gothic creepiness and a similar theme of a young woman in danger (not quite the same kind of danger).(less)

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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
One reaches the end of Clarissa not so much with a feeling of accomplishment as with a feeling of total exhaustion. Like Frodo finally reaching Mount Doom, you sink back, scarred, your face smeared with ash, murmuring ‘It's done’ as the book falls from your hands, surrounded by gouts of lava and wondering if you'll ever know home or happiness again.

It is very difficult to sum up a book the size of Clarissa. Its length is so overwhelming that its difference from other novels starts to seem not so
Jul 28, 2010 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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, favorites

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
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
Sep 14, 2010 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. ...more
Apr 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 18th-novels
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Roman Clodia
May 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a shame it is that due to the practicalities of page-count, it's Richardson's Pamela which always turns up on university 'history of the novel' courses rather than the far superior Clarissa - discounted by its unwieldy 1500 pages. While both share an epistolary style, and a narrative turning on the sexual pursuit of an innocent girl by a predatory man, Pamela's marriage turns one into a comedy (albeit one with dark shades of gender at its heart) while Clarissa maintains a tragic intensity t ...more
Jul 20, 2013 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
Vanessa Wu
Sep 07, 2011 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
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was vaguely aware of this as one of the early British novels, around the time of Pamela. And then, about a year ago, a friend was talking about it on Twitter, and how it takes place over a little less than a year, and was the first epistolary novel. So you can read it in "real time," as it were, and I became obsessed. I wanted to try this challenge! I did have some issues keeping up during the summer. Some of the letters are very long, and some of them loop back- there will be a letter dated J ...more
BAM Endlessly Booked
The narrator on LibriVox is terrible! I’m pushing through this about a couple hours every morning because I enjoy the letter format, but I may reread this e-copy next year.
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
David Rain
Jun 08, 2012 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
Dec 22, 2015 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
Apr 10, 2012 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 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.

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
Lady Mayfair
This novel is…. remarkably particular. One of the longest reads of the English language, an attempt to a proper review is redundant, it delving into heavy themes of individual versus society, the rewards of virtue and gender equality, rape, punishment of evil, mental and physical abuse, liberation though death etc but it would have had to have been [:D] at least 800 pages shorter for my full approval. If Samuel Richardson wrote as an exercise in the longest epistolary novel, then the book is a m ...more
Petra-X has 81 books awaiting reviews
4.5 stars. Deserves a great review. If you like Trollope, you'll like Richardson too. ...more
Justin Evans
Nov 08, 2009 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 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
Jan 11, 2012 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
Mar 19, 2012 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
Noran Miss Pumkin
Aug 06, 2008 marked it as to-read
I cannot resist thick books, and this one is 1,536 pages!
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
M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews
Well. It's better than Pamela, at least. I suppose we can be grateful that the author learned something from the backlash he received from writing Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded.

This book is twice as long as Pamela, but the story is much more believable. Pamela had a huge case of Stockholm Syndrome, and the ending was one huge cliche, but Clarissa is more tragic and believable. Don't get me wrong - it can be frustrating. This is 2017, almost 300 years after this book was written, and things for wome
Nov 05, 2009 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 interested in
Ruth Mowry
Nov 19, 2012 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
Mar 21, 2020 marked it as to-read
3/21/2020 - This book - I tell you what - has some of the most hatable people I've had the misfortune to read about! Hatable, because they are believable. The way they demean women and would actually force a daughter to marry against her will to prove a father's sovereignty and to enrich the family - especially the biggest narcissistic asshat of a brother - is so enraging, because it happened and I hate it and I'm grumpy with everyone but Clarissa and her BFF Anna and I want all of them to go to ...more
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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

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