Clarissa: Preface, Hints of Prefaces, and Postscript by Samuel Richardson
“Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady” is an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1748.
The novel tells the story of Clarissa Harlowe, a young woman from a wealthy family who is forced to marry a man she despises. The novel is known for its complex characters, its detailed exploration of moral and social issues, and its use of the epistolary form to create a highly emotional and immersive reading experience.
The novel is introduced by Richardson in the form of a preface, in which he explains his intentions in writing the novel and his approach to storytelling. He notes that he was inspired to write the novel after hearing a story of a young woman who was forced into marriage against her will, and he set out to create a work that would explore the consequences of such a situation in detail. He also explains his use of the epistolary form, which he believes allows for a greater sense of intimacy and emotional engagement with the characters.
The preface is followed by a series of “Hints of Prefaces,” in which Richardson provides additional context and commentary on the novel. These hints were intended to be read before each of the novel’s seven volumes, and they provide readers with a sense of what to expect in each section. Richardson also uses the hints to address criticisms that had been leveled against the novel, such as accusations of indecency or immorality. He defends his work as a moral and educational text, arguing that it can help readers understand the consequences of their actions and the importance of virtue.
The novel itself is divided into seven volumes, each of which is comprised of a series of letters written by various characters. The letters provide a detailed and intimate look into the lives and minds of the characters, as well as their social and cultural context. Clarissa, the novel’s protagonist, is a young woman who is forced into an arranged marriage with a man named Mr. Solmes, whom she finds repulsive. She struggles to find a way out of the marriage, but her family is unsympathetic to her plight and she is ultimately forced to flee from home.
Clarissa meets a man named Lovelace, who initially seems sympathetic to her situation, but who ultimately proves to be a cruel and manipulative figure. He kidnaps Clarissa and attempts to force her into marriage, but she steadfastly refuses. The novel ends tragically, with Clarissa dying from illness after being raped by Lovelace.
Throughout the novel, Richardson explores a range of moral and social issues, including the role of women in society, the dangers of arranged marriage, the importance of virtue, and the consequences of immorality. He also provides a detailed portrait of 18th century English society, with its complex hierarchies and social norms. The novel is often cited as an important work in the development of the novel as a literary form, and it has influenced writers such as Jane Austen and Henry James.
The novel concludes with a postscript, in which Richardson defends his work against criticism and provides additional context for the story. He notes that he has received letters from readers who were moved by the novel, and he argues that it can serve as a powerful tool for moral education. He also responds to criticisms that the novel is too long and too detailed, arguing that the depth and complexity of the story are essential to its impact.
In conclusion, “Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady” is a complex and emotionally powerful novel that explores a range of moral and social issues. Richardson’s use of the epistolary form allows for a highly intimate and immersive reading experience, and his detailed exploration of character and setting provides a vivid portrait of 18th century English society. Despite its length and complexity,