Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Read Along Check-In #1: Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Woman by Samuel Richardson

When JoAnn at Lakeside Musing and Terri at Tip of the Iceberg announced their idea for a year-long read along of Samuel Richardson’s epic Clarissa, I realized I had my chance to approach a book I knew I should read, but never had made time to read. Just looking at the book might intimidate the most voracious reader: I wouldn’t want to drop it on my toe, for fear it would break it. But somehow it seemed more likely that I’d actually finish it if I was reading it with a group, so I jumped in!

Obviously, I’ve have had a terrible blogging month for a number of reasons – but it hasn’t actually been a bad reading month. So tonight I’m sharing my thoughts on the January readings for Clarissa.

To begin, I am amazed at how “modern” the book is. Clarissa Harlowe is not, as I had feared, some Victorian milquetoast heroine. She is a young woman with a mind of her own, politic enough to realize that the unusual bequest her grandfather has left her puts her in a precarious position vis-Ă -vis her jealous siblings.

Lovelace is an ambiguous love interest thus far. Clarissa is not impressed by him at the beginning of the book. But there is something extremely appealing about him, especially in his distaste for Clarissa’s vile brother James. It was frightening to consider how much power a male child had over a female child within a family, even though he had no real accomplishments of his own.

I am not sure I trust Miss Howe at this point. She seems to be a very close friend of Clarissa’s, but her flowery and supercilious writing leaves me wondering about her sincerity. However I am absolutely unsure as to whether or not that is a function of the time and place that the book was written – so I’m reserving judgment for the moment. We’ll see if she is truly friend to Clarissa in the end, or if she is harboring some ulterior motives.

I am so glad that I signed on to participate in the read along, and if you haven’t yet, feel free to join us – there’s a whole year of fun to come, and you can easily catch up! It’s early in the read, but I am already enjoying this more than I expected, so I am eager to see that February’s letters bring to our heroine. The links to the January Clarissa links are at Tip of the Iceberg.


  1. This sounds like an awesome way to tackle a tome like this. I am often intimidated or rather put off by lengthy books like this one or War and Peace etc, but breaking it down and making a year-long commitment makes it seem less daunting.


  2. The approach is definitely the main draw for me - it seems so much more manageable. Can't see myself ever walking over to the shelf, pulling down this tome and choosing it for my next read!

    It never occurred to me to distrust Miss Howe. I just took it at face value that she was Clarissa's dearest friend and chalked the writing style up to a 'sign of the times'.

    The overall feel is surprisingly modern, yet poor Clarissa is totally at the mercy of family's wishes. Can't wait to continue, I'm so glad you decided to read with us, Col.

  3. @Diane -- Yes, when I saw it was 9 Kindle volumes, I realized I could only read this with a support group! :)

    @JoAnn -- I think you're probably right about Miss Howe, but I always need a little time to warm up to a character, especially in an epistolary novel. I am really looking forward to the next part of the book!

  4. I feel like I should know about this book, and probably do somewhere in the back of my mind, but won't deny that I didn't really have a clue until I read your post. Sounds like a challenge and I'm looking forward to reading your posts along the way!

  5. @Beth -- It was well below my radar screen when I read about the read along, but had heard of it. I love the low-pressure, year-long approach to this "chunkster!" But the writing really isn't as challenging as I thought it would be, happily -- it doesn't have the convoluted sentence structure that I've seen in other novels from the period, but maybe that's because it's told in letters.

  6. Two things: one, I heart you for using 'milquetoast' -- such a fun word; two, I'm so diving in to this one, hopefully by the Feb 20th letter I'll get caught up. Been dying to read this and I love the idea of reading it over the year!

  7. I'm glad you are enjoying it! I was surprised by Clarissa's independent nature as well. Looking forward to finding out more about these characters and the story.

  8. I *should* read this, too. But I wasn't able to get a copy when I wanted to AND I have a long list of books to read...

    Who knows, maybe I'll jump on a bit later. It does sound like a fun book and a fun project for the year.

  9. @Audra -- Yeah, I'm so glad you're going to join us! The January letters were rather brief, so it will be easy to catch up!

    @TerriB -- It definitely isn't what I expected, but in a very good way. Thanks again for hosting this read along!

    @Leeswammes -- Do you have a Kindle? If you do, you can download it for free!

  10. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  11. I doubt I'd have ever got round to making the effort to read it without the group incentive.
    So far I think Lovelace is far more appealing than Clarissa's family, especially her horrid brother!
    And like JoAnn I've taken Anne at face value thinking her gushing was 18th century writing style - maybe not.

    Lots of fun to look forward to.

  12. @Cat -- It's strange, because Lovelace seems like the voice of reason next to Clarissa's family. We'll see how it all pans out!

  13. Im findin it werid that no-one seems to like Lovelace yet because of his rank in society they are unable to ban him from the house! how mad is that?

  14. Yes, you can see the downside of being excruciatingly polite in this first set of letter!

  15. I'm really liking Clarissa as a character also--she reminds me a little bit of Elizabeth Bennett.
    I'll have to watch out for Miss Howe. I haven't really given her much thought so far.

  16. Gotta love a heroine with a mind of her own, and not at all milquetoast! I can't say this novel's been calling my name, but I do enjoy reading your post. I'm glad you're back, to as much as you can do, in the blogging world. Now you've certainly got me beat; leaving comments on my blog in a 6 to 1 ratio for me to yours! xo


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col