The basic plot of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa is fairly simple and almost archetypal. It seems familiar even if you've never read the novel or even heard of it. Because it's almost impossible to discuss anything about the book without disclosing elements of the plot, I haven't been reticent to do that. While I'd never, never, never blog about the ending of the new Harry Potter novel, for example, I figure the rules are a little different for a novel that's over 250 years old.
Still, some people like warnings, so...
* * * Here There Be Spoilers * * *
As originally published, Volume V of Clarissa encompassed letters 232 through 293, and pages 762 through 969 of the Penguin edition, which I read today from 9:00 AM to 8:30 PM with a half-hour break for dinner and Sunday's episode of Entourage.
Robert Lovelace's voice dominates Volume V even more than in Volume IV, and in the very first paragraph he announces his presence in Hampstead with much chest thumping:
I am now here, and here have been this hour and half. What an industrious spirit have I! Nobody can say that I eat the bread of idleness. I take true pains for all the pleasure I enjoy. I cannot choose but to admire myself strangely; for, certainly with this active soul, I should have made a very great figure in whatever station I had filled. But had I been a prince! — To be sure I should have made a most noble prince! I should have led up a military dance equal to that of the great Macedonian [ie, Alexander the Great]. I should have added kingdom to kingdom, and robbed all my neighbour sovereigns in order to have obtained the name of Robert the Great. And I would have gone to war with the Great Turk, and the Persian, and the Mogul, for their seraglios [ie, harems]; for not one of those Eastern monarchs should have had a pretty woman to bless himself with, till I had done with her. (p. 762)
Lovelace is in Hampstead because that is where Clarissa fled after she escaped the house in London. (She always felt the house to be a little peculiar. We know from Anna's intercepted letter to Clarissa that Anna believed it to be a "vile house" (p. 747) and on page 909 it is actually revealed to be a "brothel.") To persaude Clarissa to return to London, Lovelace has enlisted one of his cronies to continue to play the part of Captain Tomlinson, who pretends to bring word from Clarissa's uncle that a family reconciliation is available if she were actually married to Lovelace. Lovelace also uses women to masguerade as his aunt and cousin to bestow their best wishes on the marriage.
Quite without warning, following the return to the house in London, comes the shortest and perhaps the most famous letter in Clarissa (p. 883):
Tuesday morn. June 13
And now, Belford, I can go no further. The affair is over. Clarissa lives. And I am
Your humble servant,
Although the reader might be a little confused, Belford knows exactly what's happened: Apparently with the help of some of the ladies of the house, Lovelace has raped Clarissa. Belford is furious:
Poor, poor lady! It is a pain to me that I ever saw her. Such an adorer of virtue to be sacrificed to the vilest of her sex; and thou their implement in the devil's hands for a purpose so base, so ungenerous, so inhuman! — Pride thyself, oh cruellest of men, in this reflection; and that thy triumph over a lady, who for thy sake was abandoned of every friend she had in the world, was effected, not by advantages taken of her weakness and credulity; but by the blackest artifice; after a long course of studied deceits had been tried to no purpose.
I can tell thee, it is well either for thee or for me, that I am not the brother of the lady. Had I been the brother, her violation must have been followed by the blood of one of us. (p. 884)
We find out a few more details about the rape, and particularly that Lovelace had the assistance of "somenivolences (I hate the word opiates on this occasion)." (p. 897) Earlier in the novel, laudanum was mentioned, so that's a likely candidate. For several days after, Clarissa finds her head has been "killed" (p. 895) and when she recovers from the drugging, she hates Lovelace more than ever.
Richardson — functioning as "editor" of the letters — has promised us that we will hear Clarissa's account of the rape, but that won't be until Volume VI. It is Lovelace's letters that dominate Volume V, and although he acknowledges that he did something quite despicable, he actually believes that his position with Clarissa has now improved. He figures that she's now unsuitable for marriage to anyone else, so cohabitation might be appropriate. Otherwise, he might make it all up to her by marrying her. What other options does she have?
Do not, dearest creature, dissipate all these promising appearances, and, by refusing to save your own and your family's reputation in the eye of the world, use yourself worse than the ungratefullest wretch on earth has used you. For if we are married, all the disgrace you imagine you have suffered while a single lady will be my own; and only known to ourselves. (p. 956)
Although we're mostly seeing Clarissa through Lovelace's eyes in Volume V, all our sympathy is now fully with her. She is more adamant than ever not to have anything more to do with him, and yet he is holding her prisoner in the brothel, not allowing any correspondence between Clarissa and her friend Anna, refusing to take No for an answer, promising either to expose her or to exact revenge upon her if she does not comply.
The more Lovelace talks, the more we sicken of his voice. His heady power trip is showing signs of decay. His uncle is on his death bed, his cronies are abandoning him, his deceptions have been piled into a precarious tower, and in the closing pages of Volume V, Clarissa escapes the vile house again, and this time she's gotten a good head start.