Sexual Remembrance in “Clarissa” by Samuel Richardson

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Words: 1660


Clarissa is an epistolary novel that was written by Samuel Richardson and published in 1748. The work revolves around two main characters that are Clarissa Harlowe and Robert Lovelace. Clarissa is a virtuous character who reveals the human principles in her from the family pressure concerning marriage to Mr. Solmes, whom she views ‘with disgust little short of affrightment’ (Richardson 1: 43).

On the other side, Lovelace is portrayed as an antagonist to Clarissa as he manipulates her several times. Richardson’s Clarissa has many incidents that show sexuality context, especially that discriminately puts women as the key victims. There are various occasions where rape and the desire to satisfy men’s sexual demands are mentioned. The keyword that this paper utilizes is the sexual remembrance and develops most of the factions from Kathleen Lubey’s article named “Sexual Remembrance in Clarissa.” In Clarissa, Richardson has used a remembrance that depicts women as sexual objects to men because of repeated mentioning of several rape cases and the existence of brothels and lodgings where men mostly utilize females for sexual pleasures.

Sexual Representation of Women in the Story

Richardson did an exemplary task by writing the novel to the public, where he wanted to communicate about human anatomy in the society. Despite many critiques raising concern over his alleged fault in ending the story, many elements can be brought to light by the readers in the story. In this case, women are portrayed as people men follow for sexual purposes either with or without their consent. ‘Who will wonder at the intrigues and plots carried by undermining…’ (Richardson 1: 83). Lubey argues that ‘The rape is widely detailed in a model of narrative dispersal: building narrative accounts of self-estrangement into other scenes of imposition against Clarissa’s body’ (Lubey 157). One may wonder why the story’s main theme centered on men manipulating women for sexuality. Although Richardson is neutral and does not show any prejudice on women’s power and capability, the society he writes about appears critical of the female gender.

The critical commentary of rape as a hostile act against women is clear, as seen in the secondary source. Lubey mentions that Richardson portrays rape as one of ‘social conditions that nullified women’s efforts at self-determination’ (Lubey 158). According to what is evident in the primary source, Richardson frequently shows the audience the fragmentation of a personality that is an outcome of external drivers of heterosexual links. Lubey argues that ‘Richardson’s feminist commitments are made apparent by his revelation that full personhood is tragically unavailable… to women within a coercive heterosexual order that operationalizes their bodies’ (Lubey 151). Several incursions are made on women from courtship, marriage, property, and seduction. Thus, it gives an ending characterized by rape, and women seem to be the unlucky group in this sexual representation.

The article has shed more light on the sexual remembrance that the text highlights. Therefore, based on the two sources that are Richardson and Lubey’s perspectives, it is true to say that there is a unique framing of sexuality in the works. Richardson tries to show his staunch feminist commitment to the personality trait of women. First, Clarissa is portrayed as a virtuous woman who would never allow males to define her life even at critical points when they stand a chance to entice her into their desires. At the same time, it is clear that Clarissa’s ‘capacities for full resistance are foreshortened by externally imposed assimilations into sexual functionality’ (Lubey 168). That shows that women had little power to decide on their own, which is why they find themselves in the adverse impacts of men’s lust.

Lovelace has shown his interest to win Clarissa’s heart at all costs, such as fleeing with her and locking her in brothels. The mention of lodgings is associated with women in the text. Mr. Lovelace takes Clarissa to ‘Mrs. Sinclair’s parlour,’ which turns out to be a brothel with women disguised as high-class ladies (Richardson 4: 236). The association of women and places where sex is done is a strong message by the author that women are subjects when it comes to sexual representation. In the text, Mr. Lovelace is resistant to the idea of virtuous women saying, ‘He who seems virtuous does but act a part’ (Richardson 1: 194). Therefore, it raises some concerns about how men use women as light objects to have bodily satisfaction whenever they want to.

Although there is less mention of Lovelace pushing Clarissa for sexual desires, it can be read between the lines if one is keen enough. First, from the way Richardson describes Lovelace, a reader can see the antagonist as a person devoid of moral principles. For instance, when speaking of Clarissa, Lovelace says ‘Her virtue, her resistance, which are her merits, are my stimulatives’ (Richardson 5: 115). Therefore, Lovelace’s character is that of a womanizer, and for that matter, Clarissa would be the victim. Lovelace was initially in love with Clarissa’s sister, Arabella, where he ditches her for Clarissa with his malicious interest that would be seen later in the text. Therefore, sexual remembrance depicts that, women are the minorities while their male counterparts take the key role.

Firstly, women are intimidated by rape assaults to accept and submit to their male counterpart’s demands. Secondly, women are denied free choice, for instance, throughout the book, Clarissa is subject to ‘various forms of unwanted coupling with men’ (Lubey 173). Even after Lovelace starts to look for his much-awaited girlfriend, he rents several lodgings on the verge of capturing her again and getting her in his custody. Therefore, the book and the article are consistent with how women are powerless as they are often taken as a sexual item to please men. “Tears of penitence and sobs of perverseness are mighty well suited.” (Richardson 1: 90). The texts presented mark an epitome of a long journey towards the social revolution in favor of women.

The sexual remembrance in the story has some issues to do with rape law in the European region. While reading the book, it is clear that Clarissa did not seek legal action against her rapist of which Lovelace was certain saying ‘They will not prosecute at all’ (Richardson 6: 269). In the 18th century, the act of forcing a woman to have sex by force was considered differently from the current projections. According to the author is trying to showcase, it is clear that all the time then, people were less concerned about their thought, feelings, and opinions in all dimensions, such as psychologically or physically. As one would imagine, rape is a sensitive issue as it affects a victim psychologically and physically. Nevertheless, Clarissa still risked losing the trial since women during her time were expected to ‘submit to social positions adjudicated by others’ (Lubey 166). Therefore, the sexual remembrance in the form of rape allegations and misconduct seems to violate the rights more so of the women.

Prostitution in the 18th century was a catalyst for females and aided rape against them. Although it was a crime as per legal perspective to indulge in prostitution, it was still common since it was used by powerful men. For instance, Mr. Belford writes describing Mrs. Sinclair’s inn, ‘prostitutes in it are prostitutes of price, and their visiters people of note’ (Richardson 9: 287). In the story, Richardson uses women to show accomplices of Lovelace and mostly, who are working in sexual-centric environments. In other words, Richardson highlights the inferior position of women in society through characters such as the prostitutes. It becomes clear that, in the 18th century, ‘poor education, legal inequality, and marital abuses artificially gave women’s minds a “sexual character” that impeded their intellectual and civic flourishing’ (Lubey 164). That sexual representation puts the female parties at the aspect of being powerless on deciding on sexual matters, more so, where consent of action is required.

Critiquing the Novel

Although Clarissa is regarded by many as among the European masterpieces, Lubey believes that Richardson is leaning towards resembling women as substitutes of sexual affairs to men. The author’s revelation shows the full personhood that he gives to women, and that might be a subject to do with bias. “But if I suffer myself to be prevailed upon, how happy, as they lay it out, shall we all be?” (Richardson 6: 154) There are many scenarios where men tend to be the typical victims of sexualism, as seen in the text. For example, Lovelace’s idea of putting drugs on Clarissa shows that he was prepared not to evade his temptations. According to Lubey, Richardson should have highlighted the mistakes that Lovelace had concerning sexual approaches to women. The author’s commitment to revealing the weak side of men should have been a priority throughout the novels.

Due to the criticism, the original author later rewrote the text making Clarissa have a purer character. In contrast, Lovelace has a sinister to make the audience better understand why he had written the novel. Richardson had fallen victim to toxic masculinity by branding men to have an advantage in women’s bodies. Nevertheless, Richardson managed to demonstrate how rape was used as a tool against women to ‘delimit their possible social identities and stipulate their sexual use’ (Lubey 169). At the same time, it is important to mention that Britain was among the first regions to have a social and political revolution which advanced legal provisions for women.


The story of Clarissa, as narrated by Richardson, is an eye-opener on sexual remembrance. As Lubey’s article insinuates, sexual representation in the epistolary book seems to lean against the women’s character. Several issues reveal the same, according to the text by the two sources. First, rape cases are mentioned as taken lightly by society then. Second, there is a prostitution issue that is rampant, as per Richardson’s text. Although Clarissa seemed to have a staunch stand, she dies while trying to speak her mind and show women’s value in society.

Works Cited

Lubey, Kathleen. “Sexual Remembrance in Clarissa.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, vol 29, no. 2, 2017, pp. 151-178. University of Toronto Press Inc. (UT press). Web.

Richardson, Samuel. Clarissa, Or, the History of a Young Lady. 9 vols. George Faulkner, 1748.