Samuel Richardson condenses one of the most intriguing aspects of his novel Clarissa in one brief explanation in the Preface: “The principal of these two young Ladies is proposed as an Exemplar to her sex. Nor is it any objection to her being so, that she is not in all respects a perfect character” (29). This, of course, is in regards to the common interpretation that Clarissa is a perfect or exemplary character. While Richardson refutes her perfection in claiming that he created her with faults in order to “shew the Reader, how laudably she could mistrust and blame herself” (30) he cannot dispel the undeniable notion that she remains enough perfected so that she is still revered and envied by nearly every character. Whether Richardson intended it so or not it is in fact this admiration of Clarissa’s character that drives the novel and leads to her eventual rape by Lovelace and much of her self-inflicted starvation.
From the very beginning of the novel one finds it difficult not to get some inclination or suspicion concerning the true nature of Lovelace’s character. Richardson provides brief accounts of Lovelace’s life abroad prior to coming into contact with the Harlowes that brings his questionable character to light as it becomes known that he lived most promiscuously in regards to women and money during this time. Lovelace is a man whose societal rank provides him a certain amount of civility from other households. For appearances sake he is nothing less than a Gentlemen. However, the life he is accustomed to is not that of a gentleman. He parades around with his crew of diabolical “rakes” who seem to live from scam to scam knowing nothing more to life than taking advantage of whatever and whomever they can. It is made abundantly clear that Lovelace is never acquainted with a woman comparable to Clarissa in any respect during these various excursions with his troupe. Naturally when Lovelace is acquainted with Clarissa whilst courting her sister he becomes taken with her not only her beauty but her intellect and overall disinterest as well. He recognizes Clarissa as superior to himself and thus constructs a dynamic where she becomes a prize he is incapable of claiming. Lovelace sees no hope of affording himself and Clarissa an even relationship, as he knows himself an inferior person. Realizing this he resorts to the scheming he has always known almost immediately. Lovelace rapes Clarissa as he honestly believes it is the only way to achieve the power associated with is masculinity in their relationship. After finishing the novel, I see Lovelace more as a lunatic who could not deal with the courting of a woman so perfect and out of his league.