Richardson’s Clarissa

Louis Baraat may have steered his sister toward the Church fathers and edifying literary works such as Dante’s Commedia.  But she was also a teenage girl who was open to the world around her.  Margaret Williams’ biography records that she did, while Louis was languishing in prison awaiting the guillotine, read Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady, a voluminous epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson. Published in installments between 1747 and 1748, it moved quickly across the English Channel to the European continent. Recounting the sad tale of an eminently virtuous young woman who is manipulated by the forces of evil, it was a sentimental novel that left a trail of tears across the European Continent.  Both Diderot and Rousseau openly admired it, and here is no doubt that Clarissa Harlowe influenced Rousseau’s heroine Julie in La Nouvelle Heloise, which we remember Madame Barat reading with her book club in “Barrels” (Part 1).


We find Sophie reading it in “Terror” with Célestine. One can imagine the two girls being in absolute thrall.  Williams claims that Sophie “felt disproportionate remorse” for reading the novel, but we must also remember that our exuberant 15-year-old appears to have read it to the end—and the novel runs seven volumes! Clarissa was recently made into a BBC mini-series starring Sean Bean and Saskia Wickham.



Comments are closed.