Study Guide

Clarissa Characters

This Study Guide consists of approximately 135 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Clarissa.
This section contains 2,676 words
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Clarissa Harlowe

Clarissa Harlowe is the protagonist, an eighteen-year-old young lady, who is renowned for her virtue, prudence and piety. About half the story is told through her correspondence with her best friend, Miss Howe. Clarissa is the youngest child of the Harlowes and is a favorite with her parents and uncles. Her grandfather also favored her and left her his entire estate in his will, provoking the jealousy of her brother and older sister. This jealousy is the cause of the misfortunes that befall Clarissa throughout this work. Clarissa is very intelligent and has been raised and taught much by her nurse, Mrs. Norton. Clarissa has refused several suitors before this novel begins and would prefer to live single upon her estate with Mrs. Norton, if her family would permit it. She enjoys writing and spends all her free time in correspondence and in writing meditations, particularly of the religious variety. She contributes to many charities, especially her Poor Fund, which she created through Mrs. Norton to provide pecuniary relief to the industrious poor, who are affected by a death, illness or bad luck.

The story follows her through the last year of her life, beginning with the onset of Mr. Lovelace's addresses to her. Her family disapproves of Mr. Lovelace and tries to force her to marry Mr. Solmes. Mr. Lovelace tricks Clarissa into running away from home to avoid marrying Mr. Solmes. After she has left her home, she is plagued by Mr. Lovelace's impropriety and lascivious addresses. He settles them in London in a house that, unknown to Clarissa, is a brothel. When he takes her in his arms after a fire in the middle of the night, she escapes him and flees to Hampsted. Mr. Lovelace pursues her and tricks her into returning to their London lodgings, where he doses her with opium and rapes her. Clarissa escapes once more and hides from Mr. Lovelace in other lodgings in London. Her ordeals have weakened her health, and the doctor diagnoses her with a broken heart. John Belford, Mr. Lovelace's best friend, befriends Clarissa and eventually earns her trust. She dies and leaves John Belford as her executor to see to her will, which she writes out very specifically.

Mr. Lovelace

Mr. Lovelace is the antagonist of the story. He is a man of good family, wealth and education. Unfortunately, he is profligate and has corrupt morals. He has a history of ruining young ladies, particularly those of good birth, since the first woman he loved jilted him. He is generous, and his servants love him. He is the sole male in his family, and therefore his uncle and both aunts plan to leave him a large inheritance, besides the wealth he already has. He is very proud and arrogant. He heard of Clarissa's virtue and beauty and sought out the Harlowes in order to gain admittance and acquaintance with Clarissa. His part of the story is primarily told through his correspondence with his friend, John Belford.

His contrivances throughout the story lead to Clarissa's elopement, the many violations of decency that greatly offend Clarissa, Clarissa's ruin and eventually, her death. He hates the Harlowes and blames them for Clarissa's sickness and death, vowing revenge on them. He is very contradictory in his writing. He appears to love Clarissa but a part of him is unable to accept the idea of love and marriage and insists upon testing Clarissa's virtue before marrying her. He obtains the help of many immoral people to impersonate others of worth to direct Clarissa's steps. He finally becomes frustrated with being unable to get Clarissa to yield to him, so he gives her opium and rapes her. He does not believe that her honor has been compromised because her will is uncompromised. He nearly goes insane when Clarissa dies, and his family and friends convince him to travel abroad for his health. While abroad, he hears rumors that Clarissa's cousin, Colonel Morden, wants to avenge Clarissa through a duel. He sends Colonel Morden a challenge, which is accepted, resulting in Mr. Lovelace's death.

Miss Howe

Miss Howe is Clarissa's best friend. She is a young lady of virtue also, but she is not quite as somber and pious as Clarissa. She has a fiery temper and a quick tongue. She often condemns the Harlowes for their treatment to Clarissa, who Miss Howe believes excels all females. She lives with her mother, who is pressing a marriage to Mr. Hickman throughout the novel. She and Clarissa have been friends for many years and have a policy of openness and honesty in their correspondence. Miss Howe often speaks contemptuously of the Harlowes and Mr. Lovelace, causing several problems. During Clarissa's confinements by the Harlowes and Mr. Lovelace, Miss Howe is Clarissa's outside inquirer, discovering what is going on and uncovering schemes.

Miss Howe is saucy to her mother and impudent to her suitor. She blames her temper on both of her parents. She disobeys her mother's command to discontinue her correspondence with Clarissa after Clarissa elopes. Eventually, Mr. Hickman wins her over, partially through his affection for Clarissa. Miss Howe is left many sentimental effects in Clarissa's will, but refuses Clarissa's command not to wear mourning. Miss Howe is devastated by Clarissa's death. She works with John Belford to collect Clarissa's story and to provide a characterization of Clarissa.

John Belford

John Belford is Mr. Lovelace's best friend and confidante. Mr. Lovelace confides to him all of his contrivances and schemes against Clarissa. John Belford is a renowned rake like Mr. Lovelace, but after meeting Clarissa, he begins to pity and admire her and tries to dissuade Mr. Lovelace from acting dishonorably by her. He is loyal to Mr. Lovelace and believes Mr. Lovelace is a good man underneath his schemes.

After Clarissa's imprisonment, John Belford rescues Clarissa and befriends her. He protects her against Mr. Lovelace as much as possible. Clarissa names him as her executor, and after her death, he fulfills his commitment with the help of Colonel Morden. His involvement with Clarissa leads him to reform his immoral behavior and to encourage Mr. Lovelace and their other varlet friends to reform. John Belford tries to prevent mischief between Mr. Lovelace and the Harlowes after Clarissa's death. He collaborates with Miss Howe to compile the letters relating to Clarissa's story, and he is unofficially the author of the novel. He marries Charlotte Montague, and they have a son who receives the inheritance that was designed for Mr. Lovelace before his death.

Colonel Morden

Colonel Morden is a cousin of the Harlowes. He was made a trustee of Grandfather Harlowe's will. He has been abroad for six years and returns when he hears of the discord between Clarissa and the rest of the Harlowes. He attempts to mediate between them but is unable to persuade the Harlowes to relent. He attends Clarissa during her last days and assists John Belford in ensuring that Clarissa's will is carried out after her death. He avenges Clarissa against Mr. Lovelace, partly to prevent James, an only son, from doing so.

James Harlowe

James Harlowe is Clarissa's brother, who is very jealous of Clarissa because she inherited their grandfather's estate and his uncles may follow their father's example. He initiates the scheme against Clarissa, which results in her elopement with Mr. Lovelace and her eventual ruin. He is very greedy, proud and violent. After Clarissa's death, he plans to avenge her against Mr. Lovelace if Colonel Morden does not. He feels his unhappy marriage is punishment for his maltreatment of Clarissa.

Arabella Harlowe

Arabella Harlowe is Clarissa's sister. Mr. Lovelace originally made his addresses to her and when he began courting Clarissa, she became jealous. She and James corroborated to confine Clarissa and force her to marry Mr. Solmes, primarily for financial reasons. She is haughty and impertinent, often insulting her younger sister. She is remorseful when Clarissa dies and blames her involvement against her sister as the reason for her unhappiness later in life.

Mrs. Harlowe

Mrs. Harlowe is Clarissa's mother. She loves her youngest daughter very much but is very passive to her husband's will. She attempts to mediate for Clarissa with the family but receives rebukes and withdraws her support for Clarissa. She refuses to write or see Clarissa because she knows she will be persuaded to act for her again. She is devastated when she learns of Clarissa's death and blames herself for not behaving maternally. She dies a year and a half after Clarissa.

Mr. Harlowe

Mr. Harlowe is Clarissa's father who, though he loves his daughter, is led into the offenses against her by his son's strong will. He is unforgiving throughout the novel until Clarissa's death, at which point he regrets his part in Clarissa's misfortunes. He dies six months after his wife.

Mrs. Howe

Mrs. Howe is Miss Howe's mother. She adores Clarissa but is poisoned against her by Uncle Antony. She preaches the importance of children's obedience, mainly because Miss Howe will not yield to Mrs. Howe's will for her to marry Mr. Hickman. Mrs. Howe rejects Uncle Antony's proposal of marriage.

Mr. Hickman

Mr. Hickman is Miss Howe's suitor and Mrs. Howe's favorite. He is very sober and virtuous, but Miss Howe thinks he is somewhat boring. He shows himself to be a great friend to Clarissa and puts on deep mourning after her death. Miss Howe eventually marries him and makes him very happy.

Mr. Brand

Mr. Brand is the clergyman who is called in to marry Clarissa to Mr. Solmes when Dr. Rev. Lewen refuses. He is also sent to town to inquire about Clarissa's lodgings, habits and illness. His negative report contributes to the delay in a reconciliation with the Harlowes. He rectifies his mistakes via letter to Uncle Harlowe too late to be useful to Clarissa.

Mrs. Norton

Mrs. Norton is Clarissa's nurse and mentor. She is poor and has been taken into the Harlowes' protection to some extent. Clarissa desires to live on her grandfather's estate with Mrs. Norton to supervise her.


Hannah is Clarissa's servant and is suspected of helping Clarissa perpetuate correspondence with Mr. Lovelace. She is unable to attend Clarissa in town due to her own illness.

Rev. Dr. Lewen

Rev. Dr. Lewen is the pastor in the parish where Harlowe Place lies. He has known Clarissa since her infancy and loves her. He refuses to marry Clarissa and Mr. Solmes without Clarissa's consent. He dies before Clarissa is reconciled to the Harlowes.

Grandfather Harlowe

Grandfather Harlowe never appears in person but his Last Will and Testament contributes greatly to the action of the novel. The preference shown to Clarissa instigates James and Arabella's jealousy and causes the ensuing rupture in the family peace.

Clarissa's Poor

Clarissa's Poor is a group of industrious, hard-working poor people to whom Clarissa provides financial relief from time to time through Mrs. Norton, when they have hardships due to accidents, sicknesses or death.

Lord M

Lord M is Mr. Lovelace's gouty uncle, who plans to leave Mr. Lovelace a very large inheritance. He thinks highly of Clarissa and will leave Mr. Lovelace everything if Clarissa becomes Mrs. Lovelace but threatens to disown Mr. Lovelace if he treats Clarissa poorly.

Lady Betty Lawrence

Lady Betty Lawrence is Mr. Lovelace's aunt, who plans to leave Mr. Lovelace a very large inheritance. She thinks highly of Clarissa and will leave Mr. Lovelace everything if Clarissa becomes Mrs. Lovelace but threatens to disown Mr. Lovelace if he treats Clarissa poorly.

Lady Sarah Sadler

Lady Sarah Sadler is Mr. Lovelace's aunt, who plans to leave Mr. Lovelace a very large inheritance. She thinks highly of Clarissa and will leave Mr. Lovelace everything if Clarissa becomes Mrs. Lovelace but threatens to disown Mr. Lovelace if he treats Clarissa poorly.

Cousin Montague and Cousin Charlotte

Cousin Montague and Cousin Charlotte are Mr. Lovelace's maiden cousins, who think highly of Clarissa and attempt to mediate a reconciliation between Mr. Lovelace and Clarissa with Miss Howe's help.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Mr. and Mrs. Smith are the landlord and landlady at the residence Clarissa occupies after her second escape from Mr. Lovelace until her death. They are very kind and become good friends to Clarissa during her last days of life. She regrets the trouble she causes them.

Widow Lovick

Widow Lovick is the widow at the Smiths' residence, who befriends Clarissa and assumes a maternal role in Clarissa's illness and death. She reminds Clarissa of Mrs. Norton. After Clarissa's death, John Belford hires her as his housekeeper.

Widow Sinclair

Widow Sinclair is the madam of the brothel in London to which Mr. Lovelace conveys Clarissa. She pretends to be an upstanding widow and contributes greatly to Clarissa's ruin. She dies from internal bleeding due to a fall shortly after Clarissa's death.

Mr. Solmes

Mr. Solmes is the suitor that the Harlowes are so eager for Clarissa to marry to evade Mr. Lovelace's hopes. Clarissa despises him because she thinks he is immoral, greedy, ill mannered and ugly.


Joseph is a servant at Harlowe Place that Mr. Lovelace bribes for information about the family. He marries Betty. He helps Mr. Lovelace with contrivance to trick Clarissa into eloping.

Betty Barnes

Betty Barnes is Arabella's servant and put in charge of Clarissa when Hannah is dismissed. She is insolent and impertinent to Clarissa, following Arabella's example. She married Joseph.

Mr. Wyerley

Mr. Wyerley is a former suitor of Clarissa, who is first suggested to supplant Mr. Lovelace. After Clarissa's ruin, he renews his addresses to her and swears never to marry while she is alive and single.

Uncle Antony

Uncle Antony is the younger of Clarissa's two uncles. He introduces Mr. Lovelace and Mr. Solmes as his personal friends. He is a strong force in denying Clarissa a reconciliation. He proposes to Mrs. Howe.


Dorcas is the maid-servant, who Clarissa is provided with at Widow Sinclair's. She is loyal to Mr. Lovelace and spies for him. She also transcribes many of Clarissa's letters to and from Miss Howe for Mr. Lovelace.

M'Donald also known as Captain Tomlinson

M'Donald, also known as Captain Tomlinson, is a varlet and friend of Mr. Lovelace, who pretends to be Uncle Harlowe's friend assisting with a reconciliation between Clarissa and the Harlowes. He dies from injuries sustained in an attempted robbery.

Fake Lady B & Cousin Charlotte

Fake Lady B & Cousin Charlotte are two loose women that Mr. Lovelace hired to impersonate the two women from his family in order to seduce Clarissa back to London to her ruin.

Sally and Polly

Sally and Polly are whores at Widow Sinclair's, who contribute to Clarissa's ruin and orchestrate her arrest. Both were originally compromised by Mr. Lovelace.

Uncle John Harlowe

Uncle John Harlowe is Clarissa's older uncle. He calls Clarissa his daughter-niece. He is instrumental in assisting Colonel Morden in the reconciliation that occurs too late.

Aunt Hervey

Aunt Hervey is Mrs. Harlowe's sister. She loves Clarissa and disapproves of Mr. Solmes, but she attempts to persuade Clarissa to accept him to prevent being banned from Harlowe Place.

Cousin Dolly

Cousin Dolly is the Aunt Hervey's daughter. She loves Clarissa and defends her within the family.

Miss Rawlins

Miss Rawlins is a local maiden in Hampstead, who is nosy and helps Mrs. Moore make decisions. She considers helping Clarissa escape from Mr. Lovelace.

Mrs. Moore

Mrs. Moore is the landlady at the lodgings that Clarissa obtains in Hampstead.

Widow Bevis

Widow Bevis is Mrs. Moore's visiting niece, who befriends Mr. Lovelace.


Will is Mr. Lovelace's servant, who does all of his evil bidding.


Mowbray is one of Mr. Lovelace's varlets, who becomes very offended when John Belford defends Clarissa and condemns Mr. Lovelace.


Belton is another of Lovelace's varlets, who dies a tortured death, which frightens John Belford.


Tourville is another varlet who has very little action.


Rosebud is a village girl that Mr. Lovelace spares and provides the means for her to marry her lover.

This section contains 2,676 words
(approx. 7 pages at 400 words per page)
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