I conquered it. I finally finished Clarissa, considered the longest novel written in English, clocking in a million words. Most novels average around 100,000 words. Meaning, in the time it took me to read Clarissa, I could have read 10 interesting books instead. Five more worthy, lengthy classics. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way. Ugh.
I read a lot of classics. It’s extremely rare that I don’t like them. In fact, Richardson is the ONLY British classic novelist I haven't got on with - and I've read a lot of British lit. I’m fine with stories where nothing much happens, where the story comes more in form of a psychological view inside a character’s mind or we get a slice of life from a specific point in time. At the very least, I can usually appreciate what the author did regarding style or format or something. Occasionally, I know I came to an author to young and need to try them again, like I did with James Joyce and William Faulkner, both of whom I now like.
But with Clarissa? I just…can’t even…why…how?
There is very little plot, which doesn't bother me in many works, but over the course of 1500 pages gets tiring.
The writing is repetitive. Any editor worth her salt could make this immensely better by cutting it down to around 150,000 words. And I think that’s being generous. That Richardson didn't allow this makes me think he's a pompous twit.
The characters are all one-dimensional and therefore boring. It felt like reading a looooooong morality play in novel form, only not funny the way those could at least occasionally be.
Bad writing, boring flat characters, no story, I do not understand what there is to like here.
I’ve gone on and on about my complaints in previous posts so I won’t go over them in depth here. But I think the worst thing is that his basic plot is actually interesting – he just manages to mangle it so much that it’s boring as all get out. It got to the point where I started wishing Clarissa would turn into some crazed lunatic and start murdering people.
I have mentioned this before as well, but I would recommend reading Richardson’s Pamela. If you love it, then go for Clarissa. If you don’t like Pamela, I doubt you’ll like Clarissa. Pamela is shorter and more tightly written, although it still has some issues with plot and character development. However, you then get to read Joseph Andrews and Shamela with even more enjoyment and understanding so it is worth it. If you're looking for a good classic epistolary novel, try Evelina by Fanny Burney (considered a precursor to Jane Austen). It's in some ways similar to Clarissa, only Evelina - both the character and the novel - is far more entertaining, interesting, and realistic.
But don’t just take my word on it. You can check out the other participants in the Clarissa readalong (I raced ahead to put myself out of my misery so they aren’t quite through yet) or get an entirely different perspective from Delaisse, who loved it. At least I have another book to mark off my Classics Club list! And I might have to reread Joseph Andrews soon to rejoice with Fielding in his ceasless mocking of Richardson. :)