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. :)
Congratulations on finishing!! I suspect my feelings will mirror yours when I finally reach the end, whenever that may be. Also appreciate your suggested alternatives. The e-book I downloaded contains Pamela (in case I ever feel inclined to subject myself to more Richardson), and Evelina is a good idea, too. Didn't realize it was an epistolary novel. I'm sorry this project turned out to be so painful ... you deserve a big round of applause for making it through!ReplyDelete
I'm glad quite to have done it. :) I don't regret doing the readalong and enjoyed reading it along with others. I had started it last year and didn't make it far on my own. One more item off the bucket list at least!Delete
Congratulations on finishing! Its quite an accomplishment, even if the experience wasn't all you'd hoped! Good chance your next book will be better for you though, eh? -SarahReplyDelete
Thanks! That's a very good point. :)Delete
Congratulations for finishing, it's certainly an achievement! I know you didn't enjoy it, but on the plus side your review has convinced me that this is not a book for me and I don't have to feel guilty for not picking it up.ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy the next classic more :)
Definitely don't feel guilty! I'm quite sure I'll enjoy the next one more. I'm about to start The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford and know nothing about it going in. Should be interesting!Delete
Congratulations! I hope to join you very soon and I know my final post will be a variation of yours.ReplyDelete
Thanks! You've made it so far, so I'm sure you'll finish. It did pick up near the end (sort of) and after the Sept. letters there isn't much left.Delete
I did not like Pamela at all, must admit. Ah, I'm sorry you didn't like it, but isn't it awesome at least to have read it? :) I'm going to read Joseph Andrews and Shamela some time very soon, looking forward to them. For me, Clarissa had heart, whereas Pamela had the sort of feeling of a first draft.ReplyDelete
It is awesome to have read it. :) I can see what you mean about Pamela feeling like a first draft, I just sort of got that feeling about Clarissa as well. Shamela doesn't have beautiful language and can almost feel like a first draft as well, but it's a rather funny one. At least I thought it was. I was suprised we had such differing views on Clarissa, since I usually love your posts and we like many of the same books, but I suppose no two people agree on everything. :)Delete
You finished. I think this is on my list, but I'm pushing it off. Dickens is keeping me occupied at the moment. At least you can say you read it, even if you didn't like it.ReplyDelete