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Clarissa: The History of a Young Lady


Robert Lovelace Preparing to Abduct Clarissa Harlowe, by Francis Hayman

In his first drama for national radio, Richard Armitage starred in BBC Radio 4's 'Clarissa: The History of a Young Lady', in March and April 2010.

It was an adaptation of Samuel Richardson's 18th century epistolary novel of the same name. One of the longest novels in the English language, it was originally published in seven volumes in 1747-1748.

Richard played the libertine Robert Lovelace, who attempts to seduce the heroine, Clarissa Harlowe. Clarissa's rising and ambitious family tries to force her into a loveless marriage to improve their fortunes. But she escapes by eloping with Lovelace. However, Lovelace's intentions are far from honourable, and Clarissa's fate is a tragic and shocking one.

Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) was one of the first important novelists writing in English, and Clarissa is his finest work. It's written in the form of over 500 letters, mostly between Clarissa and her friend Anna Howe, and between Lovelace and his fellow libertine, John Belford. Hattie Naylor created a radio drama from the novel - the Radio Times (13-19th March) praised her "astute cutting back of Samuel Richardson's huge epistolary novel", recommending the first episode of Clarissa as one of its Choices of the day.

Will Hodgkinson in The Guardian (13th March) said that it was "an excellent adaptation, with Richard Armitage playing the libertine while Zoe Waites brings restrained dignity to the role of Clarissa."

In The Observer (14th March) Stephanie Billen said, "Published in 1747, Samuel Richardson's forward-thinking novel about a young woman's desperate struggle for liberty is successfully adapted in four parts by Hattie Naylor.  At first all is rosy for beautiful Clarissa (Zoe Waites), but the arrival of a tireless suitor, the rakish Lovelace (Richard Armitage), spells disaster after her family rejects him and plot to marry her off to the repellent Mr Solmes, who thinks 'terror and fear look pretty in a young bride'. "

Writing in The Guardian (15th March), Elisabeth Mahoney praised the drama, saying that it was "everything you could possibly want from Sunday afternoon radio drama. Hattie Naylor's terrifically fresh and crisp adaptation brings Samuel Richardson's epistolary novel to irresistible life." She went on to commend the performances as "flawless", and said that "the plot rips along with plenty of drama, piquantly drawn characters and exquisitely funny moments."

Clarissa was part of Radio 4's Classic Serial strand, which over many years has presented adaptations of major works of English and foreign literature that boast impressive casts. In the case of Clarissa, the cast included Zoe Waites as Clarissa, Alison Steadman, Deborah Findlay, Miriam Margolyes, Oliver Milburn, John Rowe, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Adrian Scarborough, and Sophie Thompson.



BBC Press Office information about Clarissa
BBC Radio 4 Classic Serial: The History of a Young Lady, main page for Clarissa
Page for Clarissa episode 1
Page for Clarissa episode 2
Page for Clarissa episode 3
Page for Clarissa episode 4 (including a link to it on iPlayer, when available)

The complete Penguin Classics edition of the novel at Amazon UK, Amazon US and The Book Depository
Etext of the novel at Project Gutenberg

The Reputation of Clarissa, a useful article by Lilia Melani about the novel and its reception at the website of the English Department of Brooklyn College, New York. Includes links to other pages by Melani about the themes and text of the novel, as well as the character of Robert Lovelace.

Wikipedia page about the novel

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