The reading of the will (L508)

I [Morden to Belford] have been employed in a most melancholy task: in reading the will of the dear deceased.
The unhappy mother and Mrs. Norton chose to be absent on the affecting occasion. But Mrs. Harlowe made it her earnest request that every article of it should be fulfilled… . . …
I was obliged to stop at the words, ‘That she was nobody’s.’. . . .…
You remember, Sir, on our first reading of the will in town, the observations I made on the foul play which it is evident the excellent creature met with from this abandoned man, and what I said upon the occasion. I am not used to repeat things of that nature.
The dear creature’s noble contempt of the nothing, as she nobly calls it, about which she had been giving such particular directions, to wit, her body; and her apologizing for the particularity of those directions from the circumstances she was in—had the same, and as strong an effect upon me, as when I first read the animated paragraph; and, pointed by my eye, (by turns cast upon them all,) affected them all.
Indeed, the mutual upbraidings and grief of all present, upon those articles in which everyone was remembered for good, so often interrupted me, that the reading took up above six hours. But curses upon the accursed man were a refuge to which they often resorted to exonerate themselves.
How wounding a thing, Mr. Belford, is a generous and well-distinguished forgiveness! What revenge can be more effectual, and more noble, were revenge intended, and were it wished to strike remorse into a guilty or ungrateful heart! But my dear cousin’s motives were all duty and love. She seems indeed to have been, as much as a mortal could be, LOVE itself. Love sublimed by a purity, by a true delicacy, that hardly any woman before her could boast of. O Mr. Belford, what an example would she have given in every station of life, (as wife, mother, mistress, friend,) had her lot fallen upon a man blessed with a mind like her own!…

6 thoughts on “The reading of the will (L508)

  1. Rachel Gramer

    At this point in the letters, our chief correspondents have shifted to Morden and Belford. Here in particular, we have Morden's re-telling (to Belford) of his actual reading of Clarissa's will to her family. But his letter then becomes, for us, a “reading” in a different context.

    What did you think of his “reading” of the will?

    (I bolded some particular points that he struggled with–her reference to herself as “nobody's,” and his discomfort with relaying the line, written in her own hand, about Lovelace's rape of her unconscious body.)

  2. Rachel Gramer


    What do you make of Morden's elevation of Clarissa to “LOVE itself”? Is it even easier for them now to idealize her in death even more than they did in life?

  3. Debra

    And while idealizing her, Morden refuses her dying request: to not duel with Lovelace. I think he has guilt to bear. As her trustee, he could have intervened sooner. Like Belford and her family, he might have saved her

  4. Keri Mathis

    Like Rachel, I found Morden's forced pause quite interesting when he read aloud that Clarissa was “nobody's.” It seems to be such a powerful moment because Clarissa has clearly put so much thought into the distribution of her possessions, but the emphasis on the fact that SHE is no one's possession certainly stands out here. Again, as I think Kendra noted in a comment on another post, Clarissa's agency really shines through in the will and in the posthumous letters because she certainly gets the final word, as we can see in her family's reaction to the reading of the will.

  5. Steve

    Yes! I had the same thought, when I read it. I myself was “obliged to stop at the words.” They are so incredibly sad for so many reasons. Nobody (at least in her family) takes care of Clarissa, she's been abandoned by literally everybody who she thought loved her until very shortly before her death. But then also, I had to think about how desperate her struggle to be able to say that she is “nobody's” has been, and how remarkable that makes her as a character, and how happy it finally makes her not to be possessed. She is entirely her own person there at the end and it's simultaneously really sad and really joyful.

  6. anthony o'keeffe

    For me, having Morden (who has the strength of character to judge the Harlowes properly) be the will's reader–and, in this letter to Belford–commentator upon, turns the combination of the will and Morden's letter into something like Clarissa's final letter to Lovelace. She tells Lovelace deep truths and offers deep judgment AND sincere forgiveness and hope for his repentance. The will and Morden's reflections offer the same thing: the will both bequeaths and judges, and Morden–as Clarissa did in her letter to Lovelace–adds further judgment on her family's real responsibilities.

Comments are closed.