Set in Georgian England, Clarissa is an adaptation of Samuel Richardson's classic 18th century novel about the saintly, beautiful but doomed heroine Clarissa Harlowe and the aristocratic rake Robert Lovelace, whose obsession with Clarissa leads to tragedy. Clarissa, written in 1747-1748, is the longest novel in the English language! This BBC production features Saskia Wickham as Clarissa and Sean Bean as Lovelace.

At her grandfather's death, Clarissa, the youngest daughter of the wealthy but untitled Harlowe family, inherits his estates, to the shock and dismay of her family. Her brother and sister are jealous, and her parents, motivated by greed, arrange an advantageous marriage to a local land owner whom Clarissa despises. Enter his rival: young, handsome aristocrat Lovelace, who is intrigued by Clarissa's beauty and her virtue and offers her a means of escape from the prison of her home: to run away with him. Clarissa is wary of Lovelace's reputation, but desperate to escape, and Lovelace insists his intentions are honourable, so she flees with him.

Lovelace takes Clarissa to an inn where he has found respectable lodgings. He offers her marriage, but Clarissa, unhappy in her compromised situation and distrustful of Lovelace's intentions, refuses his advances and demands her independence. Tantalized by Clarissa's combination of unapproachability and sexual vulverability, Lovelace persuades her to move with him to London, and tricks her into lodging in what he tells her is a respectable house. In fact, the house is a brothel, run by Lovelace's accomplice, Mrs. Sinclair.

Clarissa escapes the brothel, moving to new lodgings in Hampstead. Lovelace tracks her down and, in disguise, insinuates himself into the confidence of her protectors. Using all his theatrical and persuasive talents, he regains his power over Clarissa.

He arranges for one of his accomplices to pretend to be his aunt and to offer Clarissa protection. Eventually, he succeeds in returning Clarissa to the London brothel where, maddened by her defiance, he drugs and rapes her.

Clarissa escapes once more but, although unbroken in spirit, she is worn down in mind and body by her ordeal, and, huddling in a pauper's lodgings, refusing food, she prepares for a martyr's death.

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