Clarissa Harlowe tells the story of a virtuous, beautiful eighteen-year-old woman who is brought to tragedy by the wickedness of her world. Her family possesses great wealth but little status.
The trouble starts when Richard Lovelace comes to pay court to Clarissa’s sister, but is attracted by Clarissa instead.
The family forbids Clarissa from corresponding with Lovelace and commands her to marry a horrible rich man, Roger Solmes. Clarissa refuses and when she is able to run away, she is in Lovelace’s power. Roger is a manipulator who is in love with her, but hates the idea of marriage. His intention is to force Clarissa to compromise her strict morals, sully her reputation, and gain full control over her.
Clarissa’s virtue has a powerful effect on Lovelace and sometimes sways him away from his bad intentions. . Finally suspecting Lovelace’s vileness, Clarissa escapes, but Lovelace finds her and he rapes her. The rape has failed to put Clarissa fully in his power because she has never compromised her virtue, and she runs away again, this time successfully.
But once Clarissa has been raped, she stops eating and no longer worries about worldly problems like reputation. Her health steadily worsens, and she begins to prepare for death.
She finally dies, expressing forgiveness for everyone in her life and joyful anticipation of heaven.