In Clarissa, one of the greatest European novels and it's author's triumph, Samuel Richardson had the luck or prescience to hit upon a story that became a myth to his own age, and remains so now. How Clarissa, in resisting parental pressure to marry a loathsome man for his money, falls prey to Lovelace, is raped and dies, is the bare outline of a story that blossomed in all directions under Richardson's hands. He was, self-confessedly and happily, 'a poor pruner.' Written in letters, the novel contains all the urgency and tension of personal communications set down 'to the moment,' compelling our confidence but also our distrust. Its rich ambiguities--our sense of Clarissa's scrupulous virtue tinged with intimation of her capacity for self-deception in matters of sex; the wicked and amusing faces of Lovelace, who must be easily the most charming villain in English literature--give the story extraordinary psychological momentum. In that fatally attracted pair, Richardson created lovers that haunt the imagination as Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde do.