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Samuel Richardson's novel 'The History of Clarissa Harlowe' was first published in 1747-8. Clarissa, the heroine, is a woman of great integrity. She is wooed by the rake Robert Lovelace. He wants her to live with him out of wedlock and despite her resistance to the proposal, rapes her. Clarissa's continuing denial of him after this transforms her into a tragic heroine who dominates the last scenes of the book. At one point she is imprisoned for debt. Landseer depicts that moment when she is discovered in gaol by Lovelace's friend John Belford. Landseer's choice of subject and his handling of it recalls William Hogarth's much earlier 'modern moral subjects', which influenced many nineteenth-century genre painters.

August 2004