I have finished "Clarissa" and am now coming out, blinking,into the sunlight. It was summer when I started it and now it is fall, at least it feels like such at this latitude. Babies have been born; famous people have died; vice-presidential nominees have emerged onto the national stage and been made fun of.
In the end it does start to verge on self-parody: the relentless perfection of Clarissa begins to grate on one. It happens, in fact, at the point she dies, which is about 200 pages from the end. Once that inimitable voice is silenced, the myth-making takes over. But as long as she is alive, her perfection seems possible -- she is so clearly working on self-mastery, on trying to be the best version of herself within the dreadful situations she is faced with that it somehow seems heroic and fabled rather than melodramatic and absurd.
I seem to have wandered a long way from Jane Austen, though I can make the argument that reading a key work of the century to which Austen was born into is important to understanding what shaped her. (Even though "Sir Charles Grandison" was supposedly actually her favorite work by Richardson; it explores the idea of a perfectly virtuous male character and got terrible reviews from both Wikipedia and Samuel Johnson.)
I feel a bit bereft. I am not sure what to read next.