The inheritance conflict in Samuel Richardson´s novel Clarissa (1747–1748) has been read as staging the clash between two different class ideologies and as an expression of the dead’s posthumous agency exerted on the living. I argue that the novel’s two wills ultimately serve to make a broader point about inheritance. I contend that Richardson´s complex treatment of the effects of each will on each member of the Harlowe family underscores the problematic nature of inheritance as a gift. I compare the novel’s two wills in light of Marcel Mauss’s work on gift‐exchange to discuss how Richardson engages with inheritance as a gift that confirms or reorganises familial hierarchies and imposes an obligation on the heir. Reading the novel in terms of the way in which inheritance places the heir in the position of caretaker that they cannot be released from until their death, offers a different reading of Clarissa’s reluctance to refer to herself as the possessor of the estate in the novel. My reading of the novel moves beyond the novel’s inheritance dispute to provide insight into the circular and problematic nature of inheritance as gift. While attention has been paid to the power that the testator or donor possesses in bequeathing their inheritance, less attention has been paid to what it means to receive such a gift.
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