Pamela. Samuel Richardson. 1740/1801. (Penguin) 540 pages.
My dear Father and Mother,
I have great trouble, and some comfort, to acquaint you with.
My introduction states, "When Pamela, Or Virtue Rewarded appeared in two volumes in November 1740 it was soon what we should call a 'best seller', the first example of that phenomenon in the history of English fiction. Everybody read it; there was a 'Pamela' rage, and Pamela motifs appeared on teacups and fans." It goes on to say, "Pamela has never ceased being a controversial work."
Who is Pamela? She's a nobody. She's young. She's beautiful. She's dutiful and virtuous. But socially speaking, she's a nobody. She was a young girl--a teen--taken into a great family out of charity. She was a waiting maid on the mistress of the house. A companion. When the lady dies, Pamela's fate becomes uncertain. For Mr. B, the lady's son, can't quite make up his mind what to do about Pamela. You see, he sees her and he wants her. He lusts after her. He feels he just has to have her. And since she is a nobody, who is really going to care if he takes her. Pamela cares. And, of course, Pamela's parents care. But because they're poor, they're nobodies too. Every attempt Mr. B makes on 'poor' Pamela's virtue fails. She protests. She faints if she must. She begs, she pleads, she falls on her knees, she falls on her face. She must be given her freedom, must be allowed to return home to her parents pure and chaste. Just when she thinks she's been granted this gift, she finds herself kidnapped. Because Mr. B must have his way.
How easy it is to go from bad to worse, when once people give way to vice! (102)
Throughout all the drama, Pamela writes--both in her journal in letters home. She gives an account day by day of her ordeal. She finds herself a prisoner at one of Mr. B's estates. She finds all the men and women in the house in his pay. These servants are heartless, actively seeking Pamela harm. Though Pamela tries to find a friendly person to plead her case with, she finds almost everyone unconcerned. It seems the young girl's purity--her virtue--just isn't of much worth in the great scheme of things.
But I am now convinced that wickedness is folly with witness. (102)
Eventually, Mr. B. himself arrives to see what he can do. Will he have his way with her? Will he be able to trick her into his bed? Or will her virtue be rewarded?
Did I like this one? I certainly found it compelling in places. I wanted to know what happened next. Not so much because I loved the characters, but because I was curious to see just how everything would unfold. Truth be told, I found Pamela difficult at times. Especially when I read that her parents would never ever want to see their daughter again if she lost her virtue.
I couldn't resist reading the ending of this one relatively early on. And I was a bit shocked. Why? The thought of Pamela having endured all the nasty attempts on Mr. B's part--all those hateful, cruel words, all those deceitful tricks and pranks--only to have her marry him?! How could the villain turn out to be the hero? He tries to rape her. Again and again. He tries to force her into a sexual relationship against her will. Despite all her protests. Despite all her fainting attempts. Despite all the dramatics. He is holding her against her will. He is controlling every move she makes. He is reading all her letters. He is reading her journals. He is forcing her into a place where she can't have a private thought in her head even. No doubt about it--even if the sexual assaults are just attempts, even if her virtue remains hers--Mr. B is abusive. The fact that he offers her money, offers her parents money, changes nothing. So my thought throughout as I was reading is this: when does Pamela go from seeing Mr. B as a devil-in-disguise, a wicked man who can't be trusted, to him being the love of her life and the man of her dreams? When does she go from seeing his attempts as vile and repulsive to being ever-grateful for his love and affection? To having no will but his?
I found my answer on page 283:
But to be sure, I must own to you, that I shall never be able to think of any body in the world but him! Presumption! you will say; and so it is: but love, I imagine, is not a voluntary thing--Love, did I say! But come, I hope not: at least it is not, I hope, gone so far, as to make me very uneasy: for I know not how it came, nor when it began; but it has crept, crept, like a thief, upon me; and before I knew what was the matter, it looked like love.We see her on her wedding day:
And thus, my dearest, dear parents, is your happy, happy, thrice happy Pamela, at last married! And to whom? Why to her beloved, gracious master! the lord of her wishes! And thus the dear, once naughty assailer of her innocence, by a blessed turn of Providence is become the kind, the generous protector and rewarder of it. God be ever more blessed and praised! and make me not wholly unworthy of such an honour! And bless and reward the dear, dear man, who has thus exalted his unworthy servant, and given her a place, which the greatest ladies would think themselves happy in! (375)But not every one is happy about the marriage. Mr. B has a sister, Lady Davers. She is just as cruel, just as abusive--verbally and physically--on Pamela when she drops in unexpectedly soon after the private wedding. The confrontation lasts a good while and is probably one of the most exciting--most dramatic--scenes of the whole novel. There are a few more surprises to be revealed before the book is done.
I thought the relationship between Pamela and Mr. B to be unhealthy. Even after the wedding. When he proceeds on giving her lectures and instructions. The lecture rambles for so long that Pamela ends up making an outline of 48 points to help her remember everything. (Not that Pamela is anything but grateful for these rules.) Mr. B is NOT my ideal by any stretch of the imagination! So as a romance, I found Pamela a bit problematic.
I am looking forward to reading Henry Fielding's Shamela and Joseph Andrews.
Other reviews: Bookphilia, Bibliographing part one, two, three, four.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews