Pamela Or Virtue Rewarded
Pamela’s Conflicting Image
In eighteenth century England, a prominent social concern arose in regards to one’s social and economic status. Three broad categories of status existed, including the gentry (consisting of aristocrats and nobles), the middle class (consisting of civil servants and merchants), and the lower classes (consisting of craftsmen and farmers). Samuel Richardson displays the tension and emphasis placed upon social and economic classes of eighteenth century England in his novel Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded, as Pamela, an adolescent servant of the lower class is exposed to the aristocratic world through her employment and later marriage to an aristocratic man, Mr. B. Theoretically, it was impossible to climb the social scale in eighteenth century England, but it was not a common occurrence. While it was not so difficult to work one’s way inside a social group, actually jumping to another, higher, social group was more difficult and rarely achieved if not by a fortunate marriage, like Pamela. This immense social contrast and tension between Pamela and Mr. B.’s environment exemplifies the transformation of Pamela’s perception of herself from being lowly and poor, to her new position in the aristocratic class once she is married.
Another social concern, predominantly within the female community, included the need to maintain or defend one’s virtue. Samuel Richardson portrays the heavy influence of social class upon Pamela, which strengthens the assertion that her true intention for defending her virtue is to advance up the social scale. Pamela describes extensively the low value of her clothing to incite pity, and to support the proud image of poverty in which she has for herself. She describes the clothes her lady gave her as “too rich and too good for me, to be sure” (Richardson 18). When Pamela plans to return to her impoverished parents, she buys “a good sad-colour’d Stuff” from farmers in order to better fit into their social and economic class. By describing the clothes as “sad,” she invites readers into her association of poverty with feelings of displeasure and sorrow. However, once she is married to Mr. B., a wealthy aristocrat, she elaborately describes the fine clothing she has started to wear again: “And so put on fine Linen, silk Shoes, and fine white Cotton Stockens, a fine quilted Coat, a delicate green mantua silk Gown and Coat, a French Necklace, and a lac’d Head, and Handkerchief, and clean gloves… but I forgot not to thank God, for being able to put on this Dress with so much comfort” (Richardson 303). This event discredits everything she had once said about her poor, sad clothing, as well as her longing to return to her comfortable, familiar lifestyle with her parents in poverty.
It is through Pamela’s desire for fine clothing and its connection to high social class that calls to question Pamela’s true intentions of saving her virtue. The word “poor” is not only used to describe Pamela’s clothing but also her life before her marriage into the aristocratic sector of society, in which she prides herself on, as well as the low social status of her parents. The use of her poor status in life craftily disguises Pamela’s reasoning for protecting her virtue, in the presence of Mr. B. and her parents. Pamela writes to her parents, “I owe everything, next to God’s Goodness, to your Piety and good Examples, my dear parents, my dear poor parents, I will, because your Poverty is my Pride, as your Integrity shall be my Imitation” (Richardson 54). When she is to be married to Mr. B., whom requests her to go back to using the fine clothes she used before she thought she was to return to her parents, Pamela replies: “I will beg of you, Sir, not to let me go fine in Dress; but appear only so, as that you may not be ashamed of it” (Richardson 265). Pamela, then, even though she will be elevated to the upper class does not appear to think that she deserves to show this too well. She again remembers the humble background she comes from. However, this persona changes as she is exposed to the female members of the aristocratic world.
Upon Pamela’s entering the upper class, her modest and proud attitude diminishes, which exposes her true intent of guarding her virtue in order to join and be accepted into a high social class. Pamela is drawn into this lavish social world and disregards her humble beginnings, which is exemplified after a woman of the upper class, Lady Towers, compliments her. Pamela writes of her response, “Dear good Madam, said I, how shall I suitable return my acknowledgements! But it will never be a Pain to me to look back upon my former Days now I have the kind of Allowance and Example of so many worthy Ladies to support me in the Honours to which the most generous of men has raised me” (Richardson 491). Pamela’s adoration to the neighboring aristocratic women illustrates her ambition to rise in social status as she now considers herself a gentlewoman. However, Pamela also receives negative remarks by aristocratic women, most notably through an interaction with Mr. B.’s sister, Lady Davers. Lady Davers requests to talk to Pamela, stating, “I will see the Creature” and “Bid the Wench come down to me” (Richardson 380). Despite Pamela’s new arrival to the aristocratic class through marriage, Lady Davers still does not view Pamela as an equal due to her past experiences in the lower class. This harsh judgment portrays the great differences in treatment due to one’s social or economic status. Pamela was once a part of the lower class, thus other members of the aristocratic class will never treat her as a completely aristocratic woman, despite her virtuosity.
Pamela is heavily affected by the tension and pressure to maintain her virtue and advance up the social scale. The wide gaps between social classes cause Pamela’s persona of humbleness and meekness to shift to one of boldness and confidence, which uncovers her veiled intention to save her virtue in hopes of becoming an aristocratic woman. Pamela succeeds in this intention as she marries Mr. B., ultimately indicating the substantial impact of eighteenth century society upon an individual of the lower class.
Virtue in Pamela
In Pamela, Samuel Richardson teaches a religious lesson through Pamela’s pride in virtue, love through purity, and ultimately forgiveness of others. He presents his character as rigorously devoted to God, which often makes her seem vain, manipulative, selfish, and hypocritical. Although she may seem to portray these characteristics, the truth is all that matters to her is her virtue. Throughout the novel, Pamela portrays a pious pride in her virtue and humility. In the novel, she is extremely proud, not of the beauty of her face or body, but of virtue, which she protects in the name of God. She equates losing her virtue as “worse than cutting her Throat” (104). Richardson demonstrates a lesson through Pamela’s pride in virtue, showing the other characters that purity and righteousness will always prevail. Pamela’s virtue even opens the blind eyes of the Squire when he exclaims, “Her Virtue is all her Pride, shall I rob her of that?” (211). Although she might be mistaken as vain when she tries on her humble attire and professes, “I never lik’d myself so well in my Life” (60), Richardson uses this to show how Pamela is happy in her poverty because it is honest and virtuous. She is proud of the honesty of her low birth because she sees much vanity in the wealthy as exhibited by Lady Davers. After reading the letter concerning Pamela’s inequality to the Squire’s birth, Pamela becomes furious at Lady Davers for stooping to “such vain Pride” (222). Pamela prays that God will not let the “Conceitedness, Vanity, and Pride” (279) of wealth consume her. Her pride in virtue is an honorable pride because it focuses on God, whereas, the pride she fears is centered on status and wealth. Pamela demonstrates tremendous pride in her honesty and virtue, focusing on the ideals of God. Pamela’s pride in her virtue eventually gains her the pure love of the Squire as oppose to his former lust. Pamela’s protection of her virginity blossoms into a virtuous love, her reward from God. Throughout the text, Pamela persistently denies the Squire’s passions, through harsh words and actions. Her virtue only makes her more attractive to him: “I see you so watchful over your Virtue . . . my Passion for you is only increas’d by it” (184). She believes that a woman who gives in to evil and loses her virginity to be “the vilest of Creatures” (174). Pamela perceives her honesty with such importance to say, “my Honesty is dearer to me than my Life” (208). After her fits when he tries to rape her, the Squire finally realizes how important virtue is to Pamela. He learns to love and respect her through her virtue. In the end, the Squire recognizes Pamela as equal to his noble birth because of her virtue: “Let us talk of nothing henceforth but Equality; for if you will set the Riches of your Mind, and your unblemished Virtue, against my Fortune, the Condescension will be yours” (294). Pamela seems manipulative because she benefits from her virtue, increasing her social status. Although the reward for virtue in Pamela is marriage, Richardson shows that Pamela never dreams of this outcome, believing a “poor Servant is far unworthy of this great honour” (209). She continually thanks God for such an honor, seeing it as a reward from Him for all her sufferings at the Squire’s hands. Because of her virtue, Richardson shows that God rewards Pamela with a very honorable marriage. Pamela, through her trust in God, finds the heart to forgive those who have threatened her most prized possession, her virtue. Although the Squire terrifies Pamela numerous times, sexually harassing her and trying to rape her, she finds it in her heart to forgive him. The Squire finally sees the error of his ways, begging, “tell me you forgive me for rushing you into so much Danger and Distress” (209). The actions he has inflicted upon her are horrendous, but she forgives him in spite of the pain and suffering he has caused her. She has such a “great Point of Reliance in God” (235) that she begins to trust a man that formerly terrified her, even learning to love him through forgiveness and innocence. Pamela sometimes seems selfish and hypocritical in her hasty forgiveness of the Squire in the face of a proposed marriage. Her opinion of him seems to change too abruptly, showing her selfishness for bettering her life and her hypocrisy for loving a man she once did not respect in the slightest. On the other hand, Richardson portrays Pamela’s forgiveness under the sanction of God, who dictates that everyone is to be forgiven. Pamela is so sweet and virtuous that she also forgives the “most wicked Woman” (177), Mrs. Jewkes. Although Mrs. Jewkes assisted in her attempted rape, Pamela finds it in her pure heart to forgive even this “vile” (177) woman. Through her happiness with the Squire, which she attributes to God, she finds it in her heart to “forgive all that was disagreeable” (255). Pamela’s virtue leads the way towards the forgiveness of those who tried to ruin her. In Pamela, Richardson’s lesson through Pamela is to be proud of virtue because, in the end, God will reward it like He rewards her with love and happiness. Richardson also points out that she should forgive everyone that posed an obstacle to her virtue because those people only made her path of righteousness more difficult and, therefore, more rewarding. Although Pamela often appears to be vain, manipulative, selfish, and hypocritical, she is merely trying to live through God by retaining her most sacred possession, her innocence.
Discuss ornament in ‘Pamela’ and ‘Shamela’
‘Oh! I feel an emotion even when I am relating this; methinks I see Pamela at this instant, with all the pride of ornament cast off.’ (Tickletext in Shamela – Henry Fielding)Richardson’s notion that to relate an emotion in ink just as it in the process of being formed, and his employment of the epistolary form for its inherent dramatic immediacy constitute his idea of ‘writing to the moment’, reflected in his eponymous Clarissa Harlowe’s demand of her friend Anna Howe; ‘I would have you write your whole mind’. This compulsive precision, reflecting the developing sense of interiority through the early modern period, and Richardson uses the epistolary technique to attend to a sort of temporal and emotional mimesis – that is, in being written down immediately as their content is being experienced, his characters’ letters seem to have a fidelity to the real and in particular the real-time. Yet, in his parody of Pamela, Shamela, Henry Fielding clearly demonstrates not only the intrinsic improbability of this form – that Pamela is incapable of lying in bed with both Mrs. Jervis and Mr. B, and writing simultaneously – but also that, far from casting off any ‘pride of ornament’, there is actually a great degree of artifice inherent in this form. As Pamela seeks to define herself through her penning, her epistles actually serve to obfuscate her identity further from the reader, rather than making her emotions and motives clearer. Indeed, it could be argued that Fielding had no need to search for evidence in support of his criticism against his legendary rival, but in fact Richardson himself demonstrates in his novel how the manipulation of texts may lead to impressions being formed of the author quite opposed to the effect the author is trying to create.In Pamela, Richardson’s epistolary ‘writing to the moment’ ‘present[s] events and emotions with the freshness and intensity only possible while they are still occurring or very recent’ and Pamela’s early letters in particular highlight interruptions and shocks that seem to materialise in her writing only seconds after the actual events occur. Of course, other events related in the novel are clearly written later on during a day, and thus it is Pamela’s emotions and feelings about the earlier happenings that are at this point being reported in real-time, with a self-conscious degree of retrospection present here. This retrospection increases the sense of interiority and introspection we have about Pamela, but if we are to believe this to be part of Richardson’s ‘writing to the moment’, the sense of danger and urgency is certainly undermined when, for example, Pamela relates the story of her escape attempt in Lincolnshire, and the reader knows that Pamela must have survived in order to write down the details of her ordeal.Fielding’s burlesque pastiche of Pamela is comic in the way that it preserves the main outline of Richardson’s plot, but changes the motivations and emotions of the female protagonist, debunking what he perceived as the subjective nature of Richardson’s naÃ¯ve moralising by transforming the angelic Pamela into a meretricious deceiver; a ‘sham’. Whilst Richardson sought to present Pamela as a paragon of virtue, Fielding sought to expose Richardson’s view of virtue as innately hypocritical, as Shamela’s incessant discourse on ‘vartue’ demonstrates. She says ‘I thought once of making a little fortune by my person. I now intend to make a great one by my vartue’, thus expounding the idea that virtue has been reduced to chastity. Unlike Pamela, Shamela is honest to the reader about her scheming and manipulating; ‘imagining I had continu’d long enough for my purpose in the sham Fit, I began to move my eyes, to loosen my Teeth…’, and the idea that Shamela is wily enough to understand where a faÃ§ade and display of virtue might get here socially is deeply ironic and yet ingrained in the original text (though merely left for the reader to unpack). Pamela herself jokes about the ‘closet scene’ and is clearly alive to the sexual associations of Mr B handing her a pair of stockings, and yet it is unclear as to whether she has a sort of sub-conscious enjoyment in holding out her chastity. If that be the case, Pamela’s obsession with virtue makes a mockery of the word, for virtue need surely be as much a heartfelt and spiritual as a physical abstinence. Even Richardson could not have been completely naÃ¯ve to the sexual connoted ambiguities of all his character’s faintings and blushings; it almost seems as if Richardson might be the one with the prurient fascination with rape and seduction. And yet it is reasonable to assume from the novel’s sub-title ‘Or, Virtue Rewarded’ that Richardson wanted to present Pamela as spotless and blameless. In making Shamela say, ironically ‘with all the pride of ornament cast off’, Fielding insinuates that Pamela actually implies (and if Richardson or his character were honest, she would say) exactly the opposite – that she is not giving an accurate picture of herself in her letters at all. Therefore Fielding does not seek to alter and corrupt the motivations of Richardson’s Pamela in his character Shamela, but simply de-code and present a more truthful picture of who Pamela really is, and the state of her virtue. We should also dispute the notion that if a piece of writing spills from the metaphorical ‘heart’ or ’emotion’ of the character, it is automatically deemed realism. Pamela’s letters contain ‘all the secrets of her heart’, and although she keeps them physically close to her body, under her clothes, this idea that her heart’s confessions must be ‘truth’ rely heavily on the heart itself being truthful. Whilst this may seem an obvious conclusion to draw, it is interesting to draw attention to the fact that the heart is traditionally prone to romantic fancy, and so although Pamela says ‘I don’t remember all I wrote, yet I know I wrote my heart, and that is not deceitful’, this may well not be the case. It is true to say the reader does receive the story from Pamela’s perspective alone, and so if it were possible that her own motivations and feelings could escape her, and yet be deducible from her writings, then one could argue that we actually know more about Pamela than she knows about herself. Fielding parodies Pamela’s implied of realism – ‘All the pride of ornament cast off’ – sardonically mocking the sort of character who says that they are giving an un-adorned, natural picture of themselves, whilst unaware that the reader is getting quite a different one. Mr B tells Pamela ‘you won’t tell a downright fib for the world: but for equivocation! no Jesuit ever went beyond you!’ and so without wishing to follow too Freudian a line, scrutinising the idea of the sub-conscious, it is important to consider not only whether Pamela is a deliberate conniver, as Fielding would persuade us, but also, and more charitably, the possibility of her being self-deceiving.It is also obvious to the reader that Richardson’s epistolary technique inheres artifice, since the writer of the letters must be aware of a reader, an audience, and will, consciously or not, act up to this. Fielding exposes what he discerns is actually a manipulative self-consciousness in Shamela’s character, but this is intrinsically wrapped up with issues of intention and interpretation. Did Richardson intend to portray Pamela as pure, and did Pamela herself intend to use a display of virtue (or indeed, her virtue itself) to ensnare Mr B? Did she don a faÃ§ade just as she picked up a new pen and changed her clothes (as implied in Shamela)? The fact remains that neither Pamela in her letters, nor Richardson in his novel, is able to control the interpretation of them. Pamela’s letters, far more than simply a way of dividing up a long moralistic narrative, are actually obtrusive agents in the action – the writing of them is only the conception, after which anything from copying to stealing, hiding to verbally examining could happen to them. For Richardson, the letters are almost a character in the narrative, and whilst very much part of Pamela’s self-conscious self-definition, the way that they are altered emphasises the fickleness of text. Not only whatever Pamela tries to write, but also now whatever Pamela tries to be may be re-worked and manipulated by any interceptor of the particular letter. Just as letters are material artifacts, handled, distributed and destroyed by others, so is Pamela’s identity when the embodiment of it is no longer in a fifteen-year old body repetitively crying for her virtue, but instead in the pieces of paper on which she is doing it. Richardson seems keen to show readers and writers, selecting and interpreting text, manipulating the language of a letter that, once out of its writer’s hand, is a voice independent of that author.Whilst Richardson’s illustration of the way that the independent voice of text both contributes and is in conflict with an author’s claims for the authority of writing, it also places him in a weak position as far as to the authority of the text in which he is expounding this argument. Fielding seizes upon this in his mockery, and thus we have an interesting paradigm in Pamela’s letters for the way in which Richardson’s novel and character may have been interpreted differently in Shamela; some might say that Richardson should have seen his reviewers’ criticisms.
In the Midst of Vice: Confronting Hypocrisy in ‘Pamela’
Samuel Richardson’s novel, Pamela, is an epistolary work of fiction that exposes the hypocrisy of eighteenth century England’s high class citizens. The disparity between the upper class and the lower classes of society, though traditionally measured through wealth, land, family name, and property, is instead measured in Pamela with virtue and honesty, qualities which Richardson emphasizes are the most important treasures to possess, so much so, that he employs a fifteen year old servant girl the main voice of this story. Through the eyes and ears of the titular character, Pamela, Richardson opens a gateway into the private relations between servants and their masters, or more specifically, between some of the wealthiest members of society and the poorest. By writing in epistolary form and using the antiquated “virtue and honesty” reputation of women in society, Richardson delves deep into the hypocritical world of the upper class in England, showing the readers that behind closed doors, the just, honest, and revered qualities of the high class are truly cloaks of deception meant to hide wickedness, lust, and ungodly behavior.
What better way to infiltrate the on goings of the wealthy than through their servants? They are truly the only members of the lower class that get to be in close contact with their masters in closed quarters, and the simple privacy of a master being in his own house on his own land (because land owners of the time were almost exclusively male), creates an environment where moral behavior is simply made up and governed by the master himself. Placing such a responsibility as narrating the story of Pamela, onPamela, the fifteen year old female servant of Mr. B, not only enables Richardson to depict a story that has high realistic probability, but also warrants the epistolary novel a sense of honesty and truth. For some, however, the plausibility that a servant would have the education and tenacity that which Pamela possesses would be slim to none, and so Richardson immediately quells this doubt within Pamela’s first letter to her parents:“…my Lady’s Goodness had put me to write and cast Accompts, and made me a little expert at my Needle, and other Qualifications above my Degree..”, and then again in the same letter, only affirmed by the master, Mr. B, himself: “…Pamela, you write a very pretty hand, and spell tolerably, too. I see my good Mother’s Care in your Learning has not been thrown away upon you.”(Richardson 11-13) Notice here that Richardson did not stop the justification of Pamela’s unusual eloquence and education at her own account, but additionally uses the voice of Mr. B, the master character, to reassert the education and writing skills the young Pamela has obtained. The master’s voice is a voice that conventionally can be accepted as truthful, which subconsciously instills in the reader the believability of someone such as Pamela to obtain an education beyond her “degree”. If the master says it is so, well, then it is so.
In fact, emphasis on honesty and virtue is heavily placed in the book from the start, as in the first letter Pamela sends to her parents initially establishes Pamela as the epitome of the perfect young lady. From the proper sign-off at the end of the letter: “Your most diligent daughter,” to yet again the reiteration of Pamela’s dutifulness by the voice of Mr. B: “You are a good girl, Pamela, to be kind to your aged Father and Mother… be faithful and diligent, and do as you should do, and I like you the better for this.”, Richardson doesn’t hesitate to drill into his readers the virtuous nature of his protagonist (Richardson 12). It is important to point out the immediate establishment of Pamela’s credibility, because in order for Richardson to effectively criticize the hypocrisies of the upper class, the mode in which he does so has to be absolutely believable, enabling readers of any class to align themselves with the virtuous Pamela, who possesses all of the qualities of which high society professes to be the vision of morality. We understand that she is honest, eloquent, humble, and dutiful all from within the first letter she sends to her parents about her predicament. Richardson doesn’t tread for too long in the seemingly secure virtue of the protagonist, as straightaway in the second letter, this time a response to Pamela’s first letter by her parents, the subject here is the worry over Pamela’s reputation:“But our chief trouble is, and indeed a very great one, for fear you should be brought to any thing dishonest or wicked, by being set so above yourself…for what signifies all the Riches in the World with a bad Conscience, and to be dishonest?…for we had rather see yo all covered with Rags, and even follow you to the church-yard, than have it said, a Child of ours preferred worldly Conveniences to her Virtue.” (Richardson 13-14)There are several important gears being set into motion within this letter. Foremost, the father acknowledges the possibility of dishonesty and wickedness presenting itself when Pamela is “set so above” herself. Richardson is already subtly suggesting that the attaining of status opens the door for wickedness to sneak in to one’s moral disposition. This is further underscored when the father quite clearly states “what signifies all the Riches in the World… to be dishonest?”. For them, honesty is worth more than wealth, and it rings true, too, when the father says he’d rather see Pamela poor or dead than see her virtuous reputation ruined. By using the voice of a poor man, who’s only valued treasures are is family and his honesty, to give such a warning to Pamela suggests that it is the poorer citizens who see through the designs and falsities of high class airs, and even begins to suggest that they are more willing to do what is morally right over the offer of any amount of wealth or status.
Contrary to what the English upper class of the eighteenth century wanted society to believe, the dishonesty and wickedness lurking behind every corner of the house does not belong to Pamela, but instead the master, Mr. B, as foreseen by Pamela’s discerning father. As the book progresses, Mr. B tries on three separate occasions to sexually assault Pamela, giving in to his base and vulgar pleasures. The first time Mr. B makes his attempts on Pamela, the two are alone: “for now no Soul was near us.”(Richardson 23). When Pamela tries to escape from his onslaught of kisses, Mr. B “held me back, and shut the Door.” Once the door is shut, Pamela says, “…Well may I forget that I am your Servant, when you forget what belongs to a Master.” In addition to this, after Mr. B tries to convince her to “keep this Matter secret”, he offers her money which she doesn’t accept (Richardson 23-24). There are several layers at play during this scene. First, the interaction occurs strictly between master and servant, in a closed area where no third party could witness the vile behavior of the master of the house. Then, Pamela reminds Mr. B that he forgets his place and duty as a respectful, honorable master before refusing his attempt to buy her silence. This is the first instance in which Richardson graphically exposes the disgusting behaviors of people in power over people in servitude while simultaneously driving home the opinion that people in servitude have more honor than those in power. This is shown when Pamela refuses the money, reminding readers that true honesty and virtue cannot be bought.
The second attempt Mr. B makes on Pamela’s virtue occurs once again when the two are alone in a room. When confronting Pamela about disclosing the summer house encounter with Mrs. Jervis, he says, “and so I am to be exposed, am I, said he, in my House, and out of my House, to the whole World, by such a Sawcebox as you?”(Richardson 31). Quite literally, this is what Richardson intends to do. Through Pamela’s honesty, her confiding in Mrs. Jewks is a way of upholding her virtue, and to Mr. B, it is her way of exposing him within his own house. . Another example of the immoral behaviors the upperclass indulges in behind closed doors occurs during the third attempt Mr. B makes on Pamela’s honor. Quite literally behind a closed door: “my wicked master had hid himself, base Gentleman as he is! In her Closet…” (Richardson 60), Mr. B watches Pamela and Mrs. Jervis undress and ready themselves for bed. Richardson is exposing the vulgarity of the upperclass within their own homes out to the world through first hand accounts from a “sawcebox” such as Pamela. Once again, Mr. B tells his servants to keep the matter a secret, further incriminating the upperclass by showing them trying to cover their tracks and use their power and wealth to hide their wicked behavior.
Richardson also sheds a light on the commonality of abuse between the upper class and the lower class. On page seventy, the vulgar and lustful behavior of another landlord nearby is mentioned: “there is ‘Squire Martin in the Grove, has had three Lyings-in, it seems, in his House, in three Months past, one by itself; and one by his Coachman; and one by his Woodman; and yet he has turned none of them away. Indeed, how can he, when they but follow his own vile Example. There is he, and two or three more such as he, within ten Miles of us; who keep Company and hunt with our fine Master, truly; and I suppose he’s never the better for their Examples.” (Richardson 70)After all of the abuse Pamela has suffered, it is mentioned, too, that this is a normal occurrence between masters and their servants, and Richardson is explicitly calling out the wealthy on their collective behaviors. There is no one to change the “vile Example,” because it is up to the wealthy to set the example. Therefore, if the wealthy are the only ones entertaining each others’ immorality and vice, who is there to hold them accountable? Especially when they themselves are often times the judiciary of their own land and therefore servants? In an attempt to justify this type of behavior as pertaining to people of wealth and status, Mr. B says, “We people of fortune, or such as are born to large Expectations, of both sexes, are generally educated wrong… We are usually so headstrong, so violent in our Wills, that we very little bear Control.” (Richardson 169). In contrast to this, people like Pamela, poor servants and hard workers of the impoverished, less esteemed classes are used to sticking to their morals and honesty, with nothing but self control to rely on.
Pamela’s situation alone depicts this: she is punished for standing up for herself. She is called a “sawcebox,” a “slut”, and a “hussy” all because she chooses to protect her honor in the face of a man who has too much power and has given in to his base desires. Richardson further implicates the wealthy class’ obsession with namesake and appearances, not so much the true and honest care for those who are in need. Lady Davers is a perfect example. Mrs. Peters says, “Lady Davers, when a Maiden, was always vastly passionate… and she’d make nothing of slapping her Maids about, and begging their Pardons afterwards, if they took it patiently; otherwise, she used to say The Creatures were even with her.” This type of behavior rings true with the aforementioned quote from Mr. B that a lack of self control affects both sexes of the upper class. Lady Davers implicates herself in her letter to Mr. B on his proposition of marriage to Pamela: “Consider, Brother, that ours is no up-start Family; but is as ancient as the best in the Kingdom; and, for several Hundreds of Years, it has never been known that the Heirs of it have disgraced themselves by unequal Matches.” (74) This clearly indicates that Lady Davers has no real concern over Pamela’s situation, and is more troubled by the prospect that her brother marrying a poor, low-society girl would ruin their family name, a feat apparently more grave than that of a fifteen year old girls honesty and reputation, which means nothing in the eyes of Mr. B or his sister.
Ultimately, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela successfully is a criticism of the hypocrisy of the upper class of eighteenth century England. By delving into the point of view of a powerless figure, the truest, most basic forms of the revered members of high society are candidly displayed for the whole world to see. Through the honesty and grace of poor Pamela, the stark contrast of the vulgarity of her masters is even more notable in this controversial epistolary novel.
Novels of Newness and Rebirth: ‘Room’, ‘Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded’, and ‘Robinson Crusoe’
The idea of rebirth and newness are a critically important theme of the novel ‘Room’ and a principal factor of the story itself. The novel is all about newness, since for Jack, having lived his whole five years of life inside Room, the act of escaping into The World is in a sense a rebirth, and in the novel we learn that Jack is initially completely incapable of functioning in The World, as his development was severely stunted by his upbringing, hence why basic everyday objects like cars or the pavement are so wholly alien to him, Room is a novel about rebirth and living anew in a strange world. Yet, while the newness of the world upon escaping Room is the most obvious point to mention, there is a more subtle sense of newness that will be expounded on; the necessity on Jack and Ma’s behalf to invent new games, stories and ways to pass the time in Room in order to stave off madness and boredom, which is an integral part of the former half of the novel. Finally the idea of newness is challenged in a post-modernist sense as the very narrative reflects the situation of the main two characters therein; the first half of the novel is confined and restrictive and very repetitive, but upon their escape, the narrative shifts and more becomes more open and in the same way that the characters are experiencing new things, so does the reader as the prose takes us to new and exciting places.
The formative years of one’s childhood is very much a learning experience for them, where they experience the world and begin to develop socially as well as emotionally, where a child might encounter new experiences. When a child is denied the normal method of development, it can leave them severely stunted, as is the case with Jack, so as aforementioned in the introduction, Jack is constantly experiencing new things, yet for the first 5 years of his life his whole world consisted solely of the Room, which is later revealed to be a small shed with a skylight. This coupled with a child’s natural curiosity makes the first act of the novel one of surprise, especially since the novel is told through the point of view of Jack, so we, the reader, are hearing his internal monologue. Jack is constantly asking his mother questions; questions about television, questions about his origins, questions about what is real or not, in one instance of which Jack decides “mountains are too big to be real”1, but of course later in the novel he’ll experience all of these objects outside of television. As a contrast to his questioning earlier in the novel, it’s interesting to mention his realisation of the world outside Room, on page 85 in my edition, Jack states “so hospitals are real too, and motorbikes” before going on to proclaim “[his] head’s going to burst from all the new things I have to believe”2. This is an important quotation as not only does it illustrate how overwhelming all this new-reality must be to the 5 year old boy, but the language itself is notable – “I have to believe”. To elaborate, Jack cannot intrinsically believe in the everyday places and objects that exist outside of his Room, he feels he has to believe however, which seems a matter of faith, specifically, faith in his mother’s word, as Ma, who grew up in The World, knew for a fact that there’s more to life than that which is contained in the Room, and she told this to Jack through parables and stories and evocations of her youth. From a narrative perspective, Ma embodies the outside world, and Jack personifies a “blank-slate” unshapen and unmoulded by the outside world.
Ma is a particularly interesting character to observe, when one considers that Ma had a life before she was abducted by Old Nick who destroyed that, so her coming back into the world is a true rebirth and it differs from Jack, while Jack is experiencing things for the first time, Ma is rediscovering them after years, as she says to Jack during the hospital shower scene, “I’m just trying to enjoy my first shower in seven years”3. There is a considerable juxtaposition between the attitudes of Jack and Ma, Jack wants to stick to the routine learned while in Room, whereas Ma no longer feels obligated to conform to the same schedule as they had while captive. “Breakfast comes before bath” says Jack on page 164, he conforms so rigidly to his preconceived idea of routine and cannot comprehend doing something differently, but consider how in the end of the novel, Jack starts to adapt to his new existence, certainly Jack is not a so-called “feral-child” like some real life cases such as “Genie” who tragically never adapted to fit back into society4, thereby establishing that the novel is a tale of regeneration, likewise for Ma. Yet despite Jack finding it harder to adapt to the outside world, it is Ma who attempts to kill herself. This exemplifies the mental torment that must’ve been inflicted onto Ma, who had her life taken away from her when she was just a young adult. Again, from a narrative perspective, her suicide attempt is representative of the trial that will lead to the eventual and inevitable ‘rebirth’ in the conclusion of the novel, it also allows an opportunity for Ma and Jack to be separated, for the first significant amount of time in the novel, thus providing the reader with a glimpse of Jack coping without Ma, someone who he has quite literally not been without his whole life. It all contributes to the ever-forming independence and newness that is ubiquitous throughout.
The idea of rebirth could also be made for the character of Mr. B in Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Pamela, however unlike Jack and Ma in Room, it is not a physical rehabilitation, but a moral one, and even that is perhaps nebulous, but when regarding Mr. B throughout Pamela, one can very much see him as a lecherous man who tries to take advantage of Pamela, and yet by the end of the novel is purportedly transformed into an honourable and decent husband. Indeed in one of the final letters, Mr. B is referred to as a “generous husband”, for the less cynical, this could be interpreted as a comment on the redeeming powers of love. Definitely it is referable to the full title of the novel itself, ‘Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded’, as Pamela is ‘rewarded’ with a husband and a stable income for maintaining her purity. She “enjoyed…the reward of her virtue, piety and charity”5. Both novels explore the idea of being reborn, whether in a religious, moral or physical sense. Literary critic Janice Harayda, paraphrasing Sue Donoghue, comments on how Room uses religious allegory to convey its themes, on how the novel is “a battle between Mary and the Devil for young Jesus” and this is credible, when considering the connotations of the name ‘Old Nick’6. Furthermore the idea of being reborn ties in to the fundamental beliefs of Christians, how Jesus died and was reborn anew.
Again, if one conflates the idea of rebirth and religion, that is, rebirth as a religious transformation, then Robinson Crusoe features such themes prominently, since the whole novel can be read as an religious allegory with Robinson Crusoe eschewing his sinful past and ultimately becoming a devout believer in God. At the start of the novel, Crusoe disobeys his Father by going out to see, against his father’s wishes. As Crusoe says “if I did take this foolish step, God would not bless me”.7. Even after encountering a storm out at sea and receiving a warning from the ship’s captain, Crusoe still ventures out in search of wealth and adventure, so his “imprisonment” on the island takes on the role of sort of an emotional purgatory. From a religious standpoint, Crusoe makes a grave mistake when he “made many vows…that if God would please…spare [his] life this one voyage…[he] would go directly home to [his] father”8. He blatantly disobeys this prayer and forgets “the vows and promises that [he] made in [his] distress”9. Throughout the novel, there are events that if one is interpreting the book through a religious lens, could be a test of faith from God, and indeed there are plenty of instances where Crusoe questions God, upon landing on the island, Crusoe considers suicide due to the “dismal prospect of [his] condition]”10 but then appears to accept his fate, and in that particularly English manner, continues onwards and upwards with a stiff upper lip and makes the best of it. The rebirth aspect comes into play around page 63 in my edition of the novel, this is when Crusoe really starts to have genuine faith in God and the “prodigy of Nature”11.
Robinson Crusoe is transformed as a man, learning to love the island as the “most pleasant place in the world”12, the redemptive arc is very much prominent. If one sees Old Nick as the “God” figure in Room, while Jack learns to live away from him and his authority and the Room, in contrast Crusoe abandons his rebellious ways and by the end of the novel is grateful to God for his misfortunes and is quite the devout believer.
The ideas of rebirth, rejuvenation and a sense of newness are explored in Room, Crusoe and Pamela, with Room focusing more on adapting to life after a traumatic event, and reintegrating into society, and in Pamela, the rebirth more akin to a religious conversion, manifesting itself in a spiritual/moral sense. For Jack in Room, his departure from captivity allows him to explore with childlike surprise this vast new world of possibilities. The character arc for Jack establishes that he is able to move on from Room and fully embrace his position in the new world. Ma even asks him if he “would like the door closed for a minute”, to which Jack responds “no”13. This solidifies his decision to move on, and is a sign of considerable sign of progress and maturity, further demonstrating the rebirth theme prevalent throughout the novel, for it is here that the Room becomes merely a room. It allows both the reader and the protagonists a sense of closure befitting of their ordeal. While Room and Pamela certainly have religious undertones, Robinson Crusoe is the novel with the most overt religious narrative, as the story decidedly portrays a man’s spiritual redemption amidst the horror of the overwhelming and collective misery of the tropical island. Though tying in with Mr. B in Pamela, not only is Crusoe’s redemption solely a religious one, but a moral one too. Therefore we can see how in each novel there is a sense of newness, and a rebirth of numerous kinds; ultimately leaving each character inexorably changed by the end of the narrative.
Emma Donoghue , Room, Kindle edn ([n.p.]: Picador Classic, 2010).
Business Insider, The heartbreaking story of Genie, a feral child who will never learn to communicate (2015)
Samuel Richardson, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, 1890 edn (London: Milner & Company, 1740).
Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, 2003 edn (1719)
Janice Harayda, Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room,’ a Resurrection Allegory(2015)
1Emma Donoghue, ‘Room’, Kindle edition 2010, (p.16)
2Emma Donoghue, ‘Room’, Kindle edition 2010, (p. 85)
3Emma Donoghue, ‘Room’, Kindle edition 2010, (p. 166)
4Business Insider, ‘The heartbreaking story of Genie, a feral child who will never learn to communicate’.
5Samuel Richardson, ‘Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded’ (Milner and Company, 1880 ed.) (pg. 285)
6Janice Harayda, ‘Room: A Resurrection Allegory’ (2015)
7Daniel Defoe, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (Penguin Classics, 2003 ed.) (pg. 7)
8Daniel Defoe, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (Penguin Classics, 2003 ed.) (pg. 10)
9Daniel Defoe, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (Penguin Classics, 2003 ed.) (pg. 10)
10Daniel Defoe, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (Penguin Classics, 2003 ed.) (pg. 50)
11Daniel Defoe, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (Penguin Classics, 2003 ed.) (pg. 60)
12Daniel Defoe, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (Penguin Classics, 2003 ed.) (pg. 111)
13Emma Donoghue, ‘Room’, Kindle edition 2010, (pg. 315)
Tomorrow Will Be Anxious for Itself: A Close Reading of Devotion and Allusion in “Pamela”
On page 496 of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, the young woman ponders her account of God’s mysteries. Her story’s strange circumstances provide sight of both personas of Mr. B___: one foul, one noble. Her successful endurance through frightening displays of his physical control over her fuels burgeoning comprehension of the role lack of worry plays in self-preservation. A reading of the scene contextualized by Matthew 6 allows the reader to grasp the ways in which Richardson might have used Scripture to ground exposition of the residual anxiety that haunts Pamela in matrimony; at the very least, we see that her inability to accept the bliss afforded to her is allegorical, rather than annoying.
Samuel Richardson held religion in high esteem, particularly as a reason to write. He pursued “an easy and natural manner” rather than that of the “improbable and marvellous” romances of his time (Dobson). The unrealistic nature of Pamela’s romance suggests that the author intended more meaning than the sentiments directly expressed. Rather, it seems that he intended her natural confusion and reservation regarding the new state of Mr. B___ as kind partner to emphasize Matthew 6, a chapter that might, to a hesitant reader, appear to be more about birds than personal freedom. Pamela spends pages on these trepidations: just after her husband assuages them, she begins again. To the reader, these concerns feel repetitive and unnecessary. To an eternal God, they must be even more so.
The simplicity of Pamela’s joy establishes that her issues meant less than they did at the time. Her letters create a record of difficulties, and even though she escapes the compulsion to cast herself as a victim (outside of well-intentioned verse), they represent the human urge to cultivate a record of wrongs. Richardson shifts the message to that of Matthew 6. In doing so, he upholds the reality that humans, like birds, are not created to store anything up or away. Here, we see that Pamela is not able to contain her feelings, so much so that Mr. B____ “would [only] permit [her] to say, That I was not displeased with him!—Displeased with you, dearest Sir! said I: Let me thus testify my Obligations, and the force all your Commands shall have upon me” (496). The reflexivity of her excited words draws through from the dully lyrical sentences before it to the moment of truth, and she kisses him, viewing it as a Liberty.
Neither of them can handle the intensity of their love, but she accedes to fear almost immediately. She draws away, writing “but yet my Mind was pained at times, and has been to this Hour.” She receives a gift, yet places constraints on emotion. Pamela expresses thoughts that are centered on Mr. B___’s death, concluding that she “cannot bear to suppose—[she] cannot say more on such a deep Subject!” She proceeds with the thought that human Life is a “poor thing… subjected to imaginary Evils” and loses sight of what compelled her to begin with.
This method of thought is perfidious because of how quickly it draws her off track. Throughout this, she holds her concerns to be below her “shallow Mind.” Although this may be true, the connection to her God sustains hundreds of pages; throughout these, she often brushes off what matters in a misguided attempt to feel free in her own way. Then when she is surprised by what happens, it fits in as something distinct, accepted within her parameters rather than as something to witness. Richardson teases out the qualities of her experience, exploring the series of perturbations and how she addresses the realities, hopes, dreams, and fears of a constantly-evolving life. In passages such as this one, he plants sentences that show her mindset; here, she thinks of death as an ending for “this excellently generous Benefactor” and buries her feelings in worry. Here, like before, she prays what she wants. This act frees her from the brutal words which pinpoint the experience of her incidentally-tumultuous life. In doing so, she attains the acuity and focus to draw her through to another era.
Pamela maintains a posture of worship while warding off her sly Master, who attempts to exert himself over her. Despite the threat of violent rape, Pamela worships the LORD; her eyes retain light and she avoids the expression of darkness. She remains pure. Ultimately, she perceives the futility of “Apprehension of remote Contingencies” due to joy which truly abounds (Richardson 496). The institution of marriage guides Pamela to rely on Mr. B____ as she begins to release the burden of wariness. Her life soon becomes peaceful, as Pamela witnesses the sustenance of Mr. B___’s ardent love for her. The discourse of this passage with the sixth chapter of Matthew showcases Pamela’s newfound maturity.
The anxiety she experiences arises from worries of instability and sequestration. From attempted escape by way of a window to hidden letters, she continually turns to suitable devices for the maiden under duress who Richardson so disdains. However, she persists with a determined spirit and dedication to her personal record. The reward of her hope lies in Heaven, safe from the theft posing danger to treasure on Earth. The implicit presence of the Bible in Pamela justifies an examination of implicit parallels between the teachings of Jesus and the beliefs of Pamela, who esteems the power of language. Moreover, the textual evidence appears particularly significant in light of Richardson’s Biblical references throughout the novel, as documented in footnotes. Pamela’s consistent use of the moniker “Master” for Mr. B____ helps the reader understand the nature of Pamela’s trials. She cannot prevent the will of Mr. B____ even as she sequesters herself, yet she escapes scotch-free; as her life is in flux, the prospect of subjection to matrimonial constraints frightens her, so much so that she displays it as a yearning for reassurance. Mr. B____ occupies a position from which she could be destroyed externally or internally scarred, yet God persists.
This means that Mr. B____ never shakes Pamela’s faith, even when she herself does not feel a thing. His positioning as husband illustrates that Pamela has no reason to escape: she is safe. Before matrimony, her salvation rests with the man’s actions. Jesus says, “no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Pamela overcomes her disgust of Mr. B____ without displacing the significance of God in her life. Her overtly Christian marriage solidifies the hierarchy of duty in which Pamela places herself. Her dedication to her husband serves as worship to the overarching Master, while Mr. B____ cultivates his own religious devotion.
The scene in Pamela holds strong parallels to the themes of Matthew 6, and further attention only strengthens grounds for a Biblical comparison. For one thing, Richardson’s contemporaries knew the Book well, whether more for its literary merit or religious status. Another reason is the general significance of the chapter, which contains the Lord’s Prayer. The connection initially appears in terms of worry and general concern, but this originates in trust; Pamela must feel the release of her justified tension before she knows what is next. Perhaps surprisingly, her difficult past allows her to move beyond the barriers she sets up for herself. Only through worship does she escape the impulse to hold back and solely express the things she would like to hear assuaged. This selfish desire prevents the bliss God intends for her, and Richardson hopes to show this.
Aside from page 494, when Mr. B___ suggests that he is not “such a Herod” as to ask Pamela never to seek any other men in the event of separation, the closest religious footnote appears on page 447. This defines the concept of “supererogatory,” which is defined as “the surplus of good works.” In Roman Catholicism, this form of performance can mitigate the effect of sin and help the penitent sinner. This formulation of merit contrasts with the religious development of Pamela and Mr. B___, who learn not to trust external signifiers of devotion through the processes of misunderstanding and resolution. Matthew 6 elucidates Pamela’s meditation, and analysis of her thoughts in light of the chapter helps absorption of the lessons contained in the text. Mr. B___’s request for her to maintain pleasant appearance cannot perturb her while she begins to comprehend that her body cannot be defined by the nature of her dress . Samuel Richardson’s interaction with Biblical guidance demonstrates the pathways through which Pamela and Mr. B____ transcend class for the sake of their love. The reassurance of Jesus’ words allow Pamela to move beyond her initial preoccupation with manner and aesthetic. Herein lies her freedom.
Richardson wished to avoid the improbable novel, and, in Pamela, he establishes startling plot twists in such a way as to draw the attention of his reader to the Bible. His interaction with the chapter of Matthew 6 shows how an allegory provides subtle insight to a framework of cultural awareness, and that this long-ago novel interacts with a passage familiar today. The section of his novel displays more than just the fabric of influence, especially because he avoids direct allusion in this way. Rather, he uses the epistolary form to track Pamela’s consciousness as she grapples with her life and lives amidst a world of strange improbabilities.
Womanhood and Its Implications in Richardson’s Pamela
Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded is an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, published in 1740 and set in the first half of the eighteenth century. It is said that this novel went against the aristocratic dimension of the typical romantic themes that the majority of readers were used to (Virtue, Gender, and the Authentic Self in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 1, Christine Roulston, 1998). It is of every significance that the lead character in this novel is the blossoming and beautiful Pamela. Her gender and her social ranking in society play key roles in the unfolding of this story and are precisely the factors that led her to become the sexual target of her employer. We witness this controversial tale of seduction and virtue through the thoughts and words of a young woman who was preyed upon by someone who had great power over her. Gender is one of the main themes in this novel, and Pamela’s own gender in particular plays a key role in this tale.
Pamela’s gender was not as significant when her master had been a woman, Mr. B’s mother. Although they were placed differently on the social ladder, they were equally female. However, after her passing, Mr B had control over Pamela. Not only was he seen as more valuable in society’s eyes, but he was also a man. At this time, in the early eighteenth century and arguably even in the present day, men were seen as the more dominant gender. Disregarding his position as her employer, if they had been of the same social class, people probably would of seen him as having the upper hand regardless, simply because of his gender. Gender also plays a key role not only because Pamela is female, but because of the incident when Mr. B took it upon himself to dress as a woman similar to Pamela. After his many failed attempts to seduce his beautiful, young servant, he decided to lower himself to the position of his workers and disguise himself as one of Pamela’s colleagues, Nan. After the rejection that he had received previously, this act showed how desperate this man was to be with this young girl. In this scene of disguise, Pamela not only undresses her body but she also speaks emotionally which is in fact undressing her mind in front of Mr. B, her employer (Virtue, Gender, and the Authentic Self in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 14, Christine Roulston, 1998). Because Pamela is a female, it is perfectly okay in this novel to be undressing and reflecting truthfully on her thoughts in front of other female colleagues including Mrs. Jewkes but not in front of Mr. B or any other man. In order for Mr. B to get a closer look at Pamela’s body and a more intimate understanding of her mind, it was necessary for him to become a ‘woman’, even if it was just for a short period of time, it worked.
Pamela’s whole identity displays her as an easy target, Her undeniable youthful beauty attracts her sexual predator. If the protagonist had not been a character of such a young age, she would not have looked like such a naive and vulnerable aim for Mr. B. Her youth is a clear reason why she is so strongly maintaining her chastity, in honour of her poor parents.The fact that Pamela comes from a family that are severely less fortunate than Mr. B’s family, is very important in this play. This immediately places Mr. B above Pamela in the reader’s mind, even if we don’t realise it. Pamela herself even places Mr. B above her, because of his wealth and her lack of it. She is shocked that he would even consider a girl like her: “Well, but, Mrs. Jervis, said I, let me ask you, if he can stoop to like such a poor girl as me, as perhaps he may, (for I have read of things almost as strange, from great men to poor damsels,) What can it be for?—He may condescend, perhaps, to think I may be good enough for his harlot; and those things don’t disgrace men that ruin poor women, as the world goes” (Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded, Letter XIX Samuel Richardson, 1740). We learn through the letters that Pamela’s parents send to her that their family was once very much above the poverty that they are experiencing at the time this story took place. “We are, ’tis true, very poor, and find it hard enough to live; tho’ once, as you know, it was better with us” (Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded, Letter II, Samuel Richardson, 1740). As his servant, Pamela’s job description is to serve him. This gives Mr. B intense power over his worker. Pamela is aware that Mr. B has complete control over her, particularly when he was keeping her in captivity. “And pray, said I, walking on, how came I to be his Property? What right has he in me, but such as a Thief may plead to stolen Goods? Why, was ever the like heard, says she! This is downright Rebellion, I protest!” (Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded, Samuel Richardson, 1740). This seems to be one of the main reasons that Mr. B made physical advances towards Pamela. Because he was in charge of her and was the one providing her with almost everything in her life, he may have thought that he was entitled to whatever he wanted from her. Undeniably, this was far from the truth.
In a sense, Mr. B was a villainous person who seemed to look down on the people who were not as entitled as him. He was used to getting what he desired, however he was unable to receive Pamela and her body in the way that he wanted. He tried forcing himself on her, raping her and even directly asking her to be his mistress. Perhaps he did look down on Pamela, but he also seemed to be fascinated by her and the fact that she would not accept his flirtatious offers and advances. Her role as a servant was very important to the story of Pamela, because despite what he thought, Mr. B’s wealth and the fact that his occupation was ranked above Pamela’s, did not mean that he was entitled to her in a sexual nor an emotional way.After reading this shocking yet entertaining novel, I feel quite sorry for Pamela’s character. Although this is a fictional novel, it indicates that there were countless young women in Pamela’s position. She was a young fifteen year old girl, full of youth, virtue and innocence. She was also living in such poverty that she desperately took the position of a slave to provide for her family. This character is full of kindness and goodwill, but yet she was the one who was targeted and manipulated by a man as unpleasant and controlling as Mr. B. At the end of the novel, when the couple are ‘happily’ married, the title Virtue Rewarded can be contemplated. It suggests that because of the kind of person she was, she was lucky to have ended up with her master, Mr. B. In my opinion, being married to a man who was willing to compromise her virtue was not a great enough reward for refusing to compromise her virtue all along; perhaps it was indeed her youth and social ranking that caused her naivety.
Throughout the novel, Pamela was strong minded and brave, maintaining her pride and virtue in honour of herself and her poverty stricken parents. However, we as readers may have overestimated her independence, as she proves when she eventually falls for a man who has treated her in the past with such disrespect. It is every reader’s delight to see that the lovely character of Pamela who was once so poor is no longer struggling financially, nor are her family. But it is still disheartening to read that she has settled and found her ‘happy’ life with Mr. B. Although the ending is unexpected and hard to comprehend, it is a very intriguing piece of socially-minded literature. In a letter to his friend Aaron Hill penned after he had written this novel, Richardson himself claimed that it was “a new species of writing” (Virtue, Gender, and the Authentic Self in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, (Christine Roulston, 1998).
The Effective and Ineffective Uses of the Epistolary Form: Assessing ‘Pamela’ and ‘The Coquette’
Literature is often used as a medium to explain some facet of human emotion. It exists as a way for people to gain an understanding of others. Certain narrative forms achieve this goal with greater ease than others, but it is truly the implementation of the form that determines the degree of success. Pamela utilizes epistolary form in a way that poorly represents the human condition and makes it nearly impossible to properly empathize with the central characters, but The Coquette gives the audience a superior form of narration by tapping into the omniscience that occurs when reading from the perspective of varying characters.
In Pamela, particularly, the epistolary form makes it very difficult to trust the narrator. When nearly every letter begins with “Dear Father and Mother,” everything Pamela writes must be seen through more skeptical eyes (Richardson 11). Because Pamela’s parents are the recipients of her letters, she becomes an incredibly unreliable narrator. Her parents are obviously very concerned about her virtue, especially when they say “But we would sooner live upon the water and clay of the ditches I am forc’d to dig, than to live better at the price of our dear child’s ruin,” (Richardson 13). It seems as though Pamela’s parents value her virtue above all else, and the loss of it may harden them towards her. With this in mind, it is easy to assume Pamela edits her letters to emphasize her great virtue and how hard she works to maintain it. But this also means that the audience cannot be sure of anything Pamela writes and many of the events of the novel are thrown into question.
This knowledge is particularly important with the characterization of Mr. B. He writes to Pamela’s father that what she has written about him is clearly “so injurious to my honor and reputation,” trying to convince him that he is not being as horrible to Pamela as one would think from her letters (Richardson 115). Mr. B, at the very least, wants to believe he is not the man that Pamela portrays him as in her letters. The way Pamela writes Mr. B makes the audience distrust him, but if Pamela’s perspective cannot be trusted, maybe Mr. B is actually being unjustly slandered. Pamela could be writing these encounters to make her parents think she is the perfect, virtuous daughter while painting Mr. B as the villain to remove blame from herself. With what the audience knows about Mr. B, it is difficult to imagine him as anything other than the detestable rapist he is described as, but the story also becomes more palatable if Pamela’s description of him is at least slightly embellished for dramatic effect. The literary trope Richardson utilizes in the subtitle of the work suggests one the enduring themes of literature: those who are virtuous and good are rewarded, while vices are punished. As such, it would seem that Mr. B cannot be the monster Pamela paints him as, or by the logic of the novel he would not be rewarded with Pamela’s hand in marriage. It would certainly explain Pamela’s reluctance to return home at the beginning of the novel when her parents believed Mr. B was too great a threat to virtue. If Pamela truly felt threatened by Mr. B, the smart decision would be to get away from him at the first opportunity, but she does not. Pamela only explains her hesitation with the fact that she wanted to finish the waistcoat she had been working on, and without any other perspective, the audience must take this as the only answer that will be given.
When Mr. B demands that Pamela let him read her letters, there is another layer of deceit embedded in her words. Her audience has changed, and now Pamela is concerned with what Mr. B will think of the horrible things she has attributed to him. This could easily be used to her advantage because Mr. B will believe what she writes to be her candid, unfiltered thoughts. Her newfound love of Mr. B could be embellished, or entirely imagined, for the purpose of falling further into his favor. If he believes she is in Lincolnshire now because she loves him, he could grant her greater freedoms, like being allowed to leave the estate more often or hire a nicer maid. While this kind of manipulation may be beyond Pamela’s capabilities, it could explain the shift in her attitude from desperate to escape to complacent and content.
Beyond Pamela’s potential for willful deception, there is a degree to which she could believe she is telling the truth. She is young and may not necessarily understand everything that is happening around her. The simple fact that everyone seems to instantly adore her throws her perceptiveness into question. It is unclear whether this is a result of a poor understanding of others or a lie told to her parents (and later to Mr. B) to convince them that she is doing okay. Additionally, Pamela’s descriptions of people tend to be fairly surface-level. The limited perspective she gives of those around her make Pamela seem shallow and unperceptive, or at the very least self-centered. Her untrustworthy view hinders the readers’ understanding of the characters in the novel. Their motivations are not known, along with many other aspects of their lives. This is particularly interesting in the case of Mr. B. If the way Pamela describes Mr. B is accurate, he must have some serious underlying psychological issues. But as much as Pamela talked about him in relation to her, she does not mention much of his formative years or what made him into this monster of a person. This could easily be a result of her self-centered nature, but these limits of her perspective in this epistolary form leave gaps in her stories that make it much more difficult to relate to the characters.
It becomes very difficult to empathize with or like characters when everything they say cannot be fully trusted. Because Pamela is written with an unreliable narrator in an unreliable form, the kind of relatability a reader is often looking for in a main character is lacking. When a character is in a situation like Pamela was, readers generally feel sorry for them. But with Pamela, it is easy to find her annoying and frustrating. Disliking a character in such a pitiable situation is uncomfortable as a reader and adds a layer of separation from Pamela. She is not accessible as a character because of her obsession with her virtue and her writing about the constant praise of others is off-putting. This focus on her virtue is understandable with how society has ingrained in Pamela that her virtue should be her most treasured quality. To navigate the world she resides in, she must carefully guard her virtue from the likes of Mr. B. Above all, the love of her parents would certainly be lost with the loss of her virtue, so it is reasonable that it permeates her thoughts so frequently.
It is also worth noting that nearly all the letters in Pamela are written by Pamela, and if they are not, they are written to her. There are no letters providing an alternate perspective on what Pamela is like or why everyone is so fond of her. Humanity is generally disinclined to believe the face-value of a person’s words and as readers, varying perspectives on a situation are incredibly helpful in the understanding the truth of what happened. Because Pamela never offers this, the audience is naturally going to doubt her authenticity, particularly when her antagonist is the only character that offers up any criticism. This lack of dislike is simply unrealistic and contributes to a flatter interpretation of Pamela. In contrast, The Coquette offers varying perspectives on Eliza. Readers see how her friends and potential love interests think about her as she navigates the world after the death of her long-suffering fiancé. This allows readers to get a far more in-depth view of the true feelings of the characters and know the accuracy of the events that occur. It also provides a much better-rounded image of Eliza. By giving Eliza flaws and telling the audience about them, Foster creates a character that is a person. Eliza becomes relatable and interesting, where Pamela is this pillar of virtue, which is difficult for a modern audience to relate to.
Because Foster utilizes the epistolary form with multiple perspectives, The Coquette is able to portray a deeper understanding of the supporting characters and the general world in which they are residing. The audience is better able to understand society within The Coquette when Eliza’s friends encourage her to be less coquette-like or when Major Sanford visits Eliza almost daily. Through instances like these, the audience is able to imagine this setting without outside knowledge. Additionally, the alternate perspectives serve to make the story less focused on the individual and more focused on the cast of characters. While the majority of the letters do have the primary focus of Eliza and events surrounding her, there are notable insights in to the other characters in her story.
A particularly interesting insight is that of Eliza’s mother upon news of her daughter’s death. When she read of the news, she “with inexpressible anguish depicted in her countenance, pointed to the paper,” to indicate to Julia why she was so upset (Foster 119). She is in such severe emotional pain, and even though the audience sees this through the eyes of Julia, the reaction stings in a way that would simply be impossible if the story was told only from Eliza’s perspective. This kind of epic despair is lacking in Pamela because the audience never sees people other than Pamela reacting to the events that transpire. While Pamela notes the way others may behave, there is something less accurate in her descriptions. Pamela just seems to not be able to read people particularly well, which leaves the audience to doubt her understanding of them. Conversely, Julia seems to provide a fairly reliable account of the events in the Wharton home during her time there, especially because being observational is one of the primary goals of her stay.
The perspectives of Eliza’s friends play a key role in the narrative. Their letters are of principal importance in the characterization of Eliza. Lucy, in particular, knows Eliza very well, as can be seen when she writes, “You have hastily perused the preceding lines, and are straining your eye forward to my part in the farce,” (Foster 18). Lucy understands the many child-like attributes of her close friend, including her impatience and easy excitement. While some of this could be noted from Eliza’s correspondence, the way her friends communicate with her betray the less savory aspects of her character that she is less likely to immediately own up to. Lucy warns her against being overly flirtatious because she knows that this newfound freedom might affect her reputation negatively. But this kind of friendship also betrays that many of the positive character traits Eliza possesses are not exaggerated. Early in their relationship, Mr. Boyer says that, “I find the graces of her person and mind rise in my esteem, and have already enjoyed in her society some of the happiest hours of my life,” (Foster 22). While this is the opinion of one of her suitors, the words ring a little truer than the praises of Pamela. This is a quote from the man himself, explaining his feelings, instead of Eliza telling the audience she believes he feels this way. Additionally, she has these strong, knowing friendships that imply that Eliza is a good friend, even though she may sometimes behave like a coquette. These kind of strong relationships and altering perspectives give the audience a clearer understanding of Eliza.
Eliza, on her own, is still not an entirely reliable narrator. The quality of her information varies depending on her mood and other circumstances. When Eliza is her energetic, effervescent self early in the novel, her accounts of events and herself are more detailed and provide greater insight into the happenings of her life. But later, when she falls into a depression following the rejection from Mr. Boyer, her voice becomes a little lost as she is less inclined to be around people or talk about events. It is vital that Julia is with her during this time, corresponding about Eliza’s well-being with Lucy. Without her narrative voice, the audience would lose many pieces of the plot through Eliza’s omission. By simply reading Eliza’s letters alone, readers may understand that she is upset and unsociable, but it takes a third party to fully understand the degree to which Mr. Boyer has cut her.
Mr. Boyer is also more significantly fleshed out as a character through reading his correspondence to friends and to Eliza herself. When he feels betrayed by her, he tells her, “I write not as a lover, – that connection between us is forever dissolved,” indicating how easily and permanently he can resolve himself against her (Foster 59). Mr. Boyer represents himself in his letters slightly differently than those around him do. His tone has an air of resoluteness and strength that is markedly absent from Eliza’s letters. He seems to possess an air of self-awareness in that he will not be trifled with and will not accept less than he deserves. There is a great degree of strength in this, and it is possible that this reaction to the incident in the garden with Major Sanford helped Eliza realize that Mr. Boyer would make a fine husband. She is far more indecisive than Mr. Boyer and only realizes how strongly she felt for him once she understands she can never have him. It is an unfortunate effect of her youthful mindset; Eliza becomes too caught up in the notion of freedom once her fiancé dies to understand that there are limitations to what she can do to still end up happy. When she realizes this, the scramble of having to choose between her two suitors seems to fluster her and possibly affect her decision in a negative way. Her friends repeatedly tell her that Mr. Boyer is the proper choice in husband, but she does not agree until it is too late. By seeing the letters of Eliza’s friends and of Mr. Boyer, the audience is better able to understand the true appeal of a husband like Mr. Boyer.
In reading letters from Major Sanford, the audience becomes privy to his rakish nature. While the perspectives of Eliza’s friends provide this view as well, the purity in Major Sanford’s own writing proves so entirely how horrible he is. When talking about Eliza, he claims that he cannot marry her because “It would hurt even my delicacy, little as you may think me to possess, to have a wife whom I know to be seducible,” (Foster 116). This is a fairly despicable thing to say considering he was the one seducing her. At the very least, it is hypocritical, especially with the knowledge that she is carrying his child. By that point, one would hope he could get over this ingrained desire to not marry unless it benefited him financially, but it is not so. The biggest issue with this is that Eliza is convinced that her love could reform this rake. Even though her friends warn her against it and push her toward accepting the hand of the respectable, if boring, Mr. Boyer, Eliza is still attracted to the excitement that surrounds Major Sanford. If this story was only viewed through the eyes of Eliza, the audience would not be able to fully comprehend the full spectrum of Sanford’s debauchery.
A large portion of the plot in The Coquette would be lost if the story was told by a single narrator. The novel would be much less enjoyable and would be missing the theme of ongoing friendship that is so prevalent through the letters. It would not be able to properly function without the various perspectives. In contrast, the way Richardson utilizes the epistolary form in Pamela exhibits the problematic aspects of the form. Because he limits his perspective to the correspondence of one character, there is little trust or empathy from the readers. The plot and characters are lacking the deeper development that can only be provided by a trustworthy narration and the novel becomes less enjoyable because of that. While that might not be the purpose of the work, it should be noted that The Coquette had a fairly similar premise and cast, yet was able to provide things that Pamela could not. While this could be an effect of Eliza’s older age or the fact that she is more likely to own up to her mistakes than Pamela, a lot of the blame rests on the way the information is presented. Richardson does accurately portray a fifteen year-old girl stuck in a horrible situation, his story just lacks a mature voice to give a less biased account of events.
Because The Coquette was published so many years after Pamela, Foster had the opportunity to compare and build up her work in the areas Pamela was lacking. Readers can be certain of so much more in The Coquette which creates a deeper understanding of the characters. Doubting the veracity of events keeps readers too uncomfortable to form attachments to characters and hinders the novel’s ability to elicit an emotional response. With this as a primary objective in the creation of most art, it is clear that Pamela could not achieve this in the way it intended. It brings up feelings of disgust or abhorrence, but does not quite reach the level of sad empathy Pamela’s story should provoke. Because The Coquette utilized multiple perspectives in its epistolary form, Foster created a novel that easily depicted the human condition, while Pamela could not measure up.
Foster, Hannah Webster. The Coquette. New York: Published for the Facsimile Text Society by
Columbia UP, 1939. Print.
Richardson, Samuel. Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded. New York: Norton, 1958. Print.