Discuss ornament in ‘Pamela’ and ‘Shamela’

June 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

‘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 naïve 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 façade 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 naïve 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 façade 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.

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