Thursday, December 29, 2011

462. Pamela – Samuel Richardson

History: This book, also called Virtue Rewarded, was first published in 1740. Epistolary novels – that is, novels written as series of letters – were extremely popular during the eighteenth century and it was Richardson's Pamela that made them so. Richardson and other novelists of his time argued that the letter allowed the reader greater access to a character's thoughts - Richardson claimed that he was writing "to the moment", that is, that Pamela's thoughts were recorded nearly simultaneously with her actions.
In the novel, Pamela writes two kinds of letters. At the beginning of the novel, while she is deciding how long to stay on at Mr. B's after the death of his mother, she writes letters to her parents relating her various moral dilemmas and asking for their advice. After Mr. B abducts her and imprisons her in his country house, she continues to write letters to her parents, but because she is unsure whether or not her parents will ever receive them, they are to be considered both letters and a diary.
In Pamela, the letters are almost exclusively written by the heroine, restricting the reader's access to the other characters; we see only Pamela's perception of them.
The popularity of Richardson’s novel led to much public debate over its message and style. Richardson responded to some of the criticisms by revising the novel for each new edition; he even created a “reading group” of women to advise him. Some of the most significant changes that he made were his alterations to Pamela’s vocabulary. In the first edition her diction is that of a lower-class maid, but in later editions Richardson made her more linguistically middle-class by removing the lower-class idioms from her speech. In this way, he made her marriage to Mr. B less scandalous as she appeared to be more his equal in education.
Plot: Pamela Andrews is a young servant of 15, very pious and innocent, serving Lady B. as a waiting-maid, in Bedfordshire. When the lady dies, her son, the squire Mr. B, shows more and more his attraction towards Pamela, first by being kind to her (he gives her his mother's clothes), then by trying to take advantage of her in the Summer House. But she resists, and as he wants to pay her to keep the secret, she refuses and tells Mrs Jervis, the housekeeper (her best friend in the house, a motherly figure although faithful to Mr. B). He pops out of her closet and tries to kiss her, after watching her undress for bed. Pamela thinks of going back to her poverty-ridden parents to preserve her innocence, but can't make up her mind. Mr. B plans to marry her to Mr. Williams, his chaplain in Lincolnshire, and gives money to her parents in case she then lets him take advantage of her. She refuses and decides to go back to her parents.
But Mr. B intercepts her letters to her parents and tells them she is having an affair with a poor clergyman and that he will send her to a safe place to preserve her honour. Pamela is then driven to Lincolnshire Estate and begins a journal (because she is a prisoner and can't write letters anymore) hoping it will be sent to her parents one day. The housekeeper there, Mrs. Jewkes, is very different from Mrs. Jervis: she is an "odious," rude, "unwomanly" woman (Pamela speculates that she is perhaps even "an atheist!") and is devoted to Mr. B. She imposes Pamela to be her bedfellow. Mr. B promises her that he won't approach her without her leave (indeed he's away from Lincolnshire for a long time).
Pamela meets Mr. Williams and they agree to communicate by putting letters under a sunflower of the garden. Mrs. Jewkes beats her because she calls her a Jezebel. Mr. Williams asks the gentry of the village for help and, even though they pity Pamela, no one agrees to help her because of Mr. B's social position. Mr. Williams proposes marriage to her in order to escape Mr. B's wickedness.
Mr. Williams is attacked and beaten by robbers. Pamela wants to escape when Mrs. Jewkes is away, but is very frightened by two bulls watching her (they are actually cows). By mistake, Mr. Williams reveals the correspondence to Mrs. Jewkes and, as a result, Mr. B is jealous and says he hates Pamela. He wants to marry her to one of his servants. Mr. Williams is arrested. Pamela is desperate; she thinks of running away and making them believe she has been drowned in the pond. She tries to climb a wall, but can't do it: she is injured and renounces escape.
Mr. B comes back. He sends her a list of articles which would rule their partnership: she refuses each point because it would mean to be his mistress. Mr. B tries to go to bed with her disguised as Nan (the housemaid) with the complicity of Mrs. Jewkes, but Pamela faints and thwarts his designs. He seems to repent then, he is kinder in his attempts to seduce her. She implores him to cease. When he talks to her in the garden, he implicitly says he loves her but can't marry her because of the social gap.
A gypsy fortune-teller wants to predict Pamela's future, but only in order to give her a bit of paper warning her against a sham-marriage. Pamela has hidden a parcel of letters under a rose bush, and, when she comes to take them back, Mrs. Jewkes seizes them and gives them to Mr. B. After having read the letters, Mr. B feels pity for what she has undergone because of him and decides to marry her.
But she still doubts him and begs him to let her return to her parents. He is vexed but lets her go. She bids him goodbye and feels strangely sad. On her way home, he sends her a letter wishing her a good life. Pamela is moved and realizes she is in love. Then he sends her a second paper asking her to come back because he's very ill: she accepts.
Pamela and Mr. B talk of their future life as husband and wife and she agrees with everything he says. She explains why she doubted him. This is the end of her trials: she is more submissive to him and owes him everything now as a wife. Mr. Williams is released. Some neighbours come to the estate and all admire Pamela. Pamela's father comes to take her away but he is reassured when he sees Pamela happy.
Finally, she marries Mr. B in the chapel. But when Mr. B has gone to see a sick man, his sister, Lady Davers comes to threaten Pamela and considers her not really married. Pamela escapes by the window and goes in Colbrand's chariot to be taken away to Mr. B. The following day, Lady Davers enters their room without permission and insults Pamela. Mr. B is furious; he wants to renounce his sister, but Pamela wants to reconcile the two of them. But Lady Davers is still contemptuous towards Pamela. Vexed, she mentions Sally Godfrey, a girl Mr. B seduced in his youth, with whom he had a child. He is cross with Pamela because she dared approach him when he was in a temper.
Lady Davers accepts Pamela. Mr. B explains to Pamela what he expects of his wife. They go back to Bedfordshire. Pamela rewards the good servants with money and forgives John, who betrayed her. They make a little "Airing" to a farmhouse and encounter Miss Goodwin, Mr. B's child. Pamela would like to take her with them. They learn that Sally Godfrey is now happily married in Jamaica. Pamela is praised by the gentry of the neighbourhood who once despised her.
Review:  Released in 1740, it created a tidal wave of what we would now characterize as "media attention" and "popularity." Pamela was the right book at the right time and this confluence of time/place/text adds importance to the book itself.  The author, Samuel Richardson, was a commoner, without the aristocratic background of his rival, Henry Fielding or contemporary Tobias Smolett.  
Unlike his great contemporary and rival, Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson could boast of no connection, however remote, with an aristocratichouse. He himself has informed us that he came of a family " of middling note," in the county of Surrey, from which we may conjecture that his ancestors were small landed gentry or respectable yeomen.
Thomson's biography mentions that in the 1740's, people were still a tad fuzzy on the concept of a fictional story, "Richardson was at once overwhelmed with letters from eager readers who longed to know
whether the story was true." (Thomson, Samuel Richardson) It is against this back drop that you need to consider the development of the english novel as a real step forward in terms of the cultural sophistication of the readers. You can literally see the human mind moving away from the simplicity of the middle ages (and its literary forms.)
I think it's fair to say that the contribution of Pamela, in a nut shell, is the depth of psychological complexity of the characters. That is what the novel is all about: adding psychological depth to the depiction of character.
And so it is that the reader finds himself/herself relating to these characters, written three hundred plus years ago. Pamela tells the story of Pamela Edwards, a serving girl of 16. Her mistress dies and his son takes over the estate. The son has a thing for Pamela, so after she rejects a couple clumsy advances, he does what any 18th century nobleman would do: Has her kidnapped and imprisoned at his remote estate.
Now, anyone reading the above will understand that the activities depicted aren't in any way contemporary, but the depiction of character is. What we are witnessing in Pamela is the birth of literary consciousness of self and identity. It's interesting to read about but at the same time at 500 pages Pamela turns into a slog at time. You can see where it is an early version of the novel as literary form- sine there is a resolution/climax half way through the book, followed by 200 pages of material that would no doubt not reach print these days. 
Opening Line: “Dear Father and Mother, I have great trouble, and some comfort, to acquaint you with.”
Closing Line: And the Editor of these sheets will have his end, if it inspires a laudable emulation in the minds of any worthy persons, who may thereby entitle themselves to the rewards, the praises, and the blessings, by which PAMELA was so deservedly distinguished.
Quotes: “...for my master, bad as I have thought him, is not half so bad as this woman.--To be sure she must be an atheist!”
Rating: Very Good

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