Samuel Richardson is considered by many to be the father of the novel (Cato). Bringing a new respectability to the form, Richardson, unlike others, according to critic Frances Mayhew Rippy, let his characters see and state plainly that their lives were the stuff from which a novel could be made. Samuel Richardson helped to transform the concept of the novel from a morally suspect diversion to a morally significant work of art (Rippy). Webster’s Dictionary defines revolution as, “a sudden, radical, or complete change”.
Pamela, Richardson’s first novel, would start a revolution in the literary world. Through Pamela, Richardson would suggest and examine the idea of a complete change within the role of women and the social structure of 18th century England. Winning over readers and praise alike, Pamela would even be the subject of satire by Richardson’s contemporary, Henry Fielding. Yet, Pamela would not start a revolution simply for being a novel, but for the radical new moral, class, and gender ideology underlining the pages of Pamela’s letters.
It is said by critics that Richardson wrote Pamela in an attempt to provide ‘forms to write after’ and ‘rules to think and act by’ in social and moral situations (Cato). Moreover, Richardson clearly identified his point in writing Pamela, “to paint VICE in its proper Colours, to make it deservedly Odious; and to set VIRTUE in its own amiable Light, to make it truly Lovely” (Cato). Richardson, took what mattered in the 18th century, and turned it around in order to create an example for others to follow. Pamela, as a three-dimensional character, was a rule for people to follow in life matters.
The story of Pamela was not a simple romance novel: To drive home the point that Pamela had loftier aims than a simple romance narrative, several hundred pages are devoted to Pamela’s behavior after the marriage, where her grace, intelligence, and humility- and the letters recounting her trials, freely given to anyone who asks- win over Mr. B’s suspicious family and aristocratic friends. Pamela’s ascension of wealth, class and happiness are presented as the rewards due to her exemplary virtue- the novel is subtitled ‘Virtue Rewarded’.
By examining Pamela’s every move, Richardson created a new female character type. As a result of Pamela’s lengthy, and sometimes tedious, letters, Richardson is able to truly develop a new breed of woman. The devotion to Pamela’s every thought is critical to the novel and to the revolution it outlined. Additionally, Pamela was not the familiar old story of a down and out servant. It was a new tale. A story that seemed real enough for people to mistake for being non-fiction, but a story that presented a twist to an old saga.
According to critic Ruth Bernard Yeazell: In Pamela, Richardson self-consciously set out to rewrite an old story: rather than the familiar tale of a serving girl seduced and abandoned, he would tell of one whose triumphant demonstration of her spiritual worth proved her deserving of marriage. As Mr. B himself says, “Her fine person made me a lover; but it was her mind, that made me a husband. ” (493) Though it may not be seen as revolutionary to modern readers, in the 18th century it was. As 21st century readers, we tend to focus on the bad parts of Pamela and Mr.
B. But it is more important to view the novel as someone from 18th century England might have. An old story that many could relate to, Pamela created a new, and more appealing, ending. All over England, Pamela was seen as an angel: Pamela was an instant success, with four new editions in 1741 alone. Pamela-mania was wide-spread: Horace Walpole wrote to a friend, ‘I can send you no news; the late singular novel is the universal, and only there- Pamela is like snow, she covers everything with her whiteness. Canny manufacturers produced Pamela-themed merchandise: fans engraved key scenes from the novel, round-eared caps- even a Pamela wax figure display. Ministers recommended Pamela from the pulpit, citing the heroine’s religious conviction and virtuous example. (Cato) Unlike Moll Flanders or other contemporary literary female characters, Pamela was someone to be emulated. According to Rippy, England was enthralled by Pamela: There had been other epistolary narratives before Richardson, but none had aroused the immediate and widespread attention that his did.
Among its admirers was Alexander Pope, who stayed up much of the night to finish it and asked Dr. George Cheyne to make his warm compliments to Richardson, telling him he had read his book “with great Approbation and Pleasure. ” (Rippy) The novel was gaining fans on both sides of knowledge, from scholars to ordinary people. Before Madonna or Britney Spears, there was Pamela, the role model and obsession for a girl that was approved by parents and ministers alike. Madonna and Britney seen as overtly sexy, and Pamela as overtly moral.
Though it is easy as a modern reader to tire of Pamela or to hate Pamela, it is much harder to find fault in her. Pamela may even be looked at as a hero; against the odds, she succeeded. Without money or education, Pamela maintains her virtue and marries up, something radical and unthinkable at the time. With traits inherent to Pamela, built upon by her virtue, Pamela enters into an honorable marriage. She is a woman by 18th century standards, but a fourteen-year-old girl in modern times. A poor and uneducated girl, she beats a rich, powerful, and older man at his own game.
Pamela does something that would be difficult today, let alone in the 1740s. The empowerment of this young girl named Pamela is revolutionary. Critic Betty A. Schellenberg states Richardson’s radical ideology in simple terms: Most striking among Richardson’s repeated invitations to his female readers to supply attributes and actions for the prospective hero is the half-assertion, half-complaint that “it is more in the power of young ladies than they seem to imagine, to make fine men” (Letters, p. 164).
The phrasing here suggests first that women, by virtue of their sex, have a unique creative or formative power over men- in other words, Richardson conceives of the imagination in gendered terms. (Schellenberg 599) Schellenberg’s statements on Richardson’s intentions and view of females, though large attributions for a male author of the 18th century, are supported in Pamela. Unlike other authors, Richardson presented a new view of women. He credited them with more intellect, imagination, and power than women viewed themselves as having.
Richardson’s view of women, continued Schellenberg, centered around five qualities that Richardson attributed to all women: (… ) weakness and passivity, domesticity, waywardness, curiosity, and imagination-become the basis for Richardson’s elaboration of the ideal female narrative as sensible yet playful, capable of endless elaboration as it circles delicately and exhaustively around its subjects, focused on the inward and private yet generating speculations and cautionary tales regarding the male world beyond its boundaries.
It is not difficult to see how this feminized narrative style serves Richardson’s purpose in spinning a very lengthy novel out of the rather meager plot of virtue in distress (… ) (Schellenberg 602) Richardson saw women as complex. And furthermore, he viewed women as empowered beings. Richardson did not choose a “feminized narrative style” just to make a longer novel out of a simple idea. He picked a female voice in order to connect with female readers. He surrounded himself by females, he related to them and valued their opinions. Pamela embraced a market that was largely ignored by male contemporaries of Richardson’s time.
Although Richardson still regarded women in relation to men, Richardson was one of the first authors to recognize the exciting and entertaining power that women have over men and over others. Women, unlike men, have something inside of them that is naturally intriguing. And, while some may look at the traits that Schellenberg credits Richardson with attributing to women as bad or unattractive, I look at them as revolutionary. I, as a woman, would rather be seen as curious and imaginative than a servant with nothing more to offer than a meal and a clean bed.
Whereas women had played in the background before, Pamela was the heroine of her novel. Her letters and thoughts alone enthralled a nation and became one of the most popular novels of the time. Richardson and Pamela also entertained the new idea that women not only processed a power that they were unaware of over men, but physical ability to turn bad men into good men. In Pamela, Pamela turns a rake into a suitable and honest husband. She creates an honest marriage and partnership with her would-be rapist. Richardson used women to change men not only in Pamela, but in his latter novel Clarissa, as well.
Schellenberg argues this point: Making a fine man, in other words, is not an ex nihilo act that celebrates the potency of the male deity or poet, but the creation of an environment of female modesty and generosity that encourages male essence to reveal itself fully. (Schellenberg 606) A good man, therefore, is not created on his accord. But rather, as Pamela exemplifies, by his environment created by a woman. Critic Frances Mayhew Rippy agrees that Richardson empowered women: Pamela then is a very optimistic novel.
In treating the theme of sexual empowerment, it suggests that by using the instruments available to her- the spoken and written word- quickly and deftly and wisely, the female can soften and sensitize the courting male sufficiently that he will ultimately cease to be physically and sexually dangerous to her, and will accept her partially on her own terms. In turn, she must learn to trust him and to rely upon him. Only then, as Pamela says in response to item thirty-two on Mr. B’s list of marriage terms, can husbands and wives be, as they ought to be, also friends. Rippy) Whereas all of the power once rested in the hands of man, and marriage was dealt with as a business deal rather than a partnership of friendship and love, Richardson, through Pamela, showed women their own strengths and power in marriage and courtship. Promoting a sort of harmony, Richardson put forth a new idea on marriage, one that rested on women’s natural instincts and a mutual understanding between a man and a woman. According to Rippy, there are two examples of the struggle for empowerment in Pamela and Pamela’s means of handling that struggle.
Outlined by Rippy, one is Pamela’s most dangerous escape attempt at the Lincolnshire estate: She (Pamela) drags herself back to the pond edge and contemplates with the pleasure their remorse at finding her dead, but sound theology intervenes, and she realizes that she must not arrogate to herself the divine power of saying when her life may end. Perhaps all these trials have been God’s plan to make her totally dependent on His grace. She accepts her fate, waits till morning in an outbuilding for wood and coal, accepts Mrs.
Jewkes’s abuse for her escape attempt, and records the whole incident in her journal. The episode is recounted with strong psychological power; when Mr. B reads the account, he is moved and softened by it. It becomes one of Pamela’s most powerful devices in moderating him before he can attack her. (Rippy) Pamela attempts to escape, and fails. However, her failure does not cause her to lose power. Pamela, in fact, gains power over Mr. B. Once again a scene that, in any other novel, would have been used to show a man’s control over a woman is reversed and flipped by Richardson to reveal the woman’s control.
The other incident is one in which Mr. B appears to have entire verbal control but does not. In Pamela, after Mr. B has married her, he gives her forty-eight rules for proper wifely behavior; she gives him none. It appears to be a very one-sided exchange. But Pamela, reporting the forty-eight conditions to her parents, frequently comments upon them in italics- and the comments are often what characters earlier in the novel have described in her as “‘per,” muttered objections, sharp responses which she makes, indicating that Mr. B is behaving in an unjust or unreasonable or indecorous manner.
She has won the main victory with the marriage; she is quietly refusing to concede some lesser points as well. Once again, Mr. B’s apparent victory is not as simple as it first appears. (Rippy) Pamela is thought of as virtuous and a fine wife, but her muttered comments show that Pamela maintains a “mind of her own”. She does not take everything Mr. B says lying down, and though she may not banter with him to his face, her mind is not empty. She is a thinking woman, a new character in the 18th century novel.
Through these two incidents in the novel, Pamela is shown to have more control and power than the reader or other characters in the book may first presume. Perhaps she is not the innocent virtuous girl that the reader first encounters, but rather a smart and intelligent woman who plans out every detail of her seemingly charmed life. Though revolution does occur within the pages of Richardson’s Pamela, the novel still maintains the sexual double standard that we have encountered in all of our readings this semester. In Pamela, this double standard is based primarily on class and gender.
Whereas Henry Fielding’s character, Tom Jones, functions as an example of masculine 18th century honor by maintaining honesty and integrity, Pamela is an example of female honor simply by maintaining her virtue, or virginity, throughout the novel. However, I have come to realize that there was more to Pamela, and the woman she represented, than her virginity. Pamela, like many women today, realized that her virginity, and her ability to resist Mr. B, was her power. It was what made her a woman.
Her virginity is her virtue, but moreover, it is her strongest power over Mr. B. While a woman of a higher class is expected to remain chaste, and not engage in premarital sex, a woman of Pamela’s status is expected to lack honor and engage in sexual activity whenever a male should see fit. Yet, Pamela is able to break that 18th century stereotype. As a class, we hated Pamela, but after analyzing her position and history more, I realize that she is worthy of respect. Over and over we have seen portrayals of the sexual double standard for men and women of 18th century literature. In Pamela, we once again witness men being held to a different sexual moral than women.
Though Mr. B is shown to be a rake, he is still considered to be an acceptable husband for someone as virtuous, pure, and upright as the lower class Pamela. Mr. B is free to act as any man of his time would. He is allowed to engage in sexual promiscuity without fear of judgement, and he is not punished for his acts. His attempts to rape Pamela are even turned around by another character in the book, Mr. B’s sister, to make Pamela look like the bad one. As a woman, Pamela is subjected to moral standards and criticism that a man of her class or above would not even think about.
And that is where the revolution is hidden. The radical idea is that Pamela faces all of this, and still perseveres. Her actions, her class status, and the result that her actions lead to make her into the first heroine of the 18th century novel. Moreover, the class system of 18th century England plays an extremely important role in Pamela. The novel is based on themes from the class structure of this time and the radical notion that class lines may be crossed on account of good behavior. At the time, the idea of being able to change one’s class status by way of behavior was unthinkable.
In Pamela, Richardson makes a gentle, but noteworthy, attack on the social structure of the 18th century, questioning the ideology of birthright and class: Let the Rich, and those who are exalted from a low to a high Estate, learn from her, that they are not promoted only for a single Good; but that Providence has raised them, that they should dispense to all within their Reach, their Blessings it has heaped upon them; and that the greater the Power is to which God has raised them, the greater is the Good that will be expected from them. Richardson 501-502) Through the transcending of class and questioning of class in Pamela, the double standard for women of different classes is also examined. Through Mr. B and Mrs. Jewkes’ actions, the reader sees that as a result of Pamela’s class, she is almost without rights. Pamela is viewed as a second class citizen, and therefore Mr. B treats her with a lack of respect. And yet, this has no apparent psychological effect on Pamela. She still sees herself as she wants to, a girl of decent virtue, who deserves more than Mr. B’s rude advances.
He sees her as a conquest, and not as a woman. Her virtue and honor are disregarded as he attempts to rape her. His blatant disrespect for her womanhood is shown through his shock and disbelief in her true virtuous nature as a poor servant. When Pamela, as a modern woman, denies Mr. B the sexual activity that he feels is his right, as a result of her inferior status, he becomes angry and even more driven to have sex with her. On the other hand, a woman of the upper class in England at this time would be expected to act just as Pamela did.
She would be expected to be of the highest virtue and remain chaste until marriage. Mr. B would most likely not even have attempted to be as “vulgar” and forward with a woman of a higher class than Pamela is. In Pamela, we see a man of distinguished character and class acting completely disdainfully and without honor. He attempts to rape an innocent, young woman of a lower class and is shown to be a rake by his sister. Furthermore, we see a young woman of a lower class and inferior background acting nobly and virtuously no matter how far her upstanding morals are pushed or tested.
This reversal of roles and eventual lesson that a good woman, no matter what class she belongs to, can turn a bad man good is a completely new and unheard of plot for an 18th century English novel. The fact that in the end Pamela marries Mr. B is shocking to a 21st century reader because a victim marries her attempted rapist, but it is shocking to readers of the 18th century because Pamela crosses the thousand year old ideas of class structure and female roles. Pamela may be annoying. She may be a wimp, she may go on and on, or she may be another slut pretending, but she is a revolutionary character.
She is the only example of a female character of the novels we have read this semester who has some control over her own destiny and an awareness of the power that she possesses. To me, Pamela is a revolution. As a female character of a 18th century novel, Pamela’s character traits and actions are radical. Pamela goes from a victim to a wife. Her class mobility is unprecedented and her revolutionary ideologies and character created by Richardson would set a new tone for British novels to come.