Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pamela by Samuel Richardson

Pamela by Samuel Richardson
Published: 1740
Rating: 5
Lists: 1,001

This is the first book in my English Novel Challenge and I LOVED IT!  Considered one of the first books written in the novel format, Richardson tells the story through letters that the heroine Pamela wrote to her parents and through her diary.

At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to Pamela, a beautiful, young servant girl of sixteen.  After her Lady's death, she is pursued by the misogynistic unmarried son, Mr. B (Prof. Spurgeon likens him to Mr. Big in Sex and the City) who will not allow Pamela to return home.  While many girls in her situation may have welcomed and accepted being these advances, Pamela has been raised to honor God with her mind, soul and body. Therefore her virtue must be protected at all costs.  This is reinforced by her parents who write, "Arm yourself, my dear Child, for the worst; and resolve to lose your Life sooner than your Virtue."

The constant rejection drives Mr. B mad.  His treatment of poor Pamela worsens until he basically kidnaps and holds her prisoner at one of the family estates with a horrible woman keeper, Mrs. Jewkes.  Pamela's description is priceless and reminds me of Madame Th√©nardier in Les Miserable.
Now I will give you a Picture of this Wretch!  She is broad, squat, pursy, fat Thing, quite ugly, if any thing God made can be ugly; about forty Years old.  She has a huge Hand, and an Arm as thick as my Waist, I believe.  Her Nose is flat and crooked, and her Brows grow over her Eyes; a  dead, spiteful, grey, goggling Eye, to be sure, she has. And her Face is flat and broad; and as to the Colour, looks like as if it had been pickled a Month in Salt-petre: I dare say she drinks! - She has a hoarse man-like Voice, and is as thick as she's long; and yet looks so deadly strong, that I am afraid she would dash me at her Foot in an Instant, if I was to vex her - So that with a Heart more ugly than her Face, she frightens me sadly; and I am undone, to be sure, if God does not protect me; for she is very, very wicked - indeed she is.
What makes this story so interesting is to see the affect this beautiful but penniless and powerless girl has on others as they come to realize that her outward beauty is not her greatest asset; it is her inner character of virtue, humility, and kindness.  Mr. B comes to appreciate her after confiscating and reading her letters.  Beforehand, he thought she was like other women - rebellious, manipulative and playing games with his affections.  Her letters reveal something else entirely.  Some of my favorite quotes show the progression of Mr. B's realization.
You are possess'd of an open, frank and generous Mind; and a Person so lovely, that you excel all your Sex in my Eyes.  All these Accomplishments have engaged my Affections so deeply, that, as I have often said, I cannot live without you; and I would divide with all my Soul, my Estate with you, to make you mine upon my own Terms.  These you have absolutely rejected; and that, tho' in sawcy Terms enough, yet, in such a manner, as to make me admire you more.
He writes of the willingness to turn his back upon centuries of social expectation to marry beneath his class:
I found the Tables intirely turn'd upon me, and that I was in far more Danger from you than you was from me; for I was just upon resolving to defy all the Censures of the World, and to make you my Wife.
What he says to her on their wedding night:
Your Mind is as pure as that of an Angel, and as much transcends mine.  Your Wit and your Judgement, to make you no Compliment, are more than equal to mine: You have all the Graces that Education can give a Woman; improv'd by a Genius which makes those Graces natural to you.  You have a Sweetness of Temper and a noble Sincerity, beyond all Compare; and in the Beauty of your Person, you excel all the Ladies I ever saw.  Where then, my Dearest, is the Obligation, if not on my side to you?  But to avoid these Comparisons, 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 (which is but an accidental Good, as I may call it, and all I have to boast of) the Condescension will be yours; and I shall not think I can possibly deserve you, till, after your sweet Example, my future Life shall become nearly as blameless as yours.
What he says unashamedly to his friends as they are introduced to his wife:
My Pamela's person, all lovely as you see it, is far short of her mind; that first impressed me in her favor; but that only made me her Lover.  But they were the beauties of her mind, that made me her husband.
Through Pamela's conviction to live a virtuous and righteous life, Mr. B follows suit and their marriage ends up being fulfilled and happy.  Poetic justice prevails!  I look forward to reading Clarissa, Richardson's tragic novel.

On a side note, it is interesting to see passages that remind me of other works.   When Pamela is imprisoned, she thinks about escape.  "But let Bulls, and Bears, and Lions, and Tygers, and what is worse, false, treacherous deceitful Men stand in my Way...." Did the Wizard of Oz's "lions, tigers and bears, oh my!" come from this, I wonder?

When Pamela sees that plans are moving forward for her upcoming nuptials with Mr. B, she writes, "He was so good as to tell me, he had given Orders for the Chapel to be clear'd.  O how I look forward with inward Joy, yet with Fear and Trembling!"  This reminded me of Jane Eyre's overflowing happiness when she prepares to wed Mr. Rochester, the first time.  I wrote in the margin, "too good to be true?"


  1. I'm so excited to read this, I think after reading your post I'll be reading it sooner than planned :) Have you read Clarissa?

  2. Hi O,
    Let me know what you think of Pamela. I think it is a book one either loves or not. And yes, Clarissa is up next!