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Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded Paperback – Jul 12 2008
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`with this edition of Pamela, which will surely become the standard text, we can see more clearly why Richardson's first novel mattered so much' John Mullan, London Review of Books
About the Author
Thomas Keymer's books include Richardson's Clarissa and the Eighteenth Century Reader (1992) and the OWC edition of Fielding's Joseph Andrews and Shamela.
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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. (<a href="[...]">Samuel Richardson
By Clara Linklater Thomson</a>)
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.
Most people find a more conventional reading rather boring--a secular context for the enactment of various Protestant ideas about virtue, honesty, etc. Richardson's social and moral universe is essentially the same, although much less refined and subtle, as that of Jane Austen. From a literary point of view, it's rather fun to see the beams poking out and hear the wheels creaking (a mechanism more exposed in some places in the book than in others) which provide the foundations for the novel as a genre of writing.
"Pamela" is divided into two volumes: the first describes Pamela's seduction by Mr.B., which is indeed full of suspense, not to mention all the twisted sexuality, seeing that her chastity is at stake; the second is about Pamela's attempt to assimilate into her newly-acquired upper social standing while maintaining her integrity, desiring to appear worthy of her new riches and preserving what she regards as her privileged standing under God. The stakes for her are just as high in the second volume as in the first.
Pamela sounds like a lawyer (God's advocate?) when parsing her and others' emotional and psychological motivations. This can produce some interesting dialogue, full or retorts and counter-retorts (though not nearly as interesting as in "Clarissa")She is clever and priggish at the same time.
The Oxford Classics version of "Pamela" contains the first printed edition (before it was censored and its wild prose tamed), also preserving its archaic spelling, punctuations, etc. The introduction is good and the footnotes are a blessing. You also get a selection of Richardson's fables, adapted from Aesop, and Richardson's commentaries thereon, all of which provide a lively picture of the moral universe of the novel.
Definitely read this book before you read "Clarissa," which I shouldn't have to convince anyone is a masterpiece.
She has her values, and she hangs onto the one thing that she values most, regardless of how much bullying she encounters, because she is not going to aid her oppresors by giving them her consent. If they want to take it , then they will have to take it by force, because she wont hand it over or make it more palatable to them by accepting their terms. She doesn't want rewards or admiration, she just wants to return to her parents so that she can continue to live her life in a way that allows her to respect herself. She gets much more than what she wanted, in the end.