Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is a novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. The name, "Pamela", now a popular forename in English-speaking countries, was invented by Richardson. The novel is in epistolary form, consisting of letters and a diary.
The heroine, Pamela Andrews, is a maid, whose master, Mr. B, makes unwanted advances towards her. She rejects him until he shows his sincerity by proposing a fair marriage to her. In the second part of the novel, Pamela attempts to accommodate herself to upper-class society and to build a successful relationship with her husband.
The story was widely mocked at the time for its perceived licentiousness and it inspired Henry Fielding (among many others) to write two parodies, Shamela (1742), about Pamela's less virtuous sister, and Joseph Andrews (1742), which exposes Pamelaís sexual hypocrisy by keeping the plot but switching the sexes of the protagonists.
Conduct books and the novel
When Richardson began writing Pamela, he conceived of it as a conduct book . (One could say that the eighteenth-century conduct book is the forerunner of todayís etiquette and self-help books.). But as he was writing, the series of letters turned into a story. Richardson then decided to write in a different genre, the novel. He attempted to instruct through entertainment. In fact, most novels from the middle of the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth century, following Richardsonís lead, claimed legitimacy through their ability to teach as well as to amuse.
Epistolary novels, that is, novels written as a 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. Bís 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 countryhouse, 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 reader receives only the thoughts and letters of Pamela, restricting the readerís access to the other characters; we see only Pamela's perception of them. In Richardson's other novels, Clarissa (1748) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753), the reader is privy to the letters of several characters and can thus more effectively evaluate the motivations and moral values of the characters.
The public and the private spheres
The middle class
Gender, sexuality and the body
- Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
- Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.
- McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel: 1600-1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
- Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957.