Reading Pamela, or perseverance unrewarded

It took me, shamefully, almost a month to read Pamela. Where to begin? How about with the fact that it made me more angry than just about any novel I can remember reading.

This tortures me, actually, because it makes me feel unfair. Who am I to judge the events of Pamela anachronistically? But I simply must. It is offensive, horrific, frustrating, and just straight up upsetting to read.

I’m not usually one to complain of swooning heroines who don’t live up to the demands of contemporary feminism, but Pamela herself is an idiot. The novel starts up quite quickly into the real action, with Pamela’s mistress dying and her new master hitting on her right away. Pamela’s puritanism is so annoying I found myself immediately rooting for Mr. B.

But then I realized, wait, I am rooting for an attempted rapist. Not cool.

So once it became clear exactly how evil Mr. B. is—and he is pretty unbelievably evil—I was stuck. I couldn’t go with him, even though he was at least not utterly pathetic, but Pamela is almost as abhorrent.

Wait, you say, Pamela abhorrent? But our subtitle is “virtue rewarded,” is it not? Well, Samuel Richardson was pretty wrong about what was virtuous, is all I can say. And pretty wrong about what a reward is too.

Even though much of it is bad, there is a lot to say about this book, and I will try to keep this week’s posts as far from rants as possible. I’ll have to do some complaining first, and then move on to the structure.

Much of the book is supposed to be comical, or is slightly comical, but the line that really cracked me up was toward the beginning, in a letter from Mr. B. to Pamela’s father. As I said, the novel gets underway pretty quickly, and is pretty lurid and titillating. I tend to think Richardson took himself a bit seriously, since it was all meant to be edifying, and I guess a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but he does have this to say:

…I must tell you, that you ought not to have countenanced such culpable freedoms in the girl. Nor would you, I presume (for I am told that you are a prudent man), if you had known, as is the truth, that ever since the death of her kind lady, she has given herself up to the reading of novels and romances, and such idle stuff, and now takes it into her head, because her glass tells her she is pretty, that every body who looks upon her is in love with her.

If only Pamela did read some novels and romances, she might not have been so irritatingly pious.

5 comments to Reading Pamela, or perseverance unrewarded

  • And of course anyone who read that anti-novel crack was reading a novel.

  • Mel

    Sounds like you would really enjoy “Shamela” by Henry Fielding. A near R rated parody of “Pamela”. I also read “Clarissa” though it took me months to finish. I would read it for a while then set it down for two weeks. To me there is enough good writing in it to keep me going. Samuel Johnson loved it which made it a must read for me. I admit that I loved “Pamela” and will one day reread it. I saw a new Oxford Classics edition for sale for $1.00 recently and make buy it.

  • nicole

    I read Shamela just yesterday in fact and quite enjoyed it…I was very impressed by its bawdiness too.

  • You still get major kudos for sitting down and reading the whole thing. I am tempted, but probably won’t do it. Especially if she’s an annoying heroine. But I look forward to your thoughts this week…maybe you’ll change my mind!