42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2002
Samuel Richardson's first novel, 1740's "Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded" is a clever and rich novel. Written to entertain and edify readers of both sexes, "Pamela" is an epistolary novel, presented in the form of letters and a journal between young Pamela Andrews and her parents. From the viewpoint of a domestic servant, Pamela illustrates the complex relationships between commoners and aristocrats, including the range of socially and economically diverse people between those extremes. The novel also explores the erotics of social ambition within the context of eighteenth century bourgeois religious ethics.
Pamela is a mid-teen waiting maid, and as the novel begins, the Lady she serves has just died. Prior to her death, this Lady recommends her servants, and particularly Pamela, who has been educated and refined above her social station, to the Lady's son, a strapping young man, Mr. B. Mr. B, with his own plans for Pamela, gladly takes her into his service, rather than send her to his sister, Lady Davers. Shortly after entering his service, Pamela begins to be uncomfortable, as Mr. B starts trying to seduce her. Pamela, in correspondence with her parents, and under the direct advice of the housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis, vows to protect her virtue and chastity. The rest of the novel deals with Pamela's efforts to fend off Mr. B's advances, in conditions that often amount to imprisonment and attempted rape.
There are many noteworthy issues in "Pamela," first of all being the figuration of the word "virtue." In the context of the novel, and its main character, the word has gender connotations, which align virtue with chastity and marriagability. It is a somewhat radical concept that Pamela, as a common, if obscenely beatiful, servant, should be so assiduous and insistent on the value of her virginity. Her parents tell her that she should rather die than forfeit her innocence. In higher social circumstances, chastity has definite marriage value, whereas Pamela, whose family is all but destitute, has no way to provide for her - her ability to marry is dependent to a great extent on remaining virtuous. One of the things "Pamela" forces us to think about is whether men can or should be held to the same sexual moral standards as women, and accustom us to the idea of unequal (social and economic) relationships.
Another important and valuable thing we get from "Pamela" is the idea of character and self as written things, as text. Mr. B chides Pamela for writing about him, and the possibility that her letters circulate with disparaging comments on himself. Of course, the more commonplace notion of employers giving "characters" of their servants, or recommendations makes Pamela's writings all the more interesting. The fact that the vast majority of the novel consists of Pamela's writing - we get the clear message that it is the point of view of a young, lower class woman that gives us our ideas about everything in the novel. The way that Pamela writes herself and those around her, including the vile and sexually-ambiguous Mrs. Jewkes seems to indicate the truth-value and propriety of Pamela's opinions and observations. The fact that other characters in the novel read Pamela's letters is also important here, as they not only better understand themselves, but Pamela and her own motivations. The way especially, that Pamela and Mr. B read and learn from each other throughout the novel, is fascinating.
Richardson would go on to further elaborate these themes in completely different social circumstances, and with a great deal more terror and anxiety in "Clarissa," but Pamela has its own distinct charms and appeal. In form and content, the influence of "Pamela" can be felt and appreciated from around the time of its publication (see Henry Fielding's "Shamela" and "Joseph Andrews") through to the 20th century and beyond (see "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker). Important to note, though - this review pertains specifically to the 1740 first edition of "Pamela" published by Riverside. There are significant differences, modifications in language and tone between this and, say, the 1801 edition published in the Penguin Classics. Each has its own merits, so buy and read at your discretion!
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 1999
This is where it all started. Richardson gives this fast moving epistolary story a fun and predictable story of cat and mouse. The story is simple and short. Maiden is beautiful and is the center of attention by the rich aristocratic master. Retaining her virtue, she places her sentimentiality ahead of possible riches if she gives into the master's advances. Truely a common element of seduction in the Eighteenth century. In all respects, the reason to pick up this novel is Richardson's use of language and sentiments. This novel produces a great deal of reader participation. For one, the reader must decide which side he or she will side with. Siding with one or the other would produce a different outcome to the ending. This novel reads fast and is filled with great eighteenth-century vernacular language. Lots of insults and name calling are also included which are extremely funny. Calling this novel a "preview" to Richardson's masterpiece Clarissa is unjust. This is a masterpiece on its own and it will not disappoint with the first, second, or third reading.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2002
This book is almost impossible to rate. It is didactic, tedious, chauvinistic, dogmatic and implausible. But boy, is it fun! I've read it twice and both times have been amazed at how quickly I was sucked into Richardson's world. And both times I came away thinking, Is this book really as psychologically complex as I think it is or am I reading too much into it?
In a way, the novel Pamela strikes me the same way as Shakespeare's play Taming of the Shrew. Yes, the sexism is irritating (not to say, frightening when looked at in historical context: Pamela really doesn't have a chance), yet the characters live in their own right. Mr. B is less clearly delineated than Pamela, and Pamela comes off as incredibly sanctimonious in parts, but the tension and drama between them and the other characters is real and vital.(For instance, Richardson explores the sibling rivalry between Mr. B and his sister in highly charged scenes that could take place in any modern novel.)
The book suffers towards the end. Pamela becomes even more sanctimonious (and less aggressive), and Mr. B becomes less witty. Mr. B is a villain you hate to love (or a hero you love to hate) until he turns "good" and then he just gets boring. Who was it said, "The snake has all the lines"?
If you find, as I do, that Clarissa (Richardson's better known novel about a womanly woman's virtue) is a tad daunting, give Pamela a try.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2005
I admit that I haven't yet finished "Pamela" and also that I've never been very enthusiastic about the literature of the 18th century. The only reason I'm reading "Pamela" at all is because, while reading the journal of Esther Burr (18th century American and mother of Aaron Burr) she mentions reading both "Pamela" and "Clarissa." She loved "Pamela" and hated "Clarissa" and I want to see if my opinion lines up with hers. (And I also want to see the film version of Clarissa w/ yummy Sean Bean, but want to read the book first.)
I find Pamela's endless lamentations to be quite tedious to read. Until I read the other reviews posted here, I assumed that Richardson was writing ironically and poking fun of Pamela. She says again and again that she'd rather die in a ditch or spend her life dressed in rags, begging than lose her virginity to her master and yet when she finally is left alone and has a key to help her escape from her imprisonment in her master's house, she is afraid of the bull that lives in the pasture and ends up remaining imprisoned. Also, she's quite sly, sneaky and dishonest, despite all her protestations that she remain honest. (Although by "honest" Pamela really means "a virgin.") But perhaps Richardson was sincere in his portrayal of Pamela as a truly virtuous woman.
At any rate, I am not enjoying this novel as much as I'd hoped I would although the scene between Pamela and Lady Davers is highly entertaining. However, Pamela is an extraordinarily prolific letter writer, but at different times throughout the novel she recaps what has already happened at great length. The characters are not very interesting or particularly well-developed. If I had to invite one of them to dinner, I'd pass over the tedious Pamela and the despicable Mr. B, her master and plump for earthy, pragmatic Mrs. Jewkes who is occaisionally entertaining.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2006
Those who read PAMELA by Samuel Richardson today tend to view the motivation of the heroine largely in the light of the novel's sub-title: "Virtue Rewarded." The reward seems to be either a reference to Pamela's iron-clad resolve to maintain her innocence and virginity in the face of seductive pressure by her caddish employer or a willingness to assume the pose of that innocence to play a game of romance between rich boss and poor servant girl under rules that bind both. Contemporary readers then tended to interpret Pamela's motivation under the same social system that they lived in and which formed the implied background of the book. To such readers, society was set up in a rigid caste system. Rich employers could be caddish to vulnerable servant girls and, barring outright murder, such girls had but two choices: they could quit their job (difficult to do since recommendations were crucial to find another one) or they could give in and simply add sex to their round of expected household duties. The idea of an employer actually marrying his seduced servant girl existed only in the fictionalized world of books--like PAMELA. Today, readers are a more cynical lot. They add that though it is quite true that Pamela may have started out as a paragon of virtue, her actions following her realization of the true rakish intentions of her employer must surely have given her pause to plot her future so she need not have wasted the symbolic value of her virtue, her virginity.
Pamela begins the book as a dutiful servant girl employed by Lady B, who much appreciates her. When Lady B. dies, her son Mr. B assumes control of the family and the estate. He convinces Pamela to remain in his employ, and so she does. Soon, however, his advances to her take on a sexual overtone, causing Pamela to decide to quit and return to her parents. Mr. B. intervenes by kidnapping her and imprisoning her. When he tries to force himself on her, Pamela faints in a fit. Unbelievably, her fierce battle to retain her virtue causes him to swear off further attempts and even more improbably, he proposes marriage. Pamela compounds this unreality by accepting, and except for some post-marriage cheating on his part, Pamela and Mr. B. live happily ever after.
What one is to make of all this requires one to examine who Pamela was at the start of the book, and then trace how she changes during its remainder. Pamela is a truly innocent girl who thinks and acts as a typical 18th century servant girl. She is loyal to her mistress, and is prepared to transfer that loyalty to her mistress's son upon her death. So far so good. When her new employer begins his seduction attempts, Pamela resists as best she can, even to the point of quitting her job and returning to her parents. Where believability goes astray is the conversion by Mr. B. from caddish to sincere and the conversion by Pamela from innocent to mercenary. There is nothing in the book up to this twin sets of conversions to suggest that either was likely. Readers, then, must decide whether Richardson meant Pamela's actions to be taken literally as proof of her divine goodness or mocking contempt at the then "accepted" stereotype of a woman who had no choice but to play by the rules of a game even when those rules were stacked against her. Given that women of the 18th century were seen as not much more important than chattel, it seems likely that Richardson, both in PAMELA and later in CLARISSA, wanted somehow to raise public consciousness about the rights of women. Whether readers then or now saw Pamela as innocence personified or calculation equally personified, the results would be the same. These readers would have to rail against a caste system that placed servant girls like Pamela in the unhappy situations that they all too often found themselves. PAMELA even today continues to call out for justice, a concept far more enduring than virtue.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2006
Reading Pamela is like seeing a car accident along the road. Within ten pages, I hated myself for looking on, but somehow I just couldn't turn away. Largely, I hated her--Pamela's continual musing about her virtue to her parents, and how all the other servants love her and all that, is why some novels just shouldn't be written in the first person. But still, it sucks you in, like an addiction, like a tornado, like a vacuum cleaner.
The basic story is this: Pamela is a servant girl (a very virtuous one, as she will tell you again and again), and her master repeatedly seeks to destroy that virtue, through a variety of devious, occasionally outlandish tricks. He eventually even goes so far as to kidnap her. I can't go beyond that without giving away the ending, though I must say any real woman would not have done what Pamela ends up doing at the end, if she were treated the way Pamela gets treated in this book.
As much as Pamela is an icon of cloying, annoying feminity, this is absolutely a must-read book, and it deserves four stars. Why? Because, like I said, it sucks you in, which is what any fun read should do. Also because you simply can't understand the history of the English novel without reading this--the first huge, massive, unbelievably big best seller of English novels. This book is why ordinary people first began naming their daughters "Pamela"--before this novel, Pamela was an obscure name. Moreover, you can't appreciate Henry Fielding's Shamela, or Eliza Haywood's Anti-Pamela, without reading this first. The book was so popular in its day it spawned lots of hilarious satires like these two. So read Pamela, then purge yourself of all virtue by following it with Shamela and Anti-Pamela.
One last point: This particular edition is a very good choice, because it's based on the original edition that Richardson published. Richardson made later corrections in other editions to attempt to address some of the criticisms people made of his heroine. But the original is what prompted the big "Pamela craze" and all the satires, so I'd recommend getting a copy modeled on it.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2000
This has become one of the best novels of literature I have read in along time. The impact which this story has on the reader, the beautiful language in which it is written, and the underlying symbolism that pops out in every page makes this story a captivating piece of literature that keeps the reader turning the pages and yearning to read as the story develops. Some individuals might find this work a bit dull and slow, bur that only depends on the kind of book that you're interested in. For my case, dullness did not describe any part of the book. I found it very touching and I find Pamela to be one of the best literary characters in English literature. It is the story of a young maid who is pursued by her young master. At all costs she defends her virtue refusing to give in to her master. As the story develops we see the intense feelings, emotions, and confusion that wraps the characters along with the reader. I truly reccommend this book to anybody.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2007
Samuel Johnson considered the plot of this book to be dreadful; rather, he thought one should read it for the sentiment. Unfortunately, that sentiment does not and should not play well in the 21th century. What's more interesting is that it didn't necessarily play well in the 18th century, either. Both Henry Fielding (SHAMELA--brilliant) and Eliza Haywood (ANTI-PAMELA) took it to task. The publication of this novel divided literary society into two camps--the Pamelists and the Anti-Pamelists.
Why all the fuss and feathers? It's a fairly straight-forward story wherein a young servant girl of great virtue overcomes the lascivious and debauched designs of her employer to tame his passions and to convert him to virtue and marriage. At that point, Society, as represented by his sister, shows its violent disapproval of Pamela's sinning above her station. However, Pamela's virtue and her Christian faith overcome even this object and she and her husband go on to live happily ever after.
As a plot, it's simple, but melodramatic; frankly, the Victorians would blush. Furthermore, the characters are never fully rounded, but too often stick-figure representations of specific virtues and/or vices. For about the first 160 pages, one has a pretty good description of the power relationship between master and servant, but after that, to the modern reader, it turns into a sado-masochistic relationship wherein Pamela comes to identify with her abuser--and Mr. B does abuse her, even by the standards of the 18th century. Also, there's the technical execution--even by the standards of the 18th century, the narrative becomes repetitive and self-circling in a fashion one does not see in Fielding or Haywood or even Defoe. All-in-all, one reads this really only to understand what Fielding and Haywood are rightly mocking.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2002
Samuel Richardson penned this as an older man after a lifetime in the printing business. Personally, he was a decent, respectable, rather squeamish fellow living a decent, respectable and circumscribed life. He knows almost nothing of women, of course, but pens many pages about what he would *like* to see in one. Pamela's trembling and teary eponymous heroine has one outstanding characteristic: an iron clad, if decidedly tedious, virtuousness. As she stumbles through a variety of tried and true insults, she remains spotless, pure, and oh so dull. One wishes, on about page 300, that she'd fall once or twice just to make things a bit more interesting. But then, I fear Mr. Richardson, no Fielding, would have never been able to bring himself to write such a scene. Books, in his orderly and earnest mind, should be uplifting and instructive.
In the beastiary of 18th century female heroes, poor one-dimensional Pamela doesn't do well, and the book itself, with its static narrative and repetitious tub thumping on virtue, with the magical "Happy Ending", ages poorly. Defoe's crafty, bumptuous Moll Flanders, for example, although not a psychological study by any means, continues to amuse with her businesslike narrative on getting ahead with what one's got. Fielding's pastiche, Shamela, a take-off of the Pamela (as is Joseph Andrews) published shortly after Richardson's book, turns the book inside out and, like most good satire, is shorter and easier to read. Later, more durable (because more complex) heroines were penned by Fanny Burney and Jane Austin. All have aged well because all are vigorously human, warts and all.
After Pamela was published to great acclaim, the elderly author gained a coterie of older women fluttering about him, and became something of a literary lion. The book was shoved into the hands of young misses in the hopes of moral instruction, who were probably bored to tears with it. It was touted from the pulpit and a big hit with male tastemakers who, even if they couldn't make their way through the thing, felt their preconceptions of female virtue to be amply bolstered. Poor plotless Pamela, forever the victim, is hardly more than a set of platitudes waiting to be rescued by a paradigm - as Samuel Johnson once said "If you try reading Pamela for its story, you would hang yourself; you must read it for its sentiment" - but at least Richardson troubled to give her a voice. His great contribution to literature was his expansion of the epistolary style, and this book continuous to be read, but for its sentiment, or its curiosity value, is hard to say.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2006
NOTE: I have read several editions of Pamela, and they vary quite a bit, as Richardson frequently revised his books. I can't say one version is better than another, so this review is general to all the ones that I have read.
REVIEW: This novel written in the form of letters started a revolution in fiction, and was an enormous best seller in its own day and beyond. Pamela, the working class heroine, was loved, hated, imitated and satirized. She was called a model of female virtue, a conniving slut, and everything in between, and plenty has been written on all sides of the question.
What was all the fuss about? Well, for one thing the story is a cliff-hanger, with the teenage heroine constantly escaping danger at the last moment. In addition to suspense, this book also gives insights into the 18th century British class system, the status of women, and the then quite radical ideas of social mobility and self-improvement. Richardson did something quite innovative when he created a heroine who was young, rural and from the servant class. His point was that a working class woman of good morals and good sense could be just as worthy of admiration as the upper class ladies who had always played the starring roles in serious works of literature.
But if you're not writing a scholarly paper on Pamela, never mind all that. Pamela is an engrossing novel with lots of momentum, intresting characters, a quirky love story, and a happy (maybe) ending.