Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Richardson’

Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded,

Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740)

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is a epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. It takes the form of a collection of letters written by a fifteen-year-old girl to her parents about her life as a maid in a squire’s household.

After Pamela’s elderly mistress dies, she is left in the employment of her mistress’s son, Mr B–. He initially shows her exceptional kindness, which then develops into amorous advances. Pamela is quite disturbed by her master’s designs on her virtue, especially when they begin to take a sinister turn. He accosts her in the summerhouse and in various other places around the house, demanding that she surrender her virtue to him. It becomes most alarming on a particular occasion when Mr B– hid himself in the housekeeper’s bedroom closet. Pamela had begun to sleep in Mrs Jervis’s bedchamber in order to better protect herself, and it was the closet in this room where he waited for Pamela to undress and get into bed.

I went to Mrs Jervis’s chamber; and, O dreadful! my wicked master had hid himself, base gentleman as he is! in her closet, where she had a few books, and chest of drawers, and such like. […] I sat myself down on one side of the bed, and she on the other, and we began to undress ourselves; […] I pulled off my stays, and my stockings, and all my clothes to an under-petticoat; and then hearing a rustling again in the closet, I said Heaven protect us! but before I say my prayers, I must look into this closet. And so was going to it slip-shod, when, O dreadful! out rushed my master in a rich silk and silver morning gown. I screamed, and ran to the bed, and Mrs Jervis screamed too; […] I found his hand in my bosom; and when fright let me know it, I was ready to die; and I sighed and screamed, and fainted away.

"Pamela swooning after having discovered Mr B in the closet. He (frighted) endeavouring to recover her. Mrs Jervis wringing her hands, and screaming." From a series of twelve illustrations to Pamela, by Samuel Richardson (1745, 2nd edition).

“Pamela swooning after having discovered Mr B in the closet. He (frighted) endeavouring to recover her. Mrs Jervis wringing her hands, and screaming.” From a series of twelve illustrations to Pamela, by Samuel Richardson (1745, 2nd edition).

By this stage Pamela had already decided to remove to her parent’s home, even though they are poor and could hardly afford to support her. Whilst her removal is put off multiple times by her new master, she is at length taken in Mr B–‘s carriage – not to her home – but to her master’s Lincolnshire estate.

"Pamela setting out

“Pamela setting out in the travelling Chariot (for her Father’s, as she is made to believe), takes her farewell of Mrs Jervis, and the other servants. Mr B observing her from the window by whose private order she is carried into Lincolnshire.” From a series of twelve illustrations to Pamela, by Samuel Richardson (1745, 2nd edition).

Why, dear father and mother, to be sure he grows quite a rake! How easy it is to go from bad to worse, when once people give way to vice!

She is placed in the care of a Mrs Jewkes, and is quite fearful of her master’s purposes by this kidnapping. The entire estate seems devoid of people who would help her from her predicament, excepting the local parson, Mr Williams. However, all his attempts of aid and all her attempts at escape are cruelly prevented.

Eventually, Mr B– comes to Lincolnshire to pursue his advances on Pamela. He tries to persuade her to become his mistress by forcing himself upon her and even offering her financial income if she accepts, but she is persistent in her refusal to voluntarily surrender her virtue to him. After a while, he seems to change his approach and decides that he should marry her, despite the many reasonable objections that would have existed in the eighteenth century (such as his family’s dislike of the match, the difference in their station in life, etc…).

Pamela decides, once she is convinced of the sincerity of his proposal, to accept him. She then continually pours out profusions of gratitude for the wonderful treatment and condescension he has shown her by asking her to be his wife.

O, sir, said I, expect not words from your poor servant, equal to these most generous professions. Both the means, and the will, I now see, are given to you, to lay me under an everlasting obligation. How happy shall I be, if, though I cannot be worth of all this goodness and condescension, I can prove myself not entirely unworthy of it! But I can only answer for a grateful heart; and if ever I give you cause, wilfully, (and you will generously allow for involuntary imperfections,) to be disgusted with me, may I be an outcast from your house and favour, and as much repudiated, as if the law had divorced me from you!

I found these constant effusions of humble praise quite sickening really. I mean, the guy had repeatedly tried to rape her! Not only was it a stretch of the imagination that such a “rake” would suddenly want to marry his maidservant because of her long-standing virtue, it was equally amazing that Pamela would suddenly forget how abominably she had been treated at his hands and accept him!

The story concludes with a visit from Lady Davers (Mr B–‘s sister) who violently opposes the match, but she is soon won over by the virtuosity and goodness of Pamela.

As a story, it was quite repetitive and long-winded (common in the 18th century and especially common to Samuel Richardson), which made it a little annoying. It is surely unrealistic to think that a maidservant would have had that much paper available to her to write so copiously to her parents, let alone have the time to write it all! However, even though it does not make particularly easy reading for the modern bookworm, I can appreciate the story in the light of the culture of the time.

The eighteenth century had begun to see the rise of the novel, where a fictional story was used to communicate to the reader a moral message. Previous to this, a writer would usually communicate such moral-related content in the form of published sermons on religious themes, or in conduct books designed to provide rules on social behaviour. In this context, the author’s very heavy moral directive – that virtue (above all other characteristics) is to be preferred in women – is easier to understand. Samuel Richardson did not want to tell an interesting story per se, but wanted to communicate an important moral message and merely used a story to do it.

Pamela was quite popular in its day and went on to have several revisions, with subsequent editions adding chapters on Pamela as a mother to her young children. Richardson had intended it to promote virtue and religion among the youth of the day, however many people saw Pamela’s seeming uprightness to be covering a more sinister cunning designed to ensnare a squire in matrimony. This viewpoint occasioned several satires to be printed on the topic, including An Apology of the Life of Miss Shamela Andrews (1741), by Henry Fielding, and The Anti-Pamela; Or, Feign’d Innocence Detected (1741), by Eliza Haywood.

All in all, it was heavy going but interesting to read arguably one of the most popular novels written during the eighteenth century. What is your favourite eighteenth century novel?

Related Posts

Lady Susan: An eighteenth century epistolary novella

Sources and Relevant Links

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson (1740) – read online

Illustration Source: National Gallery of Victoria

An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, by Henry Fielding (1741) – read online

The Anti-Pamela; Or, Feign’d Innocence Detected, by Eliza Haywood (1741) – read online

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Portrait of Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Lady Susan was written by Jane Austen, probably around 1793-4, during the time she was writing the beginnings of Sense and Sensibility (then called Elinor and Maryanne). Whilst it was prepared for publication, Austen never sought to have it published, and it was her nephew who first published it in 1871.

This short novel centres around a newly widowed, middle-aged woman, Lady Susan Vernon, who is fresh from an affair with a married man in whose household she has been staying. In order to escape the scandal and misery she has caused, Lady Susan invites herself to stay with her husband’s brother and his wife, Mr Charles and Catherine Vernon.

We are now in a sad state; no house was ever more altered; the whole family are at war, and Manwaring scarcely dares speak to me. It is time for me to be gone…

Lady Susan to her friend, Mrs Johnson

Catherine Vernon’s brother, Reginald De Courcy, also comes to visit them out of a mere curiosity to see the wicked, flirtatious and very beautiful Lady Susan whose reputation precedes her, and ends up falling under her bewitching spell.

There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, making a person pre-determined to dislike, acknowledge one’s superiority.

Lady Susan to Mrs Johnson, about Reginald De Courcy

Lady Susan had sent her daughter, Frederica, to boarding school, partially because she took an aversion to marrying her mother’s choice for her, a Sir James Martin. Lady Susan soon receives word that she has been trying to run away, so she is forced to have her stay at the Vernon’s residence with her.

Lady Susan, who had been shedding tears before and showing great agitation at the idea of the meeting, recieved her [Frederica] with perfect self-command, and without betraying the least tenderness of spirit. She hardly spoke to her, and on Frederica’s bursting into tears as soon as we were seated, took her out of the room and did not return for some time; when she did, her eyes looked very red, and she was as much agitated as before. We saw no more of her daughter. Poor Reginald was beyond measure concerned to see his fair friend in such distress, and watched her with so much tender solicitude that I, who occasionally caught her observing his countenance with exultation, was quite out of patience. This pathetic representation lasted the whole evening, and so ostentatious and artful a display had entirely convinced me that she did in fact feel nothing.

Mrs Catherine Vernon, to her mother, Lady De Courcy

Upon Frederica’s arrival, Sir James quickly follows her to the Vernon’s and sets everything in an uproar. Lady Susan, who is still determined that her daughter will marry him, did not want to involve the Vernon’s in the process, and when Frederica appeals to Reginald to help save her from the situation, Lady Susan is forced to send Sir James away in order to placate Reginald’s anger.

Its effect [of her speech] on Reginald justifies some portion of vanity, for it was no less favourable than instantanious. Oh! How delightful it was to watch the variations of his countenance while I spoke, to see the struggle between returning tenderness and the remains of displeasure. There is something agreeable in feelings so easily worked on. Not that I would envy him their possession, nor would for the world have such myself, but they are very convenient when one wishes to influence the passions of another.

Lady Susan, to Mrs Johnson

Lady Susan decides to remove to London, leaving Frederica in the care of the Vernon’s, and Reginald also leaves, but intends to pursue Lady Susan to London in the hopes marrying her. It all comes undone when Mrs Manwaring (the wife of Lady Susan’s old lover) visits her guardian, Mr Johnson (the husband of Lady Susan’s friend, Mrs Johnson) to apprise him of the deplorable conduct of Lady Susan with her husband. Reginald De Courcy happens to visit the Johnson’s at that moment, and is informed by Mr Johnson of Lady Susan’s true character, which removes all his illusions of her goodness.

I write only to bid you farewell. The spell is removed. I see you as you are.

Reginald De Courcy, to Lady Susan

Mr Johnson forces his wife to break off all contact with Lady Susan, and the final letter contains the news that Lady Susan has sent for Frederica, that they may stay in town together.

The conclusion to the story is written in narrative prose, rather than letter form. The Vernon’s soon removed to London, in the hopes that Lady Susan might be prevailed upon to let her daughter live with them, and – after several days – she relents. Three weeks later, Lady Susan announces her engagement to Sir James Martin.

Whether Lady Susan was, or was not happy in her second choice – I do not see how it can ever be ascertained – for who would take her assurance of it, on either side of the question? The world must judge from probability. She had nothing against her, but her husband and her conscience.

The story finishes by the narrator entertaining hopes that, once Reginald overcomes his love for Lady Susan, he may be able to transfer it to her daughter.

I really liked this novel! And not only because it gave me another opportunity to read more of Jane Austen, but because it was written in an eighteenth century style, which she dispensed with in her later Regency works.

In formLady Susan is very much an eighteenth century novel, told through the medium of the characters’ letter writing, which was a popular way of novel writing during that era. Some of Austen’s favourite authors, like Samuel Richardson and Fanny Burney, wrote novels in this style. Whilst she attempted to write Sense and Sensibility in a similar vein, she eventually abandoned this style of writing, preferring a third person narrative. She seems to allude to the problems of this style of writing in the conclusion of Lady Susan.

This correspondence, by a meeting between some of the parties and a separation between the others, could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued longer.

The epistolary form was also mocked in the novel Shamela (1741), thought to be written by Henry Fielding under the name of Joseph Andrews. The book was intended to be a satire on Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, and in it we see that one of the shortcomings of this form of fiction is the improbability of a young lady writing such a huge quantity of letters, which describe her experiences in such great detail.

In substanceLady Susan is very much an eighteenth century novel, as it reflects the lax morality of the late 1700’s. Austen’s later books reveal a more strict moral code that had grown in society with the power of the moral middle class during the Regency era. Austen punishes her other characters that deviate from this code much more severely than she does with Lady Susan.

Austen conveys her main character’s scheming nature by allowing the reader to be privy to her letters. They amply illustrate Lady Susan’s character by allowing the reader to compare her correspondence when conversing with a variety of people, such as her relations, her friend, and the man she was attempting to deceive. This enables the reader to see how deceptive she really is. The inclusion of letters to and from the other characters in the story mean that the reader can hear the other opposing voices in the story, helping to accurately determine the character’s credibility.

In terms of an eighteenth century novel, I think Austen has been very successful. Lady Susan has an excellent storyline and moves briskly through the plot, which other novelists did not do in this era. Compared to her later works, some Austen-fans may be disappointed, as her main character lacks all the like-ability of Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and the Dashwood sisters.

Have you read any eighteenth century literature? It’s my cup of tea!

Related Posts

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded – coming soon

Sources and Relevant Links

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen – read online

Lady Vernon and her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Catherine Rubino-Bradway (2009) – a new version of the story of Lady Susan

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson – read online

Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady, by Samuel Richardson – read Vol. 1 online

Evelina: Or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, by Francis Burney – read online

An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, by Joseph Andrews – read online

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