Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson
rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was so busy catching up on all my vacation books that I totally forgot to blog my final thoughts on this 18th century behemoth.
What to say about a book that treats virginity as the most important quality a woman has but is weirdly feminist in the agency and resistance it gives its perky heroine? A book that demonizes a tyrannical master as a would-be rapist and jailer and then turns him into a romantic hero? A book that embraces a cross-class marriage while avowing to preserve the distinction of rank? Only that the contradictory experience of reading it is exactly like the contradictions embedded within. It's remarkably funny, sly and clever in parts and ridiculously didactic and sentimental in others, incredibly quick and engaging in parts (particularly the beginning) and deadly dull in others, the characters are wild caricatures in some moments and sympathetic, fully-realized people in others.
In other words, it's the novel in the early stages of evolution, and it's fascinating. The reason one would read Pamela, as I did, was to see how clearly Richardson's influence is present in British literature of the century thereafter--and oh how evident it is in both Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte as well as many other of my faves. Pamela foreshadows the way class would be a dominant theme in the books that followed, the obsession with the condition of woman for the British novelist, and the country manor house as a vital setting for so much of literature that has ensued.
But what makes it stand out on its own, away from the importance of its legacy, is the strength Pamela Andrews' (later Mrs. B) voice throughout--funny, playful, earnest, and utterly unique, full of desires, petulance, and awareness of her audience. Goody-goody though she is, the girl has spunk, and you've got to love Richardson for creating her.
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