Richardson: Pamela (1740)

The heroine, if you can call her that, of Samuel Richardson‘s “Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded” evoked mixed emotions in me. On hand I felt pity for her as she was facing a tough situation. I also admired her persistence of resisting her master’s advances. On the other hand her letters showed that she was a master manipulator even at the age of 15. Often I couldn’t decide whether to feel worse for her or for her master. She kept emphasizing that her only value is of her virtue, virginity.

On the other hand when she was writing about going home to her parents, to her poor background from her master’s house as a resolution for the conflict her voice always felt insincere. She wrote that she is ready to be and live poor again, but her heart was not really willing to accept it. I could look at those letters as preparation for herself to accept the seemingly inevitable, but it felt more like airing her grief over the unfortunate backward social mobility. Her concerns of being “undone” were similarly double connotations. It was clear that her only hope, towards she moved every thing and every body she could, was to getting married by her master, who was much higher on the social ladder.

Despite or because the above observations it was interesting to read the book. I got immersed into 18th century British countryside life, which was a worthy trip on its own. It provided an opportunity to muse about the shifting value system of society. What Pamela and her society considered a “virtue,” nowadays much less universally considered as such; at least in the western, “enlightened” world. I also thought about the change in language. She didn’t want to be “undone”, meaning her future ruined. Today wed use the word “done” for the same concept. “I am done” can be pronounced with intonation suggesting being ruined.

I am glad I read this book from the “1001 books to read” list, even if it took a long time.

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