Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Pamela is really two, closely related novels. The first two volumes of 1740 have the full title Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded. In a Series of Familiar Letters from a Beautiful Young Damsel, to Her Parents. Now First Published in Order to Cultivate the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of Both Sexes. The additional volumes that followed in 1741 were published in a new two-volume set titled Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded. In a Series of Familiar Letters from a Beautiful Damsel, to Her Parents: And Afterwards, in Her Exalted Condition, Between Her, and Persons of Figure and Quality, upon the Most Important and Entertaining Subjects in Genteel Life. The Third and Fourth Volumes. Published in Order to Cultivate Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of Both Sexes. The subtitles are significant because they reflect the didactic intentions of the author as well as the expectations of the audience Richardson sought.
The first two volumes of Pamela tell how the fifteen-year-old Pamela Andrews left her parents’ home to become a servant in the country home of a lady of substance in Bedfordshire. The latter dies almost immediately, leaving Pamela alone in the rambling estate with Squire B., the lady’s libidinous son. Squire B. promptly tries to impose himself upon the wide-eyed, nubile Pamela, who, being a proper girl, resists his advances and flees from Bedfordshire. Squire B., however, will have his way. He has Pamela abducted and brought to his estate in Lincolnshire, a household run by his housekeeper, Mrs. Jewkes. Throughout all her traumas, Pamela is scribbling away, writing frequently to her parents and then in her journal, reporting with great immediacy the pulse-quickening assaults upon her cherished virtue. In providing Pamela with no friend in Mrs. Jewkes, Richardson used every means at his disposal to inform his readers (who knew it already) that the social codes of the day were tolerant of people of the upper class who seduced...
(The entire section is 825 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Pamela Andrews has been employed from a very young age as the servant girl of Lady B—— at her estate in Bedfordshire. She has grown very fond of her mistress, so the letter to her parents telling of her ladyship’s death expresses her deep sorrow. Her own plans are uncertain, but it soon becomes clear that Lady B——’s son wants her to remain in his household. Taking her hand before all the other servants, he has said that he will be a good master to Pamela for his dear mother’s sake if she continues faithful and diligent. Mrs. Jervis, the housekeeper, puts in a friendly word as well, and Pamela, not wishing to be a burden upon her poor parents, decides to remain in the service of Mr. B——. Shortly, however, she begins to doubt that his intentions toward her are honorable. When he kisses her one day, while she sits sewing in a summerhouse, she finds herself in a quandary as to what to do.
Once again, she discusses the situation with the good Mrs. Jervis and decides to stay if she can share the housekeeper’s bed. Mr. B—— is extremely annoyed at this turn of affairs. He tries to persuade Mrs. Jervis that Pamela is a very designing creature who should be carefully watched. When he learns that she is writing long letters to her parents, telling them in great detail of his false proposals and repeating her determination to keep her virtue, he has as many of her letters intercepted as possible.
In a frightening interview with Mr. B——, Pamela, and Mrs. Jervis, he intimidates the housekeeper by his terrifying manner and tells Pamela to return to her former poverty. After talking the matter over with her friend, however, Pamela decides that Mr. B—— has given up his plan to ruin her and that there is no longer any reason for her to leave. Another interview with Mr. B——, however, convinces her that she should return to her parents upon the completion of some household duties entrusted to her. When Mr. B—— discovers that she is indeed planning to leave, a furious scene follows, in which he accuses her of pride beyond her station. That night he conceals himself in the closet of her room. When she discovers him, Pamela throws herself on the bed and falls into a fit. Pamela and Mrs. Jervis serve notice. Despite Mr. B——’s threats on the one hand and his cajoling on the other, Pamela remains firm in her decision to return home. The housekeeper is reinstated in her position, but Pamela sets out by herself in the coach Mr. B—— had ordered for her to return to her parents.
What she thinks is Mr. B——’s kindness is but designing trickery. Instead of arriving at her parents’ humble home, Pamela becomes a prisoner at Mr. B——’s country estate, where the coachman has driven her. Mrs. Jewkes, the caretaker, has none of Mrs. Jervis’s kindness of heart, and Pamela is cruelly confined. It is only by clever scheming that she is able to continue sending letters to her parents. She is aided by Mr. Williams, the village minister, who smuggles her mail out of the house. The young man soon confesses his love for Pamela and his desire to marry her. Pamela refuses his offer, but she devises a plan to escape with his help. Unfortunately, Mrs. Jewkes is too wily a jailer. When she suspects that the two are planning Pamela’s escape, she writes to Mr. B——, who is still in London. Pamela’s persecutor, aided by his agents, contrives to have Mr. Williams thrown into jail on a trumped-up charge.
Although her plot has been discovered, Pamela does not allow herself to be discouraged. That night, she drops...
(The entire section is 1460 words.)