Richardson poses as the editor of numerous letters passing between the major characters in the novel. Most of the letters are devoted to Pamela’s account of her efforts to avoid seduction and rape.

Pamela is a servant at an estate whose owner, Mr. B., becomes enamored of her beauty. From stealing kisses, he progresses to outright seduction. He makes Pamela a prisoner to force her to become his mistress. When Pamela resists, B. unsuccessfully attempts rape.

Pamela proves resourceful in defense of her virginity. With logic she destroy’s B.’s rationale for dalliance. By fainting and faking suicide she stymies his physical assaults. By writing letters she rallies the help of friends and family.

Pamela’s virtuousness eventually changes B.’s attitude. As his lust turns to love, her defensiveness melts into deference. When he proposes, she gratefully accepts. The match is not easily accepted: His family resents her social background, her family fears a false marriage. Pamela’s goodness and B.’s fervor win over the doubters.

Richardson’s novel was daring for its time. The public debated the sensational sexual theme. Readers responded to Richardson’s original technique of “writing to the moment,” that is, of depicting events through various letter writers, for whom the thoughts and emotions regarding these events were supposedly still fresh.

Some readers have found objectionable Pamela’s...

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