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Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is an epistolary novel, meaning that most of the information we have about Pamela comes at firsthand from her in the letters she writes. These show her to be virtuous, humble, dutiful, and rather naïve. In her first letter to her parents, for instance, Pamela laments...

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Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is an epistolary novel, meaning that most of the information we have about Pamela comes at firsthand from her in the letters she writes. These show her to be virtuous, humble, dutiful, and rather naïve. In her first letter to her parents, for instance, Pamela laments the death of the lady by whom she was employed as a personal servant but says that she has some comfort to offer: the husband of the deceased lady, her new master, has given her a large sum of money, four golden guineas, and promised to look after her, clasping her hand in front of everyone as he did so. Pamela sends the money straight back to her parents, showing what a dutiful daughter she is, but remains blissfully unaware of the incipient assault on her virtue, which her parents understand immediately and of which they warn her by return of mail.

Pamela continues to be entirely oblivious to her master’s designs, despite her parents’ warnings and his continuing to shower her with expensive gifts, including the clothes and shoes of his deceased wife. In letter 10, she is scandalized and indignant when he finally shows his true colors. The subtitle of Pamela is Virtue Rewarded, and the story is appropriately allegorical, with Pamela often seeming like a paragon from a morality play. Although she passes through a great many trials, she does not essentially change. It would be closer to the truth to say that circumstances adapt themselves to her, so that the virtuous, self-sacrificing, dutiful character she exhibits throughout the book can finally reap its just reward.

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