Pamela is a 1740 epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson.
- Pamela, a virtuous young woman, is ultimately rewarded by marriage to a wealthy man, Mr. B.
- Along the way, Pamela’s innate goodness strongly affects Mr. B to reform his once debauched ways, and he proves a worthy husband to her.
Last Updated September 5, 2023.
As the subtitle indicates, what many consider the first English novel is concerned with “virtue rewarded.” Developed through the title character’s diary entries, the plot is largely autobiographical. Pamela, a virtuous young woman, is ultimately rewarded by marriage to a wealthy man, Mr. B. Along the way, her innate goodness strongly affects him to reform his once debauched ways, and he proves a worthy husband to her.
Samuel Richardson’s original version, published in 1740, only takes Pamela through her youth and marriage. He followed this edition with an update in which Pamela goes through numerous adjustments in learning to live as a lady and manage the estate’s household.
Fifteen years old when the story begins, Pamela is sent to Bedfordshire to become a lady’s maid. Pamela becomes fond of the wealthy Lady B., but when the lady dies, her son and heir, the dissolute Mr. B, takes over. He begins flirting with her, but Pamela holds tightly to her religious convictions. She also assumes that he would never act on his flirtations; her parents tell her to return to living in poverty with them if he ever tries anything physical. When he attempts to sexually assault her, Pamela flees, only to be retrieved to the estate and his control. The housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis, provides moral support, but Mrs. Jewkes, the former estate’s caretaker, tries to control Pamela’s every move, even shutting her away.
Pamela is stowed away against her will at Mr. B’s Lincolnshire estate. Here, she continues to document her experiences even though she is not sure when she would be able to send her letters. In a brief glimpse of hope, the clergyman Mr. Williams attempts to help Pamela; he even offers to marry her to prevent any further action from Mr. B. This does not pan out, though. Mr. B sends Mr. Williams to the debtor’s prison, and Pamela injures herself in an attempted escape.
Mr. B and Mrs. Jewkes hatch a plan to sexually assault Pamela: Mr. B dresses up as a maidservant and climbs into bed with her. Pamela has a fit, fortunately halting Mr. B’s advances. Soon after, Mr. B’s behavior changes. Wielding the ultimate weapon, purity, and righteousness, Pamela prevails: Mr. B confesses he loves her after reading her letters and diary entries. Pamela is skeptical yet touched that he harbors genuine feelings for her. Understandably, she still desires to leave the estate. On the way home to her parents’ house, Pamela receives a letter from Mr. B. She wonders whether he is so bad after all; his letter says that he misses her and wants to marry her. Pamela willingly returns and the two enter into an engagement.
Once married, Pamela in her new position also must contend with Mr. B’s sister, Mrs. Davers, who thinks she is too lowly to be his wife. In addition, her husband reveals he has an illegitimate daughter from a previous affair. After meeting other family members and winning them over, Pamela becomes pregnant. When they move to London, her problems do not end because she learns her husband has not truly reformed; he is having an affair. Once discovered, he apologizes and promises to reform. The ever-virtuous Pamela not only forgives him but also offers to take his daughter (who had been at boarding school) into their home to raise her along with their own son.