Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501
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 willingness to marry her tormentor. Did she preserve her virginity for virtue’s sake or for a better offer? Others admire Pamela’s plucky defense, both intellectual and physical, of her sense of self.
Brissenden, R. F. Samuel Richardson. New York: Longmans, Green, 1965. Emphasizes Rich-ardson’s work over his biography. Provides a useful starting point for readers unfamiliar with Pamela.
Day, Martin S. History of English Literature, 1660-1837. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963. Compares Pamela to the Cinderella story, claiming Pamela Andrews as “the first great character creation in English prose fiction.”
Eaves, T. C. Duncan, and Ben D. Kimpel. Samuel Richardson: A Biography. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Although the authors’ chief attention is to Richardson’s life, they consistently connect his life and writing, offering extensive commentary on Pamela’s evolution.
Flynn, Carol Houlihan. Samuel Richardson: A Man of Letters. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. Approximately one-third of this carefully researched, splendidly reasoned assessment of Richardson and his work is devoted to Pamela.
Keymer, Tom. Richardson’s Clarissa and the Eighteenth Century Reader. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Although Keymer’s major focus is on Clarissa, he makes cogent comparisons to Pamela and helps readers to understand the cultural milieu Richardson addressed.
McKillop, Alan Dugald. Samuel Richardson, Printer and Novelist. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1936. McKillop focuses on Richardson’s later years, 1739-1754, during which his significant writing was accomplished. Detailed, biographically oriented commentary on Pamela.
Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957. Watt assesses Pamela in a chapter emphasizing Richardson’s initiation of the novel as a genre.