Richardson writes using the epistolary or letter writing form for his 1740 novel: Pamela tells her story through the series of letters she writes to her parents about her predicament with Mr. B. Later, and she continues the letters as a form of diary when she realizes her parents cannot receive them.
Epistolary novels were popular in the eighteenth century, because they lent an aura of realism to a story: people frequently wrote letters to each other; therefore, it would seem perfect natural that a novel be constructed as if it were the publication of a "real" cache of letters.
Pamela has been criticized, however, because the vast bulk of the letters are written by her, leading to the question of reliable narration. Can we trust Pamela's version of the story she tells when we having no other account to compare it to? (Richardson solves this problem in later novels, such as Sir Charles Grandison by having key events retold several times in different letters from different people.)
Clearly, Richardson meant for Pamela to be a trustworthy narrator. The subtitle of the novel is Virtue Rewarded, and Pamela, on one level, is a representation or symbol of "virtue." In this case, "virtue" is primarily understood as retaining one's sexual purity against a wily aggressor. Beyond that, however, Richardson intends her to be an ideal of goodness and wants the reader to trust her narration.
Yet, as critics have pointed out, Pamela is also structuring the narrative, as any person would, to show herself in the best possible light. While Mr. B., on the contrary, is anything but trustworthy, he points to way letter writing can shade or distort events when he writes to Pamela's father:
Hence, silly girl! her misrepresentations of those innocent familiarities of mine to her, on certain benevolent occasions ...
We also see from Pamela's own account that she can bury her true self under a public self that presents quite differently. For example, she acts with great politeness and modesty to local ladies who treat her poorly, but privately writes of a Mrs. Brooks:
She looked with such a malicious sneering countenance, I cannot abide her.
She likewise surprises Mr. B in her letters by revealing an assertive private self at odds with the self-effacing public self she revealed to him. He says to her:
“You must have thought yourself my equal, at least, by the liberties you have taken with my character, in your letters."
In the end, we appreciate a writer who allowed a young female maidservant to tell her own story in her own voice, but we also must be willing to evaluate, rather than merely accept, Pamela's utterances as unmediated truth.
Garden. Walled garden on the Lincolnshire estate of the young squire Mr. B——, where Pamela Andrews has been reduced to a servant because of her family’s declining fortunes. The squire wants to seduce the virtuous young Pamela, who uses the garden to meet, or correspond with, Mr. Williams, the local clergyman, who loves her. The plot of the story centers on threats to Pamela’s virtue, her successful defense, and the rewards she receives as a result of her steadfastness, just as the biblical story of Adam and Eve centers on the serpent’s efforts to seduce Eve from her innocence. Pamela’s first temptation, like Eve’s, takes place in a garden. The garden of Mr. B——’s Lincolnshire estate becomes a setting that helps chart Pamela’s seeming recoiling from, and eventual seduction of, her master. Eventually, Mr. B——’s love for Pamela overcomes his lust and his pride of caste. They are married by Mr. Williams in the restored chapel on his estate. Pamela’s virtue is rewarded by marriage and by B——’s reform. She now becomes the mistress of his estates in Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire.
To Pamela, the estate’s old-fashioned walled garden at first appears to be a prison, as its high walls serve only to shut her in. Later, however, it also seems to be a refuge, protecting her from external dangers....
(The entire section is 1,146 words.)