Themes

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554

Pamela, also know in literature as Virtue Rewarded, is a 1740 novel written by Samuel Richardson. It is, in fact, an epistolary novel, meaning it is written in the form of a letter or a diary. The novel is also considered to be a conduct book or a book...

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Pamela, also know in literature as Virtue Rewarded, is a 1740 novel written by Samuel Richardson. It is, in fact, an epistolary novel, meaning it is written in the form of a letter or a diary. The novel is also considered to be a conduct book or a book that teaches the readers, especially the young audience, of the social norms of the community. It is often argued that Pamela is the first English novel—a pioneer in the novel genre, As such, it has received a lot of commercial success in the 18th and even the 19th century.

Pamela is written in two volumes and tells the story of a beautiful, smart, feminine, and religious 15 year old servant girl, as she is seduced and almost raped by the rich and noble Mr. B—the son of her late mistress. Pamela, however, doesn’t respond to Mr. B’s sexual advances, and he decides to reward her virtuous nature by asking her hand in marriage. In the end, Pamela and Mr. B fall in love and marry each-other. Some readers criticize Richardson for condoning abusive behavior towards women and making Pamela fall in love with the man who almost rapes her.

Pamela covers a variety of social themes such as the social classes of English society, the importance of chastity, virtue and femininity, religion, a bit of feminism, and of course love and marriage. As a servant girl about to marry a nobleman, Pamela wishes to be accepted into the aristocracy. Through her character, Richardson explains to the readers how the middle class wanted to mingle with the higher class in order to gain social acceptance. By the end of the novel, Pamela with her youth, beauty, intelligence, and virtue has managed to enamor both the middle class and the nobility.

However, many readers ask the question, what would have happened with Pamela if she wasn’t considered beautiful, pious, or virtuous? Would society still accept her? Pamela was written in a time when feminism was beginning to spread all over Europe. Women wanted to prove that they were capable of having an opinion, and they began to fight for their rights and their independence. Thus we have the two unanswered questions of Pamela’s fate. Some readers think that her intelligence and her outgoing personality should have enabled her to climb the social ladder and obtain a higher socioeconomic position, regardless of her physical appearance. Others think that her social approval depends greatly on her beauty, virtue, obedience and proper behavior. This is why a lot of readers argue whether Pamela is a feminist or an anti-feminist figure.

Finally, there is the theme of love and marriage. What is interesting about this theme is the fact that Richardson made the main characters fall in love with one another, and their marriage was actually a happy one. It is commonly known that marriages in the 18th century were usually arranged and were more out of convenience than love. So having both characters (especially Mr. B) be infatuated with one another is, in fact, very bold and even revolutionary. In the second volume of the book, Richardson writes of all the marital duties a spouse should have, focusing more on the role of the wife, saying how she must be obedient and submissive to her husband.

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