Pamela makes this declaration of her identity during the early incident in which Mr. B. pretends not to recognize her in her country clothes and uses his pretext of confusion to get close to her. The incident and Pamela’s reaction underscore the fact that the battle to determine whom Pamela will sleep with is also the battle to determine who Pamela is: Pamela, in committing herself to a personal set of compelling principles, establishes her own identity, which Mr. B. threatens to erode by inducing her to violate those principles. The debate over Pamela’s identity also surfaces in their disagreements, apparent in this scene, over what she should wear. The country wardrobe Pamela has selected manifests to the world her choice of honest, cheerful poverty over corrupt luxury; Mr. B., taking a break from his efforts to dress Pamela in a wardrobe befitting his mistress, seeks to adulterate the meaning of her chosen clothes by interpreting them as a mode of coquetry.
“And pray, said I, walking on, how came I to be his Property? What right has he in me, but such as a Thief may plead to stolen Goods?---Why, was ever the like heard, says she!---This is downright Rebellion, I protest!”
This exchange between Pamela and Mrs. Jewkes takes place soon after Pamela’s arrival in Lincolnshire. It contains the heart of the novel’s massive appeal to the eighteenth-century public, namely its revolutionary message of personal autonomy. Pamela asserts her ownership of herself and questions Mr. B.’s right to detain her against her will; Mrs. Jewkes catches the radical assumptions implicit in Pamela’s reasoning and objects to them as the basis of “downright Rebellion.” In the end, of course, the novel’s plot does not pursue the implications of Pamela’s questions to their conclusions; indeed, it stops far short even of having her begrudge the ascendancy, after their marriage, of Mr. B. over his morally and intellectually superior wife. What with her insistently demotic speech and penchant for back talk, however, something of the insurrectionist always clings to Pamela, no matter how many shows of wifely deference she makes.
“O Sir! my Soul is of equal Importance with the Soul of a Princess; though my Quality is inferior to that of the meanest Slave.”
This exclamation, which Pamela makes in the course of a letter to Mr. Williams, expresses the radical statement at the heart of Richardson’s novel, namely that the moral life of the individual possesses an absolute value that transcends social distinctions. Mr. Williams, being a clergyman and thereby a moralist, is more receptive to this argument than are any of the other characters in the book, at least until Mr. B. undergoes his conversion. The aesthetic corollary of this axiom, of course, is the literary value of a story that dramatizes the fate of a soul on the bottom of the social scale; behind Pamela, then, one may detect Richardson justifying his choice of a country servant-girl as the focus of his serious moral and artistic regard.
“[T]here is such a pretty Air of Romance, as you relate them, in your Plots, and my Plots, that I shall be better directed in what manner to wind up the Catastrophe of the pretty Novel.”
This excerpt is one of Mr. B.’s flippant justifications of his desire to read Pamela’s letters in full. He often accuses her of fictionalizing events when she recounts them in her letters to her parents; whatever merit there may be in that charge (and Mr. B. never credibly disputes anything in her accounts), his trivialization of Pamela’s “Plots” to escape him reveals how poorly he understands her at this point in the novel. Mr. B. also likes to dismiss Pamela’s investment in her sexual virtue by suggesting that she is taking her cues from literary traditions that exalt female purity unrealistically; elsewhere, he imagines her “echo[ing] to the Woods and Groves her piteous Lamentations for the Loss of her fantastical Innocence, which the romantick Idiot makes such a work about.” Pamela, though, is no Don Quixote: she never glamorizes her danger or employs the hackneyed romantic language that Mr. B. puts in her mouth. Ironically, Mr. B. is the unrealistic one in this scenario, believing so faithfully in the cliché of the sexually privileged squire that he cannot recognize Pamela’s very different vision of their relationship.
“I know not how it came, nor when it begun; but creep, creep it has, like a Thief upon me; and before I knew what the Matter was, it look’d like Love.”
Shortly after Mr. B. dismisses her angrily from Lincolnshire, Pamela marvels at the progress that her feelings for him have made, all unbeknownst to her. Up to this point, the story has followed Pamela’s efforts to discern, as a matter of self-preservation, the content of the hearts of those around her, so that she might know who her friends and enemies are. That project has been thorny enough, but Richardson now confronts her with the even greater challenge of knowing the content of her own heart. As it turns out, Pamela has acted her own enemy in her recent conduct toward Mr. B. Whether her acting counter to her genuine feeling makes Pamela a hypocrite, as has so often been charged, or whether it simply makes her lacking in self-knowledge, is a matter for individual readers to decide.
“Thus foolishly dialogu’d I with my Heart; and yet all the time this Heart is Pamela.”
Pamela pens this observation soon after her dismissal from Lincolnshire has triggered her long-delayed recognition of her love for Mr. B. In a crucial distinction, “Pamela” is not her head but her heart: her love for Mr. B. has been no weaker for her ignorance of it because the truth of her emotions trumps whatever she knows or does not know intellectually. Even more generally, this identification of Pamela’s heart with her deepest self is part of the novel’s statement of the dignity of instinct and emotion. As one critic has put it, Richardson presents love as (in Pamela’s words) an “irresistible Impulse”; though it may require control, its basic promptings are to be heeded. Mr. B. originally went about his pursuit of Pamela in the wrong way, but his instinct to secure her as a mate was the right one, and now Pamela, in returning to him, will respond to the same very elementary promptings.
“[L]et us talk of nothing henceforth but Equality.”
After their wedding, and after so many exchanges in which Mr. B. has reminded Pamela of her lowly place in the social hierarchy, finally he addresses her as an equal. Not that she is legally her husband’s equal; indeed, she still has no rights under the law. Neither Mr. B. nor Richardson (nor, indeed, Pamela), however, advocates the elimination of all social distinctions; they base their claim for human equality in the right of each individual to follow his or her own conscience. By asserting this right in her letters, and concomitantly seizing narrative authority when legal and social authority were denied her, Pamela has secured recognition of it by that most immediate authority, her former Master, now her husband.
“[B]y the Ace, I have always thought the Laws of the Land denoted; and, as the Ace is above the King or Queen, and wins them; I think the Law should be thought so too.”
At a dinner at the Darnfords’, soon after Pamela and Mr. B.’s wedding, the Squire discourses on political philosophy with a pack of playing cards as his inspiration. Previously, Mr. B. has been a law unto himself; as both a Member of Parliament and a Justice of the Peace, he has enjoyed an over-concentration of power (handling both the legislative and judicial functions for his borough) that would appall the American Founders. During Pamela’s captivity in Lincolnshire, he even served a preemptive warrant for her arrest in the event of her ever escaping: lawless himself, he controlled the laws, and the result was a case study in tyranny. One fruit of his moral reformation, however, is a renewed respect for the law, which he now suggests that he will place above all social authorities, even the most exalted, and including, implicitly, himself.
“[H]er Person made me her Lover; but her Mind made her my Wife.”
Back in Bedfordshire near the end of the novel, Mr. B. explains to his rakish friends why he decided to marry Pamela. His explanation involves a distinction between Pamela’s mind and her body (or “Person”) and the different responses appropriate to each. In former days, Mr. B. was categorically averse to matrimony; one of the casualties of this aversion was the life in England of Sally Godfrey, and the only thing that prevented his continuing to treat Pamela as Sally Godfrey II was the acquaintance with Pamela’s mind that he acquired through his reading of her letters. Crucially, however, the distinction between mind and body, or husband and lover, is not an opposition: the mental and the physical are not mutually exclusive in this arrangement but rather complementary. Mr. B.’s bodily attraction to Pamela is not sufficient to make him a good husband for her, but neither does it lead him astray; rather, the value he eventually places on her moral and emotional life, her head and heart, serves to sanction his original, pre-intellectual impulse.
“All the Good I can do, is but a poor third-hand Good; for my dearest Master himself is but the Second-hand. GOD, the All-gracious, the All-good, the All-bountiful, the All-mighty, the All-merciful GOD, is the First: To HIM, therefore, be all the Glory!”
This passage, one of her final reflections in the novel, is Pamela’s effort to inoculate herself against the possibility of vanity and pride in her new position. Her propensity for crediting God with all positive developments and her own accomplishments has been a consistent feature of Pamela’s letters and journal, but the present passage incorporates her customary piety with some of Richardson’s views on the social order. The theme of what the powerful owe to the powerless emerges, as what Pamela claims to value in her new life is not the material advantages accruing to her exalted condition but rather “the Good that [she] can do” for others. Also apparent is a distinctly hierarchical conception of authority: Pamela’s husband, by virtue of being her husband, merits her deference as a steward of the authority descending from God; conservative sentiments such as this one serve to qualify the novel’s revolutionary advocacy of self-determination by declining to translate it into political action.
Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Pamela’s artless style of writing and speaking is appropriate to a story that focuses on such simple emotional drives as those that unite the heroine and Mr. B. It is not a decorous style; its virtue lies in its being as vital and real as...
Richardson’s fiction commonly portrays individuals struggling to balance incompatible demands on their integrity: Pamela, for instance, must either compromise her own sense of right or offend her Master, who deserves her obedience except...
Richardson’s intention was to render a profound psychological study by making Pamela’s psyche as immediate to the reader as possible through the comparatively unfiltered record of her spontaneous thoughts and feelings. One limitation...