Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded

Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded Summary and Analysis of Letters XIX through XXIV.


Letter XIX: Pamela to her Father and Mother.

Pamela continues where her previous letter left off. Mr. B. has conferred with Mrs. Jervis and, approving the work Pamela has done so far on his waistcoat, has determined that Pamela should stay until it is finished. Pamela is aware of “some private Talk” between Mr. B. and Mrs. Jervis, which the housekeeper will not summarize for Pamela. However, Pamela professes to trust Mrs. Jervis, who after all must remain in Mr. B.’s service after Pamela has left it. Mrs. Jervis again advises Pamela to humble herself before Mr. B. and ask to continue in his employment, causing Pamela to set out her case again in response. Mrs. Jervis gives a novel assessment of Mr. B.’s conduct, suggesting that he is irritated with himself for being unable to overcome his love for Pamela, a social inferior, and that his frustration with himself accounts for his cursing of Pamela and his demand that she leave his household. Pamela reiterates her principles and discourses on the sexual double standard. She speculates that, were she to become Mr. B.’s mistress, he would abandon her as soon as she began to show the ill effects of their connection.

The two women continue discussing the probability or improbability of Mr. B. improving his behavior. Mrs. Jervis attenuates her confidence in Mr. B.’s delicacy, professing, “I dare swear for him, he never will offer you any Force.” When Pamela has disposed of all of Mrs. Jervis’s arguments, she declares again that she has no option but to leave, though she laments having to part from all the servants, who have been kind to her. A postscript, however, notes that Pamela has indeed consented to remain to finish her embroidery work on Mr. B.’s waistcoat, which she considers the prettiest needlework she has ever done, and that she is working overtime to finish it, the sooner to return home.

Letter XX: Pamela to her Father and Mother.

Pamela describes the humble wardrobe she has gotten up in preparation for her return to poverty. Concerned that she would make a tawdry spectacle if she were to return home in the fine clothes she received from Mr. B., Pamela acquires some sturdy fabric and sews for herself a number of undergarments. From a peddler she purchases a number of small articles, primarily outerwear. The letter concludes with Pamela’s deciding against the return of the four guineas: she reasons that they are all the wages she has ever received from Lady B. or Mr. B. and that she can reasonably consider herself to have earned them in the fourteen months since her Lady’s death.

Letter XXI: Pamela to her Father and Mother.

Mrs. Jervis tells Pamela that she has been speaking about her with Mr. B. and that he has expressed anger at the servant-girl, saying that she has acted her own enemy in refusing his innocent favor. He has further said that if he knew a lady of noble birth, identical to Pamela “in Person and Mind,” he would marry her immediately. Pamela counters that if she were a lady of noble birth she might not accept Mr. B.’s proposal, given his previous behavior to her. Mrs. Jervis finds Pamela’s rigidity exasperating. The conversation languishes as the two women bridle at each other and then terminates with their reconciliation. The letter concludes with Pamela’s hope that she will have finished Mr. B.’s waistcoat, which she now calls “ugly,” within two days.

Letter XXII: Pamela to her Father and Mother.

Mr. B. meets Pamela in the hall and demands to know when she plans to leave the household. When she replies that she will stay until his waistcoat is finished, he observes that she has spent an inordinate amount of time on it already and accuses her of working harder at her writing than at her sewing. He exclaims, “I don’t want such idle Sluts to stay in my House,” just before he notices that the butler, Mr. Jonathan, is standing nearby. Since this incident, the servants have been asking Mrs. Jervis about the timing and reason for Pamela’s departure, the general sense being that they will miss her when she is gone.

Later, Mr. B. approaches Mrs. Jervis and Pamela, demanding of the housekeeper when Pamela will be finished with the notorious waistcoat. Pamela, answering for herself, says that she needs a few more hours, but she would be happy to leave the house immediately and send the waistcoat back when it is finished. Mr. B., still addressing Mrs. Jervis, complains that Pamela seems to cast a spell on everyone who meets her, convincing them that she is “an Angel of Light.” Pamela leaves Mr. B. and Mrs. Jervis to discuss her out of her hearing, though she will learn later from Mrs. Jervis that Mr. B. expressed regret during this conversation for having spoken roughly to Pamela in front of Mr. Jonathan.

Pamela encounters Mr. Jonathan, who speaks kindly to her and expresses confidence in her virtue. Pamela thanks him, crying, and hurries away. The steward, Mr. Longman, holds Pamela in similarly high regard. When Pamela loses her pen and runs out of paper, she asks for supplies from Mr. Longman, who generously supplies all the writing implements she needs and more. He expresses his regret that Pamela is soon to leave, and he puzzles aloud over the recent change in Mr. B.’s character. The letter concludes with Pamela’s reflecting on her contentment with the high respect in which her fellow servants hold her.

Letter XXIII: Pamela to her Father and Mother.

Mr. B. entertains the neighbors at dinner. The Ladies express interest in seeing Pamela, who has gained a reputation as “the greatest Beauty in the Country.” Mr. B. downplays Pamela’s attractions and gives his opinion that Pamela’s real distinction lies in her humility and her ability to inspire loyalty among her fellow servants. The ladies are not discouraged, however, and resolve to visit Pamela.

Soon the ladies approach the mildly nettled Pamela, who endures their examination and keeps her sarcastic replies to herself. The ladies finally depart, singing Pamela’s praises and surmising that she must have a genteel background.

Pamela, writing, registers her hope that she will be able to set out on Thursday. She reflects on the paradoxical affinity of love with hate and closes by indicating her mischievous plan to surprise Mrs. Jervis by appearing in her new outfit of country clothes.

Letter XXIV: Pamela to her Father and Mother.

Pamela reflects with some regret on the Master that she will soon leave. She reasons that he seems to have striven in vain to overcome his attraction to her and that his failure has deformed his “Temper.” She regrets having been the cause for Mr. B. demeaning himself in the eyes of his servants, whose respect he should endeavor to retain.

Pamela tries on her new country outfit, which she describes in extensive detail, and is pleased with the reflection she catches in the mirror. She then models the clothes in the housekeeper’s parlor before Mrs. Jervis, who is suitably surprised.

Meanwhile, Mr. B. steps into the room behind Pamela’s back, catches a glimpse of her, takes her to be a stranger, and withdraws. From another room he summons Mrs. Jervis and asks her to send the pretty maiden to him, so Mrs. Jervis directs Pamela to go in and fool him. Mr. B., while recognizing Pamela, takes advantage of the pretense of anonymity to make advances, prompting Pamela to exclaim, “Indeed I am Pamela, her own self!” An argument ensues in which Mr. B. accuses Pamela of disguise and hypocrisy and Pamela defends her costume choice as appropriate to her station and thereby a manifestation of her honesty and integrity. Mr. B. then offers to allow Pamela to stay another two weeks while he convinces Lady Davers to take her on. Pamela protests, however, that she merely wants to return to her parents. Mr. B. calls her several names, Pamela breaks down weeping, and they contest again the issue of Mr. B.’s efforts to distinguish Pamela, whether they are essentially liberal or lecherous. Pamela flees when Mr. B. loses his temper, and soon she receives a note in which Mr. Jonathan reports that another servant has overheard Mr. B. vowing, “I will have her!” Pamela goes anxiously to bed.


Throughout the novel, both Pamela and Mr. B. exhibit a notable interest in their own and each other’s clothing. Pamela’s commitment here to embellishing her Master’s waistcoat is notorious among critics as being the flimsiest of excuses for her remaining in his employment. To condemn the waistcoat as a flagrant plot device may, however, be simplistic: Pamela’s ambivalence about the garment, her thinking it first pretty and then ugly and the arbitrariness with which she seizes upon the necessity of its completion, may exemplify her divided feelings about its owner and hence reveal attitudes that are obscure to Pamela herself. Individual readers will decide whether the waistcoat is a clumsy expedient on Richardson’s part or a compelling instance of psychological realism.

Letter XX demonstrates Pamela’s use of clothing as a mark of identity. Earlier, when Mr. B. gave Pamela the set of new garments he had selected for her, he asked her whether she thought that he did not “know [that] pretty Maids wear Shoes and Stockers,” thereby subsuming Pamela under the category “pretty Maids” and, implicitly, under the category of maids with whose hosiery the Squire has been familiar. His question, then, proposed clothing as a mark of group identity, and not a dignified group by Pamela’s lights. Pamela, who stands on her dignity, would naturally prefer to present herself as an individual and distinct from this group. In order to declare her distinction, she assembles for herself a practical and economical wardrobe suitable for life in the country. Some of the articles she sews for herself, and some of the articles she purchases with her own money; crucially, none of the articles is the remnant of another woman’s wardrobe or something that a man wanted her to wear. Pamela is engaged in constructing the identity that she presents visually to the world, and that identity is modest, sturdy, and unpretentious, declaring not what she wants to be but simply what she is. Thus, when Mr. B. pretends to mistake her for “Pamela’s Sister,” she cries out, “Indeed I am Pamela, her own self!”

Closely related to the utility of clothing as a sign of personal identity is its utility as a sign of class status. Pamela, whom many critics have accused of being a social climber, has, in this instance at least, no interest in dressing above her station; in fact, she worries about how trashy she would look if she were to return to her parents’ humble home wearing her Lady’s cast-off wardrobe. This anxiety underscores the ambiguous class position Pamela has come to occupy as an “upper” servant, a lady’s companion, and a young woman of incongruously genteel attainments. Her return to her parents must, if she is to maintain any kind of social respectability, involve a deliberate casting-off of the waiting-maid persona, a persona that begins to look sordidly pretentious when seen outside of the peculiar context from which it derives its legitimacy. Interestingly, Pamela here seems scarcely to resent the prospect of descending in the social scale; her main concern is to acknowledge clearly to the world, through her sartorial choices, the role she has embraced.

The charge of hypocrisy hangs in the air, however. Mr. B. makes it explicit after he strikes out with “Pamela’s Sister”: “[A]nd so you must disguise yourself, to attract me, and yet pretend, like an Hypocrite as you are---.” Pamela interrupts him at this point, but he presumably would have said that Pamela is a hypocrite for dressing herself so attractively and then pretending that she does not desire to attract anyone. Is it unreasonable of Mr. B. to doubt Pamela when she disclaims the goal of being attractive? In Letter XXV Mrs. Jervis will suggest to Pamela, “I believe truly, you owe some of your Danger to the lovely Appearance you made,” prompting Pamela to respond, “Then . . . I wish the Cloaths in the Fire. I expected no Effect from them; but if any, a quite contrary one.” Early in Letter XXIV, however, she seemed delighted to make a “lovely Appearance”: “I trick’d myself up as well as I could in my new Garb, . . . and look’d about me in the Glass, as proud as any thing.---To say Truth, I never lik’d myself so well in my Life.” Her attitude does not change until Mr. B. turns out to like her just as well as she likes herself. The question, it would seem, is whether Pamela is a proper hypocrite, conscious of her inconsistency, or whether she is manifesting an unconscious ambivalence regarding her own physical charms. Very possibly she may take a natural pleasure in her ability to attract admirers, only censoring this pleasure because of the danger she perceives in Mr. B.’s attentions; her hypocrisy, such as it is, would then consist of a refusal to acknowledge consciously a desire that she sees perceives as threatening.

Mr. B.’s doubts about Pamela’s sincerity and integrity extend to her relations with the other servants, whom she has “inchant[ed]” to believe that she is “an Angel of Light.” He has evidently noticed the degree to which his recent conduct has caused his reputation to decline among such members of the household as Mr. Longman, who wonders what “ails our Master of late”; the upper servants, at least, have even gleaned that the Squire’s predatory fixation on Pamela has contributed to the change in his behavior. Mr. B. alludes to the party spirit among the staff when he explains to his dinner guests that Pamela “makes all her Fellow-servants love her” by being “humble, and courteous, and faithful.” His insinuation, of course, is that these admirable qualities are all part of Pamela’s strategy for forging alliances: she “makes” others feel a certain way by enchanting or deceiving them, and she perpetrates this deception by simulating the qualities of humility, courtesy, and faithfulness rather than possessing them in earnest.

While there is certainly no evidence to support the Squire’s suspicion that Pamela is deliberately fomenting rebellion among the servants, events will show that the notion of a Pamelist faction among the servants is logical. Moreover, Mr. B.’s mention of humility as a cause of Pamela’s popularity among her peers raises a vexed issue, to wit, that Pamela’s delight in reporting others’ praise of her virtue may strike many readers as rather off-putting. In making the transition from the scene of Mr. Jonathan’s admiration of her goodness to the scene of Mr. Longman’s admiration of the same, she writes to her parents, “And now I will give you an Instance how much I am in Mr. Longman’s Esteem also.” Some would contend that the virtue of humility is simply incompatible with the degree to which Pamela piques herself on the perquisite accruing to that virtue, namely her flattering reputation. Is virtue its own reward, or does Pamela, as the novel’s subtitle perhaps suggests, seek some extraneous return for it?