Letter XXV: Pamela to her Parents.
Pamela and Mrs. Jervis go to the latter’s chamber and sit down on opposite sides of the bed to undress for the night. They argue over Mrs. Jervis’s poor judgment in suggesting that Pamela fool Mr. B. in her new clothes. Mrs. Jervis defends herself against the unspoken charge that she intended to expose Pamela to Mr. B.’s sexual advances.
Pamela hears a noise in the closet and, on her way to investigate in her under-petticoat, is surprised when Mr. B. rushes out at her, dressed for conquest in “a rich silk and silver Morning Gown.” She takes refuge in the bed, where Mr. B. follows her. When Mrs. Jervis defends Pamela, Mr. B. threatens to throw the housekeeper out of the window and out of his employment. He fondles Pamela, whereupon Pamela has a series of fainting fits that last through the next three hours. Mr. B. leaves Mrs. Jervis and another servant, Rachel, to attend on her.
Letter XXVI: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
Mr. B. returns to Mrs. Jervis’s room late in the morning to speak to Pamela and the housekeeper. He is quite angry, and Mrs. Jervis volunteers to accompany Pamela in leaving Mr. B.’s employment. Mr. B. accuses Pamela of fomenting rebellion among the servants and of simulating her fainting fits. He says that he will not detain Pamela any longer since he is likely to marry soon. Pamela is glad to hear this news, both for Mr. B.’s sake and for her own.
Letter XXVII: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
Pamela finds that she must stay in Mr. B.’s household for another week because Mrs. Jervis plans to accompany her and cannot be ready until the next Thursday.
Mr. B. models for Pamela a suit of new clothes, which she reviews enthusiastically. They argue about whether Pamela should be wearing her cast-off fine clothes or the country clothes she prefers. He teases her about her about her fastidious virtue and her penchant for recounting his attempts to Mrs. Jervis and Mr. and Mrs. Andrews. Pamela submits her opinion that Mr. B. is “no Gentleman.”
Letter XXVIII: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
At a meeting with Pamela, Mrs. Jervis, and Mr. Longman the steward, Mr. B. informs the housekeeper that she may stay on in the household. Pamela is glad not to have been the occasion for Mrs. Jervis’s dismissal. Mr. B. then clarifies that he cannot allow Pamela to stay, due to her seditious “Freedom of Speech” and “her Letter-writing of all the Secrets of my Family.” He also considers her intolerably “pert.” An argument ensues among Mr. B., Pamela, and Mr. Longman on the subject of Pamela’s pertness, whether it exists or not and whether it is culpable or justifiable. Pamela finally makes an extravagant show of self-abasement that moves both Mr. Longman and Mr. B., and the latter dismisses Pamela with the epithet, “thou strange Medley of Inconsistence.”
Letter XXIX: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
Writing on a Monday and expecting to return to her parents on Thursday, Pamela laments the refinements she has acquired in Mr. B.’s household, as they have made her unfit for menial labor. She hopes to be able to support herself with needlework, a comparatively delicate occupation.
Pamela divides her clothing into three parcels, declaring that she is “resolv’d to take with me only what I can properly call my own.” She displays their contents to Mrs. Jervis in the green room where, with the cooperation of the housekeeper, Mr. B. has hidden himself in another closet. The first parcel contains the items Mrs. B. bestowed on Pamela, the second contains presents from Mr. B., and the third contains the articles Pamela has made or bought for herself. To the first bundle, she feels she has no claim, the second bundle she rejects as “the Price of my Shame,” but the third she embraces as “the Companion of my Poverty, and the Witness of my Honesty.” Pamela then seeks Mrs. Jervis’s advice on the point of the four guineas, asking whether she should return the money on the same principle that compels her to leave the second bundle. Mrs. Jervis advises Pamela to keep the guineas and the first and second bundles, too. Pamela will not take the bundles, but she is now at ease about the guineas.
Mrs. Jervis sends Pamela out of the room in order to confer with Mr. B. and give him a chance to sneak out, but Pamela returns so quickly that she catches a glimpse of him. She declares she has lost all faith in Mrs. Jervis, though the housekeeper insists that Mr. B.’s eavesdropping has had a good effect on him, moving him partway to repentance. The letter concludes with Pamela’s desire to be away from Mr. B.’s household, where it appears even her friends are against her.
Letter XXX: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. B. approaches Pamela in a kindly manner to question her about her home and parents. He offers to better the condition of Mr. Andrews and professes to be impressed with the evidences of Pamela’s moral character. The upshot is that he “love[s her] to Extravagance” and desires her to stay another week or two while he arranges to assist her family. Thinking that he has secured her consent, he leaves the room.
Pamela debates with herself whether to stay, for though she deeply wants Mr. B. to make her parents’ lives comfortable, she fears that her Master’s new kindness will prove a greater threat to her virtue than his aggression ever did. Finally, Pamela resolves not to trust Mr. B. but to return to her parents.
Letter XXXI: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
Later on Wednesday, after Pamela has finished the letter to her parents, Mr. B. comes to secure her acquiescence. When Pamela indicates that she is still resolved to leave, he offers fifty guineas, which she refuses, and then offers to find her a genteel husband, the clergyman Mr. Williams of Lincolnshire, who will raise her socially and protect her from predatory men. Pamela sees this suggestion as a ruse to keep her for another two weeks while Mr. B. can claim to be arranging the match, but she feigns interest and then goes off to pen a note rejecting the plan. Mr. B. seems to accept this answer, and Pamela prepares to depart.
Mrs. Jervis gives Pamela five guineas from Mr. B. Pamela surmises that Mr. B. may send the first and second bundles after her, in which case Pamela plans to sell the clothes and keep the money.
The letter concludes with fourteen four-line stanzas that Pamela has penned on the subject of her departure.
The Editor warns that Pamela’s trials are not over. Mr. B. has sent for Robin, the coachman from his Lincolnshire estate, to transport the unwitting Pamela to Lincolnshire. The Editor also reveals that John the footman has allowed Mr. B. to read all of the correspondence between Pamela and her parents.
The Editor provides a letter from Mr. B. to Mr. Andrews in which the Squire pretends to explain why Pamela is not coming home. He charges Pamela with fabricating romantic stories about Mr. B.’s designs upon her and claims that she has been conducting a long-distance affair with a young clergyman, so that Mr. B. has seen fit to send Pamela into the country for a time in order to prevent the imprudent match.
Mr. Andrews sees through this subterfuge and sets out for Mr. B.’s estate. He stations himself at the gate and bewails the disappearance of his child. Mr. B. assures him that Pamela is safe, claiming that she has gone to London in the service of a reputable family. Mr. Andrews does not believe this story and vows to remain in Mr. B.’s house until he has some word from Pamela. He returns home, however, several days later, before the arrival of a letter from Pamela to Mrs. Jervis, which the Editor provides.
Pamela reports to Mrs. Jervis that Robin the coachman has abducted her on his Master’s orders but that she has met with tolerable treatment. She asks Mrs. Jervis to tell Mr. and Mrs. Andrews that she is well. Mrs. Jervis sends the letter to Pamela’s parents, who derive small comfort from it but have no recourse other than prayer.
Some of the events in these letters have led critics to question the purity of Richardson’s moralistic intentions, the integrity of his moralistic heroine, or both. Skeptical readers often have difficulty taking seriously passages such as this one from Letter XXV: “I found his Hand in my Bosom, and . . . I was ready to die; and I sighed, and scream’d, and fainted away.” From one angle, Pamela’s physical reactions to Mr. B.’s assault seem to imitate erotic responsiveness, as Richardson specifies fierce activity terminating in a swoon and even works in the old pun on “death” as a slang term for sexual climax. On such a reading, the author stands accused of smuggling pornography into what purports to be an edifying work, as Pamela claims outrage but the worldly reader discerns titillation. Alternatively, a less hostile analysis might focus on Richardson’s psychological realism: the physical manifestations of Pamela’s distress may be an ingenious way of indicating her divided consciousness, as her body sends the signals that her mind and morals have censored. This reading, of course, implicates Pamela in a version of the hypocrisy charge, since it suggests that she does in fact experience the sexual attraction she denies. For many readers, these scenes of assault indicate that someone, at any rate, is less pure than he or she claims to be.
However one assesses the sincerity of Richardson and his heroine, what seems undeniable is that Pamela’s reporting of these scenes presents a problem of characterization: if the heroine is so delicate about sexual relations, how can she be so comfortable with passing on all the salacious details, and to her parents no less? The fault, however, probably lies not in Pamela’s hypocrisy but in Richardson’s imperfect mastery of the form that he has chosen. In making Pamela’s letters the main substance of the narrative, he has restricted himself almost entirely to one focalizing consciousness, that of his victim-heroine. If either Mr. B. or Mrs. Jervis has committed the details of this incident to paper, Richardson the “Editor” seems unaware of the fact, with the result that all of the necessary details must come from Pamela’s pen, despite her insistence that the details revolt her. By the time he wrote Clarissa five years later, Richardson had discovered the obvious solution to this problem was to include more of the epistolary output of other participants in the drama besides the impeccably pure heroine. In the meantime, however, Richardson’s readers must contend with the impact on characterization of this quirk of Richardson’s form, and try to distinguish the details Pamela includes because she is the sort of girl who would include them from the details Pamela includes because she must serve as Richardson’s narrator.
Related to the issues of assault and reportage is the theme of voyeurism, which obtrudes itself strongly in these letters. As early as Letter X, Pamela has worried that she is under surveillance, and her watchers will become more numerous and more shameless as the story moves along. In the “bundling scene,” where she separates her wardrobe into three bundles, Pamela believes herself to be engaging a trustworthy housekeeper in a cozy chat about domestic trivia. One of the pleasures she takes in this activity is clearly her sense that, in organizing her belongings according to their moral connotations, she is taking control of her life. In rejecting the clothes Mr. B. has chosen for her, she also rejects the role he has chosen for her, and in embracing her own clothes as “the Companion of my Poverty, and the Witness of my Honesty,” she affirms her social and economic decline as a positive act of self-determination and an index of her personal integrity. The fact that Mr. B. is slavering in the closet all the while, however, subverts the tone of the entire scene. Pamela is not really in charge of her own destiny or even of her own “Honesty” (i.e. chastity), because Mr. B. has her almost entirely in his power. As will become clear, he maintains that power by monitoring her every move and, indeed, her every (written) thought.
To what degree Richardson himself resembles Mr. B. in casting a prurient gaze on Pamela is an interesting question; many readers have felt that the novelist’s delight in revealing the heroine in so many physical trials and humiliations qualifies as a form of voyeurism. This charge may have some biographical justification, as Richardson from an early age evinced a tendency to scrutinize young women and speculate about their inner lives. Having achieved with Pamela a reputation for profound understanding of women, he gathered around himself a “harem” of young female disciples who consulted him on sensitive matters and whom, as his letters reveal, he observed closely. While this propensity doubtless aided Richardson in the “mastery in the [literary] delineation of the female heart” for which his contemporary admirers celebrated him, it may also bespeak an interest in his observational subjects that was neither aesthetic nor properly moral.
That Richardson possessed insight into the female psyche is not in doubt, however, and the “bundling scene” presents an excellent example of his knack for both portraying female characters and attracting female readers. The itemization of domestic objects, in this scene and elsewhere in the novel, resonated with women readers whose lives were taken up almost entirely with domestic affairs. Women readers represented a particularly important demographic for the novel in the eighteenth century because they generally lacked the education to read and appreciate the classical texts in which privileged men received their education. Women, then, tended to appreciate Richardson’s “realistic” handling of detail, whereas university-educated men tended to disapprove of such details too mundane, as insufficiently “literary” and thereby a violation of literary decorum. Literary decorum was a classical value, espoused most famously by Horace in his Ars Poetica, and part of Richardson’s contribution to the rise of the novel was to vindicate the aesthetic use of such indecorous elements as colloquial speech and non-symbolic detail. In Richardson’s writings, things very often stand first for themselves, second for whatever connotations they may have picked up through their participation in a realistic context, and third or not at all for a concept in the manner of a traditional poetic symbol.