Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded

Summary and Analysis of Pamela’s Journal: The 1st Day of her Happiness through the 5th.

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Summary:

Thursday Morning.

After a sleepless night, Pamela frets about what the fashionable world will say about her impending nuptials. Mr. B. drops in for an exchange of elevated sentiments. Pamela dresses for the ceremony and strives to overcome her unseasonable misgivings.

Thursday Afternoon.

Pamela and Mr. B. have breakfast with Mr. Peters and Mr. Williams, but Pamela is again too nervous to eat. After breakfast, they all proceed to the chapel, with Mrs. Jewkes accompanying and Nan standing guard at the door. Mr. Williams officiates at the ceremony, and Mr. Peters gives away the bride.

After the wedding Pamela and Mr. B. go for a ride in the chariot. When they return, they find that three gentleman-rakes of Mr. B.’s acquaintance have invited themselves to dinner. Mr. B. tells Pamela that these gentlemen are notorious moochers and likely to stay on all through the evening and night. Pamela retires to her closet, and after a time Mr. B. comes up to inform her that the rakes have heard from Lady Davers about the Squire’s alliance with his mother’s waiting-maid. Mr. B. intends to get rid of them as soon as possible.

Pamela dines with Mrs. Jewkes, who at first resists sitting down with her. After dinner, the two women take a turn in the garden while Mr. B. sees off the rakes. Pamela marvels at what a different aspect the house and grounds (not to mention the housekeeper) now wear. Mr. B. then returns, without the rakes, and he and Pamela sit down to supper, during which he speaks words of comfort, in spite of which she grows increasingly anxious. Pamela then retires again to her closet, where she says a prayer of thanksgiving and prepares herself for the “happy, yet awful Moment” that approaches.

Friday Evening.

Pamela reflects contentedly on Mr. B.’s “delicate and unexceptionable” behavior of the previous night. Over breakfast Mr. B. asks (but makes clear that he does not demand) to see those of Pamela’s writings that he has not yet read, and Pamela cheerfully agrees to supply them. Mr. B. then inquires into the financial situation of Pamela’s parents and gives her fifty guineas with which to pay their debts. He gives her a further one hundred guineas, seventy-five of which she distributes to the servants as presents in commemoration of her wedding. He promises her yet more money to spend on fine clothes, which he expects her to wear as befitting her new station.

The couple takes another turn in the chariot. After some small talk, they discuss Lady Davers again, with Mr. B. warning Pamela against effecting reconciliation through dishonorable self-abasement. They return to the house for dinner, after which Mr. B. declares his intention of leaving for Bedfordshire on Tuesday. Pamela asks him to reinstate the Bedfordshire servants who lost his favor through loyalty to her. Mr. B. consents, though he still begrudges the servants’ inviting Lady Davers to meddle in his affairs.

“Saturday Morning, the Third of [her] Happy Nuptials.”

Pamela and Mr. B. write to the Bedfordshire servants, announcing their marriage and the servants’ reinstatement. Mr. Williams visits, asking permission to see his new living, and Pamela is delighted to see him a contented recipient of Mr. B.’s benevolence. She reflects on the great power, and the great responsibility, of the wealthy to do good for the less fortunate.

Saturday Evening.

Mr. B. announces his intention of establishing Mr. Andrews, rent-free, on a farm in his estate in Kent, and he proposes that he and Pamela should visit her parents annually and entertain as many visits as Mr. and Mrs. Andrews please to make. He also announces Pamela’s yearly allowance of two hundred pounds.

“Sunday, the Fourth Day of [her] Happiness.”

Over breakfast, Mr. B. expresses his opinion that marriages are best served by total openness, so that the spouses each indicate what they like and dislike about each other. He then proceeds to prescribe several rules for Pamela. She should always dress for dinner, lest company arrive and interpret her slovenly attire as a mark of disrespect for her husband. She should arise every morning by six-thirty, with breakfast beginning at nine. Dinner begins at two in the afternoon, with supper at eight. Further, Pamela should always strive to appear pleasant and untroubled, even when she is upset. She must “let no little Accidents ruffle [her] Temper,” especially in front of guests.

After breakfast, Pamela goes upstairs and dresses herself grandly in anticipation of dinner, in accordance with her Master’s injunction. She finds him in the garden alcove, and he invites her to find some fault with him and deliver her injunctions. Pamela claims that she is unable to find fault with him. Mr. B. expresses his hope of progeny and then leaves to bring in their dinner guests.

The guests approach Pamela in the garden, where the ladies compliment her and Sir Simon makes naughty jokes. Mrs. Jewkes arrives and addresses Pamela as “your Ladyship,” letting the cat out of the bag. Mr. B. receives congratulations and Pamela is embarrassed. At dinner, Pamela takes her place at the upper end of the table, and she and Mr. B. commit to a ball on Tuesday night at Lady Darnford’s residence.

“Monday, the Fifth Day.”

Mr. B. rides out after breakfast to see Mr. Carlton, a sick man who owes him money, having warned Pamela that he may not be home that night. In the evening Pamela sups with Mrs. Jewkes, who seems somewhat to regret her earlier mistreatment of her. Pamela marvels at the power of the example heads of families set to their servants. When by ten at night Mr. B. has not returned, Pamela fears that the sick man must be worse.

Analysis:

Pamela’s conquest of her new social element continues apace. On the morning of the wedding, she awakes to anxieties about what people of fashion will say when her marriage becomes public knowledge: “The great ’Squire B. has done finely! he has marry’d his poor Servant Wench!” She goes through with it, however, appearing at the altar in garments belonging to the late Lady B., whose social and moral role she hopes to fill. That she will do so creditably seems probable when we recall her musical performance from the previous Friday, when she sang for the neighbors a favorite song of her Lady’s, which her Lady had picked up in the seaside resort town of Bath. The style and content of that song, with its “soft dreams” and “Phoebus’ Rays” and preoccupation with romantic love, made it the harmonious social counterpart to Pamela’s success with Psalm 137. Not only has Pamela deserved her new position by being a moral and spiritual exemplar, but she can also speak and sing the language of leisure and refinement and hence will not be out of place in fine drawing rooms.

Pamela’s social successes may seem to pose a difficulty for the moral premises of the novel. Richardson, of course, did a revolutionary thing when he based a novel on his assertion that the sexual virtue of a lower-class girl has an absolute value and is worth defending; prior to him, literature had portrayed only upper-class virginities as worth fussing over. Ironically, however, one of the notable features of Richardson’s legacy is the frequency with which his critics have condemned him as a snob, partly on the basis of his biography, which demonstrates a lifelong desire to cultivate friendships with the high-born, and partly on the basis of his rewarding Pamela’s virtue with such a drastic elevation of her social status. Pamela’s great claim that “my Soul is of equal Importance with the Soul of a Princess; though my Quality is inferior to that of the meanest Slave” is not necessarily radical. Richardson appears to suggest that the proper destiny of the meritorious servant-girl is to cease to be “inferior to . . . the meanest Slave” and become instead something closer to “a Princess.”

Another of Richardson’s claims, however, is that virtue must receive social recognition in order to exert its due influence. This pragmatic contention may justify his concern with social status; it certainly sheds light on his procedure in the second half of this novel, in which Pamela not only charms the neighbors but also finds opportunities to extend her virtues over wider field. No longer having to invest her moral energy in the negative project of defending her purity, she can demonstrate her positive qualities of humility, obedience, piety, love, forgiveness, gratitude, charity, and so on. The numerous choric scenes, in which the gentry and servants hymn Pamela’s virtue, commend Mr. B. for rewarding it, congratulate Mr. Andrews for having cultivated it, expatiate on the merits of virtue per se, or simply praise God and His providence, may seem tedious and redundant. Nevertheless, they make Richardson’s point about the influence that Pamela can exert on the people around her. In their wordy tributes, the characters demonstrate how compellingly Pamela has spoken to their good nature.

Nevertheless, there remain certain disturbing elements in the outlook for Pamela’s new life. For one, the very suddenness of Pamela’s good fortune may make it seem too much like a fairy-tale transformation. Not only does Richardson allow his heroine to have her cake (by refusing her seducer) and eat it too (by accepting her seducer under different circumstances), but the reformation of Pamela’s erstwhile antagonists may appear too arbitrary to be genuine and lasting. One character whom critics have singled out in this respect is Mrs. Jewkes, once the “wicked Procuress” and monstrous tormentor, now Pamela’s attendant at the altar. When Pamela remarks, “Mrs. Jewkes was quite another Person to me,” the observation seems true enough; when, however, she assures Mrs. Jewkes that “I must be highly unworthy, if I did not forego all my little Resentments [toward you],” it is a judgment in which few readers will concur. Pamela’s diplomacy in this matter is probably prudent, but in letting the vicious housekeeper off the hook, she seems to have waived one of the strongest arguments she employed during the time of her captivity. Soon after her arrival in Lincolnshire, she probed Mrs. Jewkes as to what exactly her concept of duty comprehended: “[Y]ou will not, I hope, do an unlawful or wicked Thing, for any Master in the World!” Mrs. Jewkes answered her in the most damning way: “[H]e is my Master, and if he bids me do a Thing that I can do, I think I ought to do it.” Pamela knows that the Christian servant’s first duty is to God’s laws, his second to himself, and his third to social authorities such as his Master; by contrast, Mrs. Jewkes and the other servants who cooperated in Pamela’s imprisonment consider duty to Master absolute. On this principle, she hounds Pamela, and on this principle, she undergoes a moral reformation at exactly the same time that her Master does. The fact that the principle now works in Pamela’s favor may not offset the reader’s discomfort with its essentially sinister nature. Like the officers on trial at Nuremberg, Mrs. Jewkes is just following orders.

This criticism of Mrs. Jewkes’s reformation may or may not be Richardson’s; indeed, Richardson has such a penchant for wish-fulfillment narratives that one may reasonably suspect that he approves of the reformed housekeeper wholeheartedly. Nor is her switch to the roster of “good” characters the only problematic such move in the novel. Mr. B.’s moral transformation is more psychologically convincing than that of Mrs. Jewkes: we have seen the process that led to it, and as he himself notes in his own defense, he has not been “a very abandoned Profligate” and, by virtue of fumbling all his chances, has committed “no very enormous or vile Actions.” It is far more important in his case than in the housekeeper’s, however, that the reformed villain should truly deserve the moral credit that the novel awards him for becoming an ally of the heroine.

If Mr. B. does not deserve Pamela’s love but simply receives it as a favor from the author, then his acceptance by Pamela constitutes a serious moral flaw in the novel. Thus, Morris Golden argues, Richardson’s most “sadistic” move is to make his heroine love her would-be rapist: “the full desire of the sadist is not satisfied until the girl both loves and fears, until she is hurt but continues loving nonetheless, or perhaps even as a consequence. . . . As much as Pamela, Mr. B. has his cake and eats it---not only the pleasure of torturing her, but also the satisfaction of gaining her love.” This is a rather extreme way of putting the case, but it captures the magnitude of the challenge Richardson has set himself in making Mr. B. plausible as a decent husband for Pamela. Individual readers will decide for themselves the degree to which he succeeds.