Richardson includes a “Preface by the Editor,” one purpose of which is to establish the white lie that what follows is not a novel that Richardson has authored about fictional characters but rather a collection of real letters that he has edited. The other major purpose is to outline in detail the moral justification of his publication of these letters, namely, the goal of “inculcat[ing] Religion and Morality” in “the Minds of the Youth of both Sexes” through the vehicle of an entertaining narrative.
A letter to the Editor from “J.B.D.F.” (the French translator Jean Baptiste de Freval) applauds the literary quality of Pamela’s writings and takes note of some of their most distinctive features, such as their having been “written under the immediate Impression of every Circumstance which occasioned them” and their displaying “the fair Writer’s most secret Thoughts.” Freval echoes the Editor’s moral program when he remarks that “Pleasure and Instruction here always go hand in hand: Vice and Virtue are set in constant Opposition, and Religion every-where inculcated.” He also supports the illusion of the narrative’s being non-fiction, as he speculates that “the Story must have happened within these Thirty Years past” and that the Editor has “been obliged to vary some of the Names of Persons, Places, &c. and to disguise a few of the Circumstances, in order to avoid giving Offense to some Persons.”
Finally, a letter to the Editor from an “affectionate Friend” offers similar compliments regarding the work’s ability to provide “Entertainment,” “Instruction,” and “Morality.” The Friend then goes on to comment on the plot and commend Pamela’s virtue at some length. He argues that “the Cause of Virtue, calls for the Publication of such a Piece as this,” and supports his claim by drawing a contrast between the moral and intellectual value of Pamela’s writings on the one hand, and the worthlessness of “pernicious Novels” on the other.
Letter I: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
Mrs. B., the “good Lady” whose waiting maid Pamela has been, has died of illness. All the servants grieve for the death of their Lady, who was kind to them.
On her deathbed, Mrs. B. bade her son, Mr. B., to take care of the servants, and she bade him especially to “Remember my poor Pamela!” Pamela’s new Master, taking her by the hand, promised to be a friend to her and employ her in the care of his linen. He later distributes mourning clothes and a year’s wages to all the servants; to Pamela, who has never received any wages in this household, he awards four golden guineas and the spare change from his mother’s pocket.
Pamela now sends the four guineas to her parents, recommending that they use some of the money to pay off their debts. She has concealed the money in a pillbox and wrapped the pillbox in paper, and she requests that her parents not extract the money in the presence of John the footman, who will have carried both Pamela’s letter and, unwittingly, the four guineas.
A postscript recounts what happened while Pamela was folding up this letter and preparing to send it. Mr. B. surprises her in her Lady’s dressing room, causing Pamela to conceal the letter in her bosom. Mr. B. prevails on her to give him the letter and, after reading it over, praises her dutifulness toward her parents, compliments her delicate hands and competent spelling, and offers her the use of his mother’s library. Pamela is flattered and grateful; she concludes again, extolling Mr. B. as “the best of Gentlemen.”
Letter II: John and Elizabeth Andrews to Pamela.
Pamela’s parents fear that the favor of Mr. B., setting Pamela above her station, may lead her into vice or the abandonment of chastity. Pamela was remarkably pretty when last they saw her six months ago. Mr. Andrews impresses upon her the value of “honesty” (that is, chastity), saying that no money can make good the loss of it and no mode of subsistence could be as degrading as Pamela being a kept woman. While professing to hope that the Squire has no dishonorable intentions toward Pamela, Mr. Andrews encourages her to be suspicious of the marks of favor she has received and says that if Mr. B. tries anything with her, Pamela should leave and come straight home. Mr. Andrews thanks Pamela for the gift of the four guineas, but he has hidden it in the thatched roof, and he will not spend it until he is confident that Mr. B. did not bestow it for the wrong reasons.
Letter III: Pamela to her Father.
Pamela expresses anxiety over her father’s suspicions, which Pamela herself now partly shares. She claims, however, to have a reasonable hope that Mr. B. will never treat her dishonorably. Above all, she is indignant that her parents should seem to doubt her commitment to chastity; she vows that she will “die a thousand Deaths” rather than commit a sexual infraction.
Letter IV: Pamela to her Mother.
Pamela receives praise from Mr. B.’s sister. Lady Davers, who has been visiting for the past month, compliments Pamela’s looks and character and advises her to “keep the Fellows at a Distance.” While waiting at table, Mrs. Jervis opines that Pamela is “too pretty to live in a Batchelor’s House,” prompting Lady Davers to suggest that Pamela should come to live at the Davers household. Mr. B. agrees, and Pamela takes heart from the inference that, if her Master is willing to part with her, then he must have no lecherous motives.
Letter V: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
Pamela confesses to her parents that she has no particular exigency for writing. John Arnold the footman always seems eager to carry letters between Pamela and her parents, and Pamela takes his willingness itself as a justification for writing. Moreover, as she admits toward the end of this letter, “I love Writing.”
Though Pamela has heard nothing further of the plan for her going to the Davers household, she is content with her current situation. Mrs. Jervis is kind and competent, and she comes from a genteel background. Notably, she has chastised a male servant who attempted to kiss the unwilling Pamela.
In concluding, Pamela professes herself free of any worries about her Master’s conduct, reasoning that an indiscretion with a servant-girl would lessen his chances of making a fine marriage.
Letter VI: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
Mr. B. bestows on Pamela a wardrobe of his mother’s old clothes. Mrs. Jervis is present during the presentation of the clothes, so that Pamela’s virtue is not endangered. Pamela considers the clothes too fine for her and wishes she could, without being rude, sell them and send the money home to her parents.
Later, Mrs. Jervis reveals to Pamela that Mr. B. has inquired about Pamela’s conduct toward the other sex, expressing some concern that her good looks could attract predatory admirers. Mrs. Jervis’s answer was to lavish praise on Pamela’s moral character.
Letter VII: Pamela to her Father.
Mr. B. furnishes Pamela with further gifts, including stockings. Mrs. Jervis is absent this time, and Pamela is embarrassed to be alone with a young man in her Lady’s closet, receiving a gift of intimate apparel. Mr. B. teases her, saying, “Don’t blush, Pamela: Dost think I don’t know pretty Maids wear Shoes and Stockens?” Pamela, anxious about the impropriety of this remark, recounts the experience to Mrs. Jervis, who calms her by suggesting that Mr. B. may be outfitting Pamela to serve as a waiting-maid for Lady Davers. The letter concludes with Pamela’s effort to convince herself that Mr. B. has nothing to gain and everything to lose in transgressing upon the purity of a servant girl and that, in the ways of providence, “All that happens is for our Good.”
Letter VIII: Her Father and Mother to Pamela.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews indicate their concern regarding Mr. B.’s “free Expression to [Pamela] about the Stockens.” They again enjoin their daughter to sacrifice anything, even her life, rather than her virtue. They recommend that she trust Mrs. Jervis and seek the housekeeper’s counsel in everything.
Letter IX: Pamela to her Father and Mother.
Mr. B. has called off the plan for Pamela to take a position in the Davers household. His stated reasons are that Lady Davers has a nephew who might behave improperly toward Pamela and that as Mr. B.’s mother committed Pamela to her son’s care, it is right that Pamela should remain in Mr. B.’s household. Mrs. Jervis tells Pamela that Lady Davers, upon hearing of the change of plans, shook her head ominously, saying, “Ah! Brother!”
Letter X: Pamela to her Mother.
In accordance with the forebodings of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, Mr. B. has finally “degraded himself to offer Freedoms to his poor Servant.” No details are forthcoming yet because, as Pamela reports, the letter in which she supplied the details has gone missing. She now suspects that Mr. B., given his immorality in one quarter, would hardly forbear from stealing letters. Pamela is now sensible of a general atmosphere of censorship and oppression: she believes that members of the household are spying on her, and she has heard Mr. B. say to Mrs. Jervis, “That Girl is always scribbling.” Mr. B. now wants to keep Pamela occupied with embroidering a waistcoat for him, so that she will have less time to write.
After the death of her Mistress, Pamela finds herself in an atmosphere of secrecy and hidden meanings, and henceforth the preservation of her purity will depend on her interpreting other people’s motives and intentions correctly. Readers should go immediately on the alert when the openness and solidarity in which the servants collectively mourned the departed Mrs. B. gives way to Pamela’s suspicions of John the footman, from whom she conceals her four golden guineas. Even the cautious Pamela may not be vigilant enough, however. If she does not trust John with the guineas, then why does she assume he will not read the letter in which she reveals their hiding place?
Moreover, Pamela does not at first think to question Mr. B.’s motives for awarding her the golden guineas. Perhaps he simply felt that she had earned them, or perhaps he wanted to commemorate his mother with a munificent gesture. Pamela’s parents, however, suspect that there are strings attached, and while their worries probably arise from their parental feeling and rustic traditionalism, a worldlier observer might find equal reason for concern.
In this era and in such a context, the transfer of money may conceal its own set of meanings. These guineas are Pamela’s first earnings in her three years in the B. household. Previously, her employers have compensated her primarily with room and board -- that is, with a form of remuneration with no value outside the household and that therefore binds her to her employers, even making her part of the “family” in the old sense of that word, in which “family” denoted not only blood relatives but household servants as well. By contrast, money, which is current throughout England and therefore confers economic mobility, places value on Pamela’s labor alone rather than on her loyalty. The classic example of a woman who sells her labor, but not her loyalty, for money is the prostitute; Mr. B.’s singling out Pamela for a golden bonus may not, then, be quite as flattering as Pamela in her innocence takes it to be. Certainly, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews doubt the honor of his intentions: they conceal the guineas out of shame over what they might mean, that is, over what Pamela may have to do to earn them.
The greatest hidden meaning, however, is that of Pamela’s own feelings, which are a secret even from Pamela herself. From the first, when she is so acutely aware of Mr. B.’s presence in the closet, Pamela reacts to her Master in ways that are not always consonant with her stated attitudes. In particular, her resourcefulness in convincing herself that he would never make any attempt upon her chastity seems at odds with her rather hysterical readiness to take any precaution against the loss of her purity, even to the point of “d[ying] a thousand Deaths.”
On the level of imagery, the opening pages establish patterns that will hold through the rest of the novel by indicating symbolic connections between writing, clothing, and intimacy. Mr. B. has retained Pamela to care for his linen, a category that includes garments and bedclothes, and one of his first efforts at flirting with her takes as its occasion a gift of “Shoes and Stockens.” Similarly, his first approach to her is to demand the letter Pamela has secreted in her bosom, where “bosom” is not anatomically explicit but indicates the part of her dress covering the chest and, as in the biblical usage, connotes secrecy and intimacy. It also, of course, alludes to the heart as the seat of the emotions, and Pamela’s declaration that “I love Writing” sets up a long-term tension between Pamela’s Master and her literary pursuits. Mr. B. will increasingly view her writing as a rival for her attention: “That Girl is always scribbling” when she should instead be working or, even better, receiving his advances.