Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded

The Sexual Gaze in Richardson's Pamela

Formula fiction is common in the canon of seductive fiction. It relies on standard themes, plot devices, and characters that indulge the reader with a combination of predictability and intrigue. Seduction novels, already a staple of formula fiction by the time Pamela was first published in 1740, shared several key plot points, including the tantamount and titillating scene of the heroine's dishabille. The hero’s gaze upon his yet un-fallen heroine in dishabille is sexual and voyeuristic, meant for the gratification of the hero and the reader. Overall, it is a moment that seems completely out of place in Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela.

The moments of unwarranted gaze in the traditional seduction novel are meant to sexually titillate both the hero and the reader. However, Richardson's goal is not to titillate us, but quite the opposite: he means to write this new hybrid of seduction and conduct novel “without raising a single idea throughout the whole, that shall shock the exactest Purity”. (31) But the gaze is a key part of the seduction novel; without the gaze, the hero is denied his impetus for his declaration of love, and the reader is denied seeing, and understanding through seeing, the heroine as a sexually...

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