Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded

Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded Summary and Analysis of Letters XI through XVIII.


Letter XI: Pamela to her Mother.

Pamela supplies the details of Mr. B.’s assault on her purity. Mr. B. comes upon Pamela in the summerhouse and kisses her, saying that he will make her a gentlewoman if she agrees to stay in his household rather than join that of Lady Davers. Pamela nearly faints in terror, and her vulnerability allows Mr. B. to inflict two or three more kisses before she breaks away. She rebukes him for his behavior toward her, and he denies any lecherous intent, saying that his advances were only meant to test her virtue. He offers her money in exchange for her secrecy, but she refuses it and leaves the summerhouse. The letter concludes with a promise to continue the story soon and an acknowledgment that Pamela has not yet left Mr. B.’s household, despite the fact that it has become a place of “Anguish and Terror.”

Letter XII: Pamela to her Mother.

Pamela continues the story she left off in her previous letter. After coming in from the summerhouse, she considers leaving Mr. B.’s household but is confused about whether and how to take with her the clothes that Mr. B. has given her. She further wonders whether she should confide in Mrs. Jervis or heed Mr. B.’s command of secrecy in the hopes that he will never again attempt anything comparably depraved.

In the evening, Pamela asks Mrs. Jervis to let Pamela share a bed with her at night. Later, Pamela divulges to Mrs. Jervis what happened in the summerhouse. Mrs. Jervis thinks that Pamela’s virtue will put Mr. B. to shame and discourage him from ever taking such liberties again. With this prediction in mind, Pamela decides to remain in Mr. B.’s household for the time being, despite her parents’ urging her to leave as soon as she had grounds for concern.

Ominously, Mr. B. has ordered that Pamela should not spend so much time writing. The letter concludes with Pamela’s wish that she had not left her family’s poverty for the dangers that attend exposure to high society.

Letter XIII: Her Father and Mother to Pamela.

Mr. and Mrs. Andrews exhort Pamela to flee the household of Mr. B. at the first sign of his further pursuit of her. They meditate on the utility of temptations in the cultivation of self-knowledge and express their confidence in Pamela’s ability, with the aid of her “virtuous Education,” to withstand the temptations of Mr. B. Overall, however, they propose that Pamela would do best to return home.

Letter XIV: Pamela to her Father and Mother.

Mr. B. returns from a two-week visit with Lady Davers and questions Pamela’s virtue in conversation with Mrs. Jervis, expressing his opinion that “she is an artful young Baggage,” full of “Vanity and Conceit, and Pride too.” He accuses Pamela of having interpreted innocent marks of favor as a design on her purity, and he tells Mrs. Jervis to order Pamela to stop gossiping about his family in her letters home.

Pamela, concluding her letter, surmises that Mr. B. must have stolen and read the letter whose disappearance she has previously noted.

Letter XV: Pamela to her Mother.

Pamela recounts what happened as she was concluding her previous letter. Mr. B. again surprises Pamela, causing her to conceal the letter in her bosom. He admonishes her for having publicized his earlier indiscretion. When Pamela denies it, he names Mrs. Jervis as her interlocutor, to which Pamela responds by demanding why, if Mr. B. has done nothing wrong, he would mind Pamela discussing his behavior. Mr. B. then accuses Pamela of having written about the encounter in addition to talking about it. Pamela retorts that Mr. B. could not have known the contents of her writings if he had not stolen her letter to her parents. When Mr. B. expresses anger over Pamela’s impudence, she begs him to recognize her vulnerable position and her right to defend her own purity.

She then breaks down in tears. Mr. B. charges her with overreacting and, by way of giving her some more substantial grounds for anguish, invites her to sit on his knee. Over her objections, he kisses and fondles her, causing her to make a dash through the door and toward the next room. Mr. B. manages to tear a piece from her dress before Pamela can lock herself inside the room, where she falls into a swoon. Mr. B. calls for Mrs. Jervis, assists her in breaking down the door, enjoins secrecy on the housekeeper, and leaves the two women alone.

Mr. B. returns later to defend his conduct to Mrs. Jervis, insisting it was entirely innocent. He casts doubt on the authenticity of Pamela’s fainting fits and arranges a meeting for the next day between Mrs. Jervis, Pamela, and himself. After Mr. B. has left, Pamela professes to Mrs. Jervis her determination to leave the house but then qualifies that resolution by saying that she will know better what to do after the next day’s meeting.

Letter XVI: Pamela to her Parents.

Pamela describes the meeting between Mrs. Jervis, Pamela, and Mr. B. The Squire demands that Mrs. Jervis tell him what she has heard from Pamela regarding his conduct. Mrs. Jervis says that Pamela said that Mr. B. pulled her onto his knee and kissed her. Pamela objects that Mrs. Jervis has not related the worst of it, since she has glossed over Pamela’s expectation that if her Master could take such liberties with a servant girl, he probably had more in mind. Mr. B. insists that he had no further intentions and gets Mrs. Jervis to join him in condemning Pamela for her pertness in imputing lecherous motives to her Master. He accuses Pamela of hypocrisy for writing letters in which she presents herself as a paragon of virtue and him, “her Master and Benefactor,” as a “Devil incarnate.” He declares his resolution of sending Pamela back to her family and their poverty.

Pamela finds this prospect encouraging and expresses her gratitude to Mr. B. The letter concludes with her hope of returning to her parents and supporting herself with needlework, though a postscript cautions that another week may pass before she can fulfill her responsibilities with respect to Mr. B.’s linen.

Letter XVII: Her Parents to Pamela.

Mr. and Mrs. Andrews anticipate Pamela’s return with great eagerness. Mr. Andrews wants to return the four guineas they received from Mr. B. and hopes that John the footman will be able to accompany Pamela on her homeward journey.

Letter XVIII: Pamela to her Father and Mother.

Mrs. Jervis again predicts that Mr. B. will make no further attempts on Pamela’s virtue and suggests that Pamela could stay on at the household if she were to beg it as a favor from Mr. B. When Pamela replies that she wants nothing more than to return to her home and poverty, Mrs. Jervis complains that this eagerness to leave bespeaks a lack of gratitude on Pamela’s part for the love Mrs. Jervis has shown her. Pamela again defends her decision to leave, dwelling particularly on the example she would set if she were to linger in a household that presents such threats to her purity. Mrs. Jervis concedes the force of this argument and agrees to supply Pamela with glowing references.

Later, Mr. B. passes Pamela in the hall and accuses her of being always in his way. When she expresses her hope that she will not be in his way much longer, he curses her and leaves her to marvel at the crudity of his language, which she reflects is consonant with his general moral character.


“I sobb’d and cry’d most sadly. What a foolish Hussy you are, said he, have I done you any harm?” Many readers find themselves concurring in Mr. B.’s sentiment when he poses this question during the incident in the summerhouse, and Pamela’s answer, “the greatest Harm in the World,” will doubtless strike the same readers as hyperbolic. When we consider that Pamela is merely observing moral precepts that are specific to her historical and religious context of eighteenth-century Calvinist-tinged Anglicanism, then her scrupulousness becomes comprehensible if not sympathetic. It is not to such precepts, however, that Pamela appeals during her rebuff of Mr. B. in the summerhouse; instead, her arguments in this scene invoke less antiquated ideas, those of social responsibility and of the integrity of the self.

“Well may I forget that I am your Servant, when you forget what belongs to a Master.” Mr. B.’s station as a member of the landed gentry involves responsibilities as well as privileges: he has a duty to protect Pamela no less than she does to obey him. In violating his responsibility to look out for her welfare, he obliges her to violate, in self-defense, her duty to obey him; in repelling his advances, then, she is not only defending her own sexual purity but also upholding the social order. Moreover, to allow Mr. B. to tyrannize over her would be to forfeit not only her virtue but also the voluntary basis on which to engage in personal relations. She is not such a prude that his sexual advances necessarily revolt her; her natural inclination may even be to favor them, but she respects both herself and her Master too much to let him prey on her.

We learn a great deal about Pamela during this incident in the summerhouse; for one thing, she is a very clever debater. When Mr. B. tries to put her in her place by reminding her of her low social status (“Do you know whom you speak to?”), she wittily turns the point to her advantage by reminding him of the obligations that attend high birth (“what belongs to a Master”), thus converting her main weakness to a defense. As long as Mr. B.’s aggression toward her persists, Pamela will continue to keep track of what rights she possesses under a system that in so many ways disadvantages her.

Another of Pamela’s notable qualities is the innate pride that allows her to talk back to her social superiors when they deserve it. This audacity is in many contexts rather magnificent; readers of Jane Austen (herself a reader of Richardson) may wish to compare Pamela to the feisty Elizabeth Bennet, who is one of Pamela’s many descendants in the tradition of the English novel. Pamela’s pride may also contain the seeds of weakness, however, if it comes to manifest itself as spiritual pride or moral rigidity; in this context one thinks of Shakespeare’s Cordelia, whose refusal to verbalize her affections on command puts in motion the tragedy of King Lear.

Finally, these early stages of the novel tend to raise in modern minds the question of why Pamela does not simply leave. When in Letter XII she allows the quandary of what clothes to wear to prevent her from doing what her parents and her conscience urge her to do, she may forfeit the sympathy of readers who expect their heroines to demonstrate a bit of initiative. Richardson’s original readers, however, would not have had this problem in sympathizing with Pamela, knowing as they did how difficult it was for a domestic servant to leave a position without incurring a stigma. In order to get another position in the domestic service, Pamela would have to present a “character” (i.e. references) from her previous housekeeper and employer. Mrs. Jervis has already declared herself willing to oblige, but if Pamela were to leave Mr. B.’s household without his consent, and leave him feeling jilted no less, then she could certainly not count on his support. In that case, not only would her career prospects be dim, but her reputation as a young woman of virtue would likewise take a hit, as acquaintances would begin to wonder what she can have done that would make a gentleman refuse to vouch for her character.