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Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded

By: Samuel Richardson

Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded is an epistolary novel first published in 1740 by English writer Samuel Richardson. Considered one of the first true English novels, it serves as Richardson's version of conduct literature about marriage. Pamela tells the story of a fifteen-year-old maidservant named Pamela Andrews, whose employer, Mr. B, a wealthy landowner, makes unwanted and inappropriate advances towards her after the death of his mother. Pamela strives to reconcile her strong religious training with her desire for the approval of her employer in a series of letters and, later in the novel, journal entries all addressed to her impoverished parents. After various unsuccessful attempts at seduction, a series of sexual assaults, and an extended period of kidnapping, the rakish Mr. B eventually reforms and makes Pamela a sincere proposal of marriage. In the novel's second part Pamela marries Mr. B and tries to acclimatize to her new position in upper-class society. The full title, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, makes plain Richardson's moral purpose. A best-seller of its time, Pamela was widely read but was also criticized for its perceived licentiousness and disregard for class barriers. The action of the novel is told through letters and journal entries from Pamela to her parents.

Volume 1

Pamela Andrews is a pious, virtuous fifteen-year-old, the daughter of impoverished labourers, who works for Lady B as a maid in her Bedfordshire estate. Following Lady B's death, her son, Mr. B, inherits the estate, and begins to pay Pamela romantic attention: first gifting her his mother's fine clothes, and then attempting to seduce her. Pamela rejects Mr. B's advances multiple times, by fleeing and locking herself in her bedroom. In one instance, she faints, and finds the laces of her stays have been cut. 


When Mr. B attempts to pay her to keep his failed seduction secret, she confides in her best friend and housekeeper of the estate, Mrs. Jervis. Later, Mr. B hides in Pamela's closet and tries to kiss her when she undresses for bed, causing Pamela to consider leaving her position and returning to her parents to preserve her innocence. She is insistent on remaining at the estate to finish embroidering a waistcoat for Mr. B, hoping that by doing so he will let her leave on good terms. 


Angry at Pamela for telling Mrs. Jervis of his attempted seductions, Mr. B informs Pamela that he intends to marry her off to Mr. Williams, his chaplain in Lincolnshire, and gives money to her parents to persuade them to give consent. Pamela refuses the engagement and decides to leave the estate, but Mr. B intercepts her letters to her parents and tells them she is having an affair with a poor clergyman, and that he will send her to a safe place to preserve her chastity. Pamela is forcibly taken to Mr. B's Lincolnshire Estate by Mr. B's servant Monsieur Colbrand, where she begins a journal with the intention of sending it to her parents. The Lincolnshire housekeeper, Mrs. Jewkes, is "odious" and "unwomanly", devoted to Mr. B, and keeps Pamela as her bedfellow. Mr. B promises he won't approach Pamela without her leave, and stays away from the estate for some time. 


As Pamela is mistreated by Mrs. Jewkes, she begins communicating with Mr. Williams by letters, which they leave for one another in the gardens. After Mrs. Jewkes beats Pamela after she calls her a "Jezebel", Mr. Williams entreats the village gentry for help; though they pity Pamela, they too are loyal to Mr. B, and are convinced a seduction would either not occur or be inconsequential due to Pamela's low social standing. Mr. Williams proposes marriage to her to help her escape the estate and Mr. B's advances, but shortly after is attacked and beaten by robbers. Pamela attempts to flee home to her parents, but is terrified by two cows she mistakes for bulls. Mr. Williams accidentally reveals his correspondence with Pamela to Mrs. Jewkes, and so Mr. B has him arrested, announcing that he will marry Pamela to one of his servants. Desperate, Pamela attempts unsuccessfully to escape by climbing a wall, and, injured, gives up. 


Mr. B returns and offers Pamela a list of conditions he would meet, should she accept his hand in marriage, but she refuses, citing her reluctance to think above her social station to become his mistress. In league with Mrs. Jewkes, Mr. B molests Pamela while she is in bed, dressed as the housemaid Nan. Pamela is sent into hysteria and seems likely to die: Mr. B repents and is kinder in his seductions, but Pamela implores him to stop altogether. Mr. B implies he loves Pamela, but will not marry her due to her social status. 


Volume 2 

Pamela hides a parcel of letters to her parents in the garden, but they are seized by Mrs. Jewkes, who gives them to Mr. B. He sympathises with Pamela on reading her account of their relationship, and once again proposes. Pamela, still doubtful of his intentions, begs him to let her return; though vexed, he does so. On leaving, Pamela is strangely sad, and on her way home he sends her an apologetic letter that prompts her to realise she is, in fact, in love. When she hears that he is ill, she returns to him. The two reunite and become engaged, and Pamela explains that she rejected Mr. B's advances because she feared he would attempt to take advantage of her without marrying her. 


Mr. Williams is released from prison, and the neighbouring gentry come to the estate and admire Pamela. Pamela's father arrives at the estate, fearing that she accepted Mr. B's proposal by force, but is reassured when he sees her happy. Pamela and Mr. B wed. When Mr. B leaves to attend to a sick man, his sister, Lady Davers, arrives at the estate and threatens Pamela, calling her marriage a sham. Pamela escapes by the window and is taken by Colbrand to Mr. B. The following day, Lady Davers enters their bedroom without permission, revealing that Mr. B previously seduced a girl called Sally Godfrey and had a child with her. 


Pamela reconciles the furious siblings; they return to Bedfordshire. Pamela rewards her friends and servants with money and forgives her father for attempting to end her engagement. They visit a farmhouse where they meet Mr. B's daughter, and learn that her mother now lives, married, in Jamaica; Pamela proposes taking the girl home with them. The neighbourhood gentry who once despised Pamela now praise her. 

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Born into a large family, Richardson was baptised on 19 August 1689 in Derbyshire, England. The country, at this time, was in the midst of the Glorious Revolution. His father worked as a joi...

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