ENL 6236 – Eighteenth-Century Novel and Theory                                        Dr. Runge



2/20                 Pamela --  Volume I (pp 1-278)


Finally we can discuss Pamela, which in many ways stands as the test case for most theories of the origins of the novel.  One of the objectives of the class is to determine (if we can) the distinctive literary qualities of the novel and the reasons for its emergence in the eighteenth century.  Pamela is central to Watt’s thesis, and some of McKeon's critics claim that in Pamela the questions of truth and questions of virtue come full circle.  Certainly Pamela plays a major role in Warner’s conception of the elevation of the novel and the over writing of the novel of amorous intrigue.


While I will highlight a few of these points here, I will not be exhaustive.  Bring your reading of Watt, McKeon and Warner to bear on your reading of Pamela.  Feel free to bring up additional ideas in your post and in class.




Discussion Questions and Notes:


Watt praises Richardson’s use of the epistolary form as particularly conducive to formal realism.  This form, he contends, is part of a feminine cult of letter writing in the eighteenth century:  "The basis of the cult was the great increase in the leisure and literacy of middle class women; and it was materially assisted by a very great improvement of postal facilities” (189).


What other features of form make it particularly “feminine” if, indeed, it is?  What are the social implications of this gendered designation?  What are the implications of this feminine form for Richardson’s novel in terms of genre and literary context?  How else might we explain Richardson’s appeal to letter writing?


One of the advantages of the epistolary form for Watt “is that letters are the most direct material evidence for the inner life of their writers that exist. . . . and their reality is one which reveals the subjective and private orientations of the writer both towards the recipient and the people discussed, as well as the writer’s own inner being” (191).


How accurate a description of Pamela is this?

What are the limitations of the letter form as seen in Pamela?  To what extent do they detract from the formal realism of the novel?  To what extent do they otherwise detract from the aesthetic merit of the novel?


In her introduction to Peter Sabor’s edition, Margaret Ann Doody describes Richardson’s first novel as “deliberately created out of mixed languages, impure effect, awkward gestures, failures and inelegant self-revelation” (20), and she contends that Pamela herself masters several different fictional dialects.  Watt, on the other hand, patently sees Pamela as a hypocrite.  How can you explain the discrepancy?  What are the merits of either point of view?



When writing of Pamela, Watt claims that the main function of the novel is the dispersal of information on sexual behavior: “to serve as a fictional initiation rite into the most fundamental mystery of its society” (172).

Perhaps, however, the novel is a means of obscuring certain sexual behavior, or at least advancing an interested social agenda regarding sexual behavior.  What are the shortcomings of Watt’s assessment of the sexual knowledge transmitted through Pamela?  On the other hand, what evidence is there to support Watt’s claim?


What does Warner mean by “media event” and in what ways can we say that Pamela constitutes one?



What is important about the “perversely plural effects of communication” and the “risk being misread” which Warner finds central to the Pamela media event? 


According to Warner’s arguments, how “new” is Richardson’s “new species of writing” (quoted 202)?  In what ways is Richardson a media worker?


Evaluate Warner’s claim that the Reader’s Guide (to Pamela) asserts a naivete and innocence of reading that is neither to be found in the novel nor the heroine, only attributed to her by the author and guide.  It aims to direct the reader against misreadings that are anticipated.


How does Warner’s reading of Pamela answer age-old problems of reading Pamela as a hypocrite?  How much of this has to do with shifting the focus from the subject of the text to the subject of reading?


In terms of didacticism, to what extent does Pamela offer proof that the reading culture of the eighteenth century desired, even enjoyed, didactic works?  What are the aims of the didacticism in the novel and how might they relate to naïve empiricism or progressive ideology?  To what extent is there evidence for the presence of extreme skepticism and conservative ideology as well?  [We can return to this question next week, at the conclusion of the novel.]




Both Watt and Doody attribute a certain amount of originality to Richardson, although the former relies more on Richardson’s purported departure from all literary precedent and the latter to his improvement and complication of the “courtship” tale.  Doody writes in her introduction: “Until recently, literary historians have been largely content to deal only with the early masters of the novel, Defoe and Richardson, but in fact, as MacBurney and Richetti have shown, there were a great number of novels appearing between 1700 and 1740, though few of these had a very long life or attracted widespread attention.  A large proportion of these little novels were by women, and dealt with the experiences of women in the trials of love.  Some are stories of love and courtship, others of love and seduction (or even rape).  The authors show their heroines, however constrained by law and convention to endure restriction and passivity, as women who think, feel analyze, react.  Woman takes the centre of the stage as a consciousness” (8). 


Based on your reading of Popular Fiction by Women evaluate Doody's claim.  To what extent does this qualify Watt's claims for Richardson's originality?  In what ways do you see later theorists accommodating the work of women writers in their claims about Richardson?  To what extent do you think Richardson's work resembles or borrows from the earlier work of Behn, Barker, Aubin, Haywood and Davys?


As Peter Sabor notes, Richardson emended and tried to fix the meaning of his novel many times throughout his life, even leaving behind at his death detailed notes for further revision.  Most of these changes are calculated to obviate criticism of Pamela’s moral nature, which had come under attack immediately upon the novel’s publication – most notably in Fielding’s parody Shamela. 


What are some of the significant additions?  See for example page 64 and the note describing Richardson’s changes to Pamela’s position when she faints on the floor; or page 73 the insertion of Pamela’s criticism of Mr. B’s gifts.  How effective are these changes?  On a more philosophical plane, what does Richardson’s obsession with justifying Pamela and clarifying the intention of his text suggest?




 “[Richardson’s] heroines try to maintain their own identity and perspective in times of great trial by setting thoughts and opinions down on paper.  It is the mark of a villain or an unreformed character in all of Richardson’s novels that that person will try to interfere either with writing itself or with the transmission of another’s writing in some way.” (Margaret Doody, “Samuel Richardson: Fiction and Knowledge” in The Cambridge Companion to The Eighteenth-Century Novel, ed. John Richetti, Cambridge UP, 1996, page 97).


How does Mr. B’s try to control Pamela’s writing?  What does his control indicate about his character? About the nature of their relationship?  Why does Pamela’s writing cause him anxiety? How effective is his control of Pamela’s text? To what extent does this reflect Richardson’s own efforts to control the meaning of Pamela?  How are they different?


Doody contends that Pamela’s writing is revolutionary, both in form and in content.  To what extent do you agree that Pamela’s articulation of self through letters serves as revolutionary resistance?


The entire movement of novel works toward establishing what Lawrence Stone has called the “companionate marriage” (also see Watt pp 139-140).  But, as Doody remarks, “The pair have, however, much ado to get to that point.”  What are some of the obstacles to equality that Mr. B and Pamela work through in the first volume of the novel?  Examine the social hierarchies into which each falls and the disparity between their positions.  What conflicts arise?


Doody suggests that Pamela acts as a revolutionary heroine whose story has implications for many historically oppressed peoples:


“’How came I to be his property?’ This is the great question, and its echoes raise other questions.  How can anybody be somebody else’s property?  Why do we have property analogies in so many human relationships, not to mention actual property owning of people in the widespread eighteenth-century institution of slavery?  Is it not ‘stealing’ to claim any property in another?  These are tremendous questions.  When we have entered into them, we have raised questions that even the abolition of slavery – still far away in Richardson’s time – cannot satisfy.  Why are women and children considered the property of somebody else?  Any woman in the last 4000 years might ask ‘How came I to be his property?’  Women may still ask it, even in American, where certain groups apparently hold it self-evident that female bodies are a kind of public property, to be controlled and managed for the public good.  Richardson’s own novel in the end draws back, as it had to draw-back in order to be acceptable enough to read, from such questions as these.  It leaves them trembling in the air.  After Paradise Lost, this is the first great Enlightenment consideration of sexual relations.  Like all Enlightenment works, it is itself a body of controversies” (104).


How does Pamela forefront these questions and attempt to answer them in the first volume?  (We will examine Doody’s claim that the novel retreats in the end next week.)  How does it embody controversy of class, sex, religion? 


Pamela has been called the first novel about sexual harassment.  To what extent do discussions of sexual harassment from today help us to understand the novel? 


In general terms try to answer some of the difficult questions critics have been grappling with since the publication of Pamela:


1)                  Is Pamela a hypocrite concerned with material gain, or is she an honest (note not honorable) and pious maid?

2)                  How do we reconcile the novel’s criticism of aristocratic privilege with the sustained respect for the gentry exhibited by all?

3)                  Does the novel serve as an aid to morality (a conduct book as the preface suggests) or is it a purveyor of inappropriate sexuality?