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:
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
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?
her introduction to Peter Sabor’s edition, Margaret Ann Doody describes
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
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.]
Watt and Doody attribute a certain amount of originality to
on your reading of Popular Fiction by
Women evaluate Doody's claim. To
what extent does this qualify Watt's claims for
Peter Sabor notes,
are some of the significant additions?
See for example page 64 and the note describing
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
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:
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
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?