"Pamela" di Samuel Richardson



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The plot
Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. It tells in the first person the story of the virtuous lady's maid Pamela and the modest and agonized delicacy, yet determination, with which she rebuffs and reforms her aristocratic would-be seducer Mr B and is rewarded with marriage to him. Told through Pamela's probingly introspective letters and diary, Pamela is widely considered a seminal influence on the direction the novel form was to take towards psychological analysis and self-examination.
The heroine, Pamela Andrews, is a maid whose master makes unwanted advances towards her. She rejects him until he shows his sincerity by proposing a fair marriage to her. In the second part of the novel, Pamela attempts to accommodate herself to upper-class society and to build a successful relationship with her husband.
The title of this novel is significant in itself: not virtue for itself but for what it brings about, “virtue rewarded”.
Samuel Richardson's first novel, 1740's "Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded" is a clever and rich novel. Written to entertain and edify readers of both sexes, "Pamela" is an epistolary novel, presented in the form of letters and a journal between young Pamela Andrews and her parents. From the viewpoint of a domestic servant, Pamela illustrates the complex relationships between commoners and aristocrats, including the range of socially and economically diverse people between those extremes. The novel also explores the erotics of social ambition within the context of eighteenth century bourgeois religious ethics.
Pamela is a mid-teen waiting maid, and as the novel begins, the Lady she serves has just died. Prior to her death, this Lady recommends her servants, and particularly Pamela, who has been educated and refined above her social station, to the Lady's son, a strapping young man, Mr. B. Mr. B, with his own plans for Pamela, gladly takes her into his service, rather than send her to his sister, Lady Davers. Shortly after entering his service, Pamela begins to be uncomfortable, as Mr. B starts trying to seduce her. Pamela, in correspondence with her parents, and under the direct advice of the housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis, vows to protect her virtue and chastity. The rest of the novel deals with Pamela's efforts to fend off Mr. B's advances, in conditions that often amount to imprisonment and attempted rape.
Pamela, who is a “round Character”, is practical, passionate, humble with all, but she is intolerant of injustice both to herself and to her fellow-servants. Mr. B., the son of her mistress, is another “round” character and reflects contemporary male superiority: he tries to seduce Pamela several times, but her resistance arouses his passion and gradually changes his behaviour which becomes more mature and responsible.
The story of Pamela is a modern variant of the old “Cinderella theme”. Both stories offer compensations for the monotonous work and limited perspective of ordinary life. By projecting themselves into the position of the heroine, the readers of Pamela could pattern where each element gave excitement, admiration and love. These are the attractions of romance but here the fairy god-mother and the prince are replaced by morality, and the social importance marriage had in Richardson’s age, since it was the only way open to women to improve their social status.
Style and popularity
The form which Richardson adopted for the telling of Pamela is directly indicated on the title-page: it is “a series of familiar letters”. The writer places himself in the position of an editor, arranging and publishing, without comment, a series of thirty-two letters followed by a long journal which Pamela herself wrote while cut off from her friends at B-Hall: this journal also includes letters written both by Pamela and other characters.
To us today the novel may seem tedious and unconvincingly moralizing. Yet it was immensely popular and it was a remarkable breakthrough, a breach in a rigid and discriminating class system.
The novel also comments on the sexual and social inequality of the position of women.