Samuel Richardson's Novel Pamela Essay

4596 words - 18 pages

Samuel Richardson's Novel "Pamela"

In his novel, Pamela, Samuel Richardson suggests something that would have been considered ludicrous at the time in which his novel was published – he proposes that men should choose their wives not for their money or social standing, but for their virtue. He then makes yet another shocking suggestion by implying that the only way in which members of the upper class can learn to be virtuous is via the lower class. That is, he suggests that the lower class must teach the upper class how to be virtuous. Richardson makes these suggestions, which would have been considered wild in the eighteenth century, by creating a story that is arguably even more ridiculous than the intimations Richardson is making. Richardson’s tale of a young servant doggedly resisting the sexual advances of her master, only to eventually compel him to marry her would have seemed as unlikely to eighteenth-century readers as a story about Martians landing on Earth would seem to contemporary readers. However for readers to deeply consider Richardson’s suggestions regarding society, they must find the story in which the suggestions are imbedded to be somewhat believable (Endnote 1). Recognizing the implausibility of his story and the fact that despite the implausibility, readers must find his story at least somewhat probable to even begin to consider its implications, Richardson employs a variety of different tactics in an effort to achieve some semblance of verisimilitude. He strives for this verisimilitude through inserting letters to the editor at the beginning of the novel, which stress the supposed veracity of the incidents portrayed, having the plot unfold in an epistolary form, and attempting to make the action of the novel seem as if it is happening right when Pamela is describing it.

To convey his theory that the upper classes must look to the lower classes to learn how to be virtuous, Richardson must first establish Pamela as distinctly lower class and Mr. B as distinctly upper class. The most noticeable way that he makes these distinctions, besides repeatedly alluding to Pamela’s poverty and Mr. B’s wealth, is through each character’s clothing. As Casey McIntosh points out, “Clothes in Pamela function . . . as the visible emblem of social standing” (75). Pamela refers to Mr. B as being “very richly dressed,” and she constantly comments on the beautiful clothes that he wears (Richardson 222). Even when he storms out of her closet and virtually attempts to rape her, Pamela notices his “rich silk and silver Morning Gown” (63). Continually, Mr. B’s clothing is described as “rich,” and in doing this, Richardson emphasizes the fact that Mr. B is meant to symbolize all of the upper class in this text. His wardrobe is “rich,” and so is he. Conversely, when Pamela wears clothes, which are “more suitable to . . . [her] Degree” (rather than the clothes given to her by her Lady, Mr. B’s mother,) they are described as...

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