Pamela by Samuel Richardson is Book 24 on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is what is called an epistolary novel, one that is told in letter (think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). This book focuses on the story of a 15-year old maid named Pamela Andrews. She has been a maid in the household of Mr. B since the age of 12 when she began serving his mother. After Mr. B’s mother passes, Mr. B makes advances toward Pamela. Those advances are unwanted so he steps up his attempts to seduce her. He can’t marry her (since he is a nobleman and she a servant) so he abducts her and keeps her hostage at another estate of his while he continues to try to seduce her. She begins to fall in love with him. She writes about her experiences in letters to her parents, and when Mr. B reads these letters, he becomes more enamored of her because of her innocence. Her “virtue” is “rewarded” when he finally proposes marriage to her. The novel ends with Pamela trying to acclimate to noble society. Apparently, this novel was a best seller.
The editors of 1001 Books write that “Pamela sparked an unprecedented degree of public debate” because of its ambiguity: “Pamela was praised by some as a handbook of virtuous behavior, while others denounced it as thinly disguised pornography. . . . These ambiguities are what make Pamela so fascinating” (48).
I first read Pamela in a required literature course while working on my MA (in, well, literature). I reread it for this challenge, and I found it free and downloadable for my eReader at GoogleBooks. I remember that when I read the book the first time I was rather annoyed at Pamela, even though she was very young, for falling in love with someone who would kidnap her and hold her against her will. Mr. B constantly tells Pamela what to do, and at one point he won’t let her breastfeed (as if it was his choice). Then, for Pamela to become part of the society that victimized her in the first place (as a servant and as woman) is the ultimate betrayal. Of course, I know that is my modern (working-class) sentiment being applied to a historical novel, but I did feel that way when rereading it as well. The idea that Pamela is property (both because she is a servant and because she is a female) is offensive in every way.
Having said that, the novel does provide an interesting look into the time period and into the mind of a eighteenth-century nobleman. That certainly makes it interesting.