The Readers' Advisory Roundtable for February had to be cancelled this month due to inclement weather, but members still submitted book reviews. I chose to review Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson, published in 1740. This books is in two volumes, and is set in a rural county in England in the middle of the 18th century.
The heroine is Pamela, a young girl from a poor but honest family, who has been brought in as maid-servant to a gentlewoman. She is renowned for her beauty and lovely disposition, and as Volume 1 opens, her mistress is expiring and with her dying words begs her son, Mr. B____ to “….take care of my Pamela”. Did I mention the girl was beautiful? Before too long, it becomes evident that Mr. B___ has some ideas about taking care of Pamela that would not be approved by his mum. Luckily, this young innocent has been brought up to value her virtue and she leads Mr. B____ through such a determined defense of it that he eventually gives up and marries her. Her travails are horrible (by 18th century standards), but throughout them all she is drawn to her “master” and when he finally gives up his cad card, she has fallen deeply in love, they marry, raise a flock of children, and she is accepted and rewarded for her perfect character.
One of the interesting things is that this novel is written almost entirely in an exchange of letters, diary entries, and requested writings of the honorable Pamela, and this gives readers an unusual insight into the thoughts of 18th century gentry. History buffs will find the details surprising and fascinating (or at least I did). Pamela is a virtuous, laudable, entirely admirable heroine, beloved by all, and good in every way. In the real world, and certainly in our own time, she would be an unbearable goody-goody, but it’s nice to think that true goodness was truly esteemed at some point in history. On the other hand, Henry Fielding’s Shamela was published (1741) as a parody and was Fielding’s first widely known work. If the two volumes of Pamela don’t sate your appetite for the morals (and lack thereof) of the 1700’s, read Richardson’s Clarissa, about a young lady who is tricked and kidnapped by a hardened libertine to both their detriments. Neither of these works is in the Fifty Shades of Grey genre, which is why they have remained continuously in print and enjoyable over the centuries.
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