Published in 1741, Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded was the equivalent of Stars Wars in 1977. The book found a vast, English audience with jolting sensation, and like Star Wars, laid the path for a series of imitations seeking to acquire the same attention. The story follows the account of Pamela Andrews, a 15yr old girl who works as a household servant, a course of employment resulting from the nature of her parent’s lack of wealth and social rank. She serves under a gracious lady who’s inherited a vast estate from her deceased husband, but the drama begins when her lady, too, dies unexpectedly. Suddenly, she is the maidservant to the inheritor of the estate, a dastardly English libertine who becomes hungry for some Pamela.
Pamela’s immaculate beauty and delicate youth precedes her wherever she goes, and so she elicits the attention of every one who happens upon her path. The type of attention she elicits, however, varies. Her servant friends all adore and cherish her as much as she does in return. The adoration she extends comes replete with the valiant boughs of virtue, but for this virtue that she bears with such conviction, she is the spectacle of the upper class. Her master is appalled when she denies his brash, groping advances, prompting a barrage of hormonal frustrations, and thus, his subsequent decision to simply abduct her. Tucked away in a mysterious household somewhere in rural England, Pamela is the subject of plots for and against her desperate plight. The pristine mode of her thinking, instilled from birth by the situation of her downtrodden parents, becomes a thing of study, but where this study is a actually a source of admiration to be endowed by the neighboring women of rank, her virtuous mien is a wall to be torn down by the man who has finally cornered her into his clutches.
Does the story end miserably? Not hardly.
While the situation of the master is, indeed, one to be deplored by humans who claim a sense of decency, Pamela’s virtuous disposition is laced with a touch of gentle frivolity. She has every right to be a bit perturbed, skeptical, and frightened, but she fails to perform the thorough examination that may or may not justify a certain measure of overreaction.
To return to Pamela as a spectacle, she becomes something of a rags-to-riches queen in the face of those who would scorn her, eventually acquiring something of a paragon status; the only charge her womanly counterparts can hold against her is the jealousy they hold within themselves. Shedding these harsh feelings, all bets eventually become lost, and she is adored, a sparkling and refreshing sensation of amiability surpassing the confines of common congeniality. Pamela is a star glimmering with bright, shiny beams, and they spin her around like a dancing beauty upon the music box.
Pamela is not just a story, however. Even though the “virtue rewarded” gives one the sense of a warm feeling to look forward to, the text is marked with contracts and suggestions on the obligations that should or should not extend between a man and a woman in marriage. The book could be taken for an extensive pamphlet on prerequisites to getting engaged, and the content is anything but modern. Marriage was viewed differently during the 18th Century, and to read Pamela is to gain firsthand insight into what the deal was all about.
Furthermore, don’t read Pamela if you don’t want to spend lots of time trying to make sense of the passages. While not heralded as the first novel, it was written at time when the novel was a new innovation in writing. Writing in prose form had not evolved yet, and so the sentence structure can be prone to drive modern readers crazy: one almost has to be trained to read this stuff. But for an excellent case study in the what-ifs and what-is of the marriages of yesteryear, to compare with the reality of marriage in the modern age, Pamela lies at the cornerstone for matrimonial critical thinking.