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Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is an epistolary
Epistolary novel
An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic "documents" such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use...

A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by Samuel Richardson
Samuel Richardson
Samuel Richardson was an 18th-century English writer and printer. He is best known for his three epistolary novels: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded , Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady and The History of Sir Charles Grandison...

, first published in 1740. It tells the story of a beautiful but poor 15-year old servant-maid named Pamela Andrews whose master, Mr. B, a nobleman, makes unwanted advances towards her after the death of his mother whose maid she was since the age of 12. Mr. B is infatuated with her, first by her looks and then her innocence and intelligence but his high rank hinders him from proposing marriage. He abducts her and locks her up in one of his estates and attempts to seduce and to rape her. She rejects him continually refusing to be his mistress though she begins to realize that she is falling in love with him. He intercepts and reads her letters to her parents and becomes even more enamored by her innocence and intelligence and her continuous attempts to escape. Her virtue is eventually rewarded when he shows his sincerity by proposing an equitable marriage to her as his legal wife. In the second part of the novel, Pamela attempts to accommodate herself to upper-class society and to build a successful relationship with him. The story was a bestseller of its time and was very widely read, even though it also received criticism for its perceived licentiousness.

Conduct books and the novel

When Richardson began writing Pamela, he conceived of it as a conduct book
Conduct book
Conduct books are a genre of books that attempt to educate the reader on social norms. As a genre, they began in the mid-to-late Middle Ages, although antecedents such as The Maxims of Ptahhotep are among the earliest surviving works...

. But as he was writing, the series of letters turned into a story. Richardson then decided to write in a different genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

, the novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

, which at the time was a new form. He attempted to instruct through entertainment. In fact, most novels from the middle of the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth century, following Richardson’s lead, claimed legitimacy through their ability to teach as well as to amuse.


Epistolary novel
Epistolary novel
An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic "documents" such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use...

s – that is, novels written as series of letters – were extremely popular during the eighteenth century and it was Richardson's Pamela that made them so. Richardson and other novelists of his time argued that the letter allowed the reader greater access to a character's thoughts - Richardson claimed that he was writing "to the moment", that is, that Pamela's thoughts were recorded nearly simultaneously with her actions.

In the novel, Pamela writes two kinds of letters. At the beginning of the novel, while she is deciding how long to stay on at Mr. B's after the death of his mother, she writes letters to her parents relating her various moral dilemmas and asking for their advice. After Mr. B abducts her and imprisons her in his country house, she continues to write letters to her parents, but because she is unsure whether or not her parents will ever receive them, they are to be considered both letters and a diary.

In Pamela, the letters are almost exclusively written by the heroine, restricting the reader's access to the other characters; we see only Pamela's perception of them. In Richardson's other novels, Clarissa
Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady is an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, published in 1748. It tells the tragic story of a heroine whose quest for virtue is continually thwarted by her family, and is the longest real novelA completed work that has been released by a publisher in...

 (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison
The History of Sir Charles Grandison
The History of Sir Charles Grandison, commonly called Sir Charles Grandison, is an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson first published in February 1753. The book was a response to Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, which parodied the morals presented in Richardson's previous...

 (1753), the reader is privy to the letters of several characters and can thus more effectively evaluate the motivations and moral values of the characters.

Volume 1

Pamela Andrews is a young servant of 15, very pious and innocent, serving Lady B. as a waiting-maid, in Bedfordshire. When the lady dies, her son, the squire Mr. B, shows more and more his attraction towards Pamela, first by being kind to her (he gives her his mother's clothes), then by trying to take advantage of her in the Summer House. But she resists, and as he wants to pay her to keep the secret, she refuses and tells Mrs Jervis, the housekeeper (her best friend in the house, a motherly figure although faithful to Mr. B). He pops out of her closet and tries to kiss her, after watching her undress for bed.
Pamela thinks of going back to her poverty-ridden parents to preserve her innocence, but can't make up her mind. Mr. B plans to marry her to Mr. Williams, his chaplain in Lincolnshire, and gives money to her parents in case she then lets him take advantage of her. She refuses and decides to go back to her parents.

But Mr. B intercepts her letters to her parents and tells them she is having an affair with a poor clergyman and that he will send her to a safe place to preserve her honour. Pamela is then driven to Lincolnshire Estate and begins a journal (because she is a prisoner and can't write letters anymore) hoping it will be sent to her parents one day.
The housekeeper there, Mrs. Jewkes, is very different from Mrs. Jervis: she is an "odious," rude, "unwomanly" woman (Pamela speculates that she is perhaps even "an atheist!") and is devoted to Mr. B. She imposes Pamela to be her bedfellow. Mr. B promises her that he won't approach her without her leave (indeed he's away from Lincolnshire for a long time).

Pamela meets Mr. Williams and they agree to communicate by putting letters under a sunflower of the garden. Mrs. Jewkes beats her because she calls her "her Jezebel
Jezebel may refer to:* Jezebel, wife of King Ahab*Jezebel, in the Book of Revelation 2:20 a prophetess in the church of Thyatira* Jezebel , starring Bette Davis and Henry Fonda* Jezebel , a blog aimed at women...

". Mr. Williams asks the gentry of the village for help and, even though they pity Pamela, no one agrees to help her because of Mr. B's social position. Mr. Williams proposes marriage to her in order to escape Mr. B's wickedness.

Mr. Williams is attacked and beaten by robbers. Pamela wants to escape when Mrs. Jewkes is away, but is very frightened by two bulls watching her (they are actually cows). By mistake, Mr. Williams reveals the correspondence to Mrs. Jewkes and, as a result, Mr. B is jealous and says he hates Pamela. He wants to marry her to one of his servants. Mr. Williams is arrested. Pamela is desperate; she thinks of running away and making them believe she has been drowned in the pond. She tries to climb a wall, but can't do it: she is injured and renounces escape.

Mr. B comes back. He sends her a list of articles which would rule their partnership: she refuses each point because it would mean to be his mistress. Mr. B tries to go to bed with her disguised as Nan (the housemaid) with the complicity of Mrs. Jewkes, but Pamela faints and thwarts his designs. He seems to repent then, he is kinder in his attempts to seduce her. She implores him to cease. When he talks to her in the garden, he implicitly says he loves her but can't marry her because of the social gap.

Volume 2

A gypsy fortune-teller wants to predict Pamela's future, but only in order to give her a bit of paper warning her against a sham-marriage. Pamela has hidden a parcel of letters under a rose bush, and, when she comes to take them back, Mrs. Jewkes seizes them and gives them to Mr. B. After having read the letters, Mr. B feels pity for what she has undergone because of him and decides to marry her.

But she still doubts him and begs him to let her return to her parents. He is vexed but lets her go. She bids him goodbye and feels strangely sad. On her way home, he sends her a letter wishing her a good life. Pamela is moved and realizes she is in love. Then he sends her a second paper asking her to come back because he's very ill: she accepts.

Pamela and Mr. B talk of their future life as husband and wife and she agrees with everything he says. She explains why she doubted him. This is the end of her trials: she is more submissive to him and owes him everything now as a wife. Mr. Williams is released. Some neighbours come to the estate and all admire Pamela. Pamela's father comes to take her away but he is reassured when he sees Pamela happy.

Finally, she marries Mr. B in the chapel. But when Mr. B has gone to see a sick man, his sister, Lady Davers comes to threaten Pamela and considers her not really married. Pamela escapes by the window and goes in Colbrand's chariot to be taken away to Mr. B. The following day, Lady Davers enters their room without permission and insults Pamela. Mr. B is furious; he wants to renounce his sister, but Pamela wants to reconcile the two of them. But Lady Davers is still contemptuous towards Pamela. Vexed, she mentions Sally Godfrey, a girl Mr. B seduced in his youth, with whom he had a child. He is cross with Pamela because she dared approach him when he was in a temper.

Lady Davers accepts Pamela. Mr. B explains to Pamela what he expects of his wife. They go back to Bedfordshire. Pamela rewards the good servants with money and forgives John, who betrayed her. They make a little "Airing" to a farmhouse and encounter Miss Goodwin, Mr. B's child. Pamela would like to take her with them. They learn that Sally Godfrey is now happily married in Jamaica. Pamela is praised by the gentry of the neighbourhood who once despised her.


Pamela was the bestseller
A bestseller is a book that is identified as extremely popular by its inclusion on lists of currently top selling titles that are based on publishing industry and book trade figures and published by newspapers, magazines, or bookstore chains. Some lists are broken down into classifications and...

 of its time. It was read by countless buyers of the novel and was also read aloud in groups. An anecdote which has been repeated in varying forms since 1777 described the novel's reception in an English village: "The blacksmith of the village had got hold of Richardson's novel of Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, and used to read it aloud in the long summer evenings, seated on his anvil, and never failed to have a large and attentive audience.... At length, when the happy turn of fortune arrived, which brings the hero and heroine together, and sets them living long and happily... the congregation were so delighted as to raise a great shout, and procuring the church keys, actually set the parish bells ringing."

The novel was also integrated into sermons as an exemplar. It was even an early “multimedia” event, producing Pamela-themed cultural artifacts such as prints, paintings, waxworks
Wax museum
A wax museum or waxworks consists of a collection of wax sculptures representing famous people from history and contemporary personalities exhibited in lifelike poses....

, a fan
Fan (implement)
A hand-held fan is an implement used to induce an airflow for the purpose of cooling or refreshing oneself. Any broad, flat surface waved back-and-forth will create a small airflow and therefore can be considered a rudimentary fan...

, and a set of playing cards decorated with lines from Richardson's works.

Given the lax copyright laws at the time, many "unofficial" sequels were written and published without Richardson's consent. There were also several satires of the novel, the most famous of which was An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews
An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews
An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews, or Shamela, as it is more commonly known, is a satirical novel written by Henry Fielding and first published in April 1741 under the name of Mr. Conny Keyber. Fielding never owned to writing the work, but it is widely considered to be his...

 by Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding was an English novelist and dramatist known for his rich earthy humour and satirical prowess, and as the author of the novel Tom Jones....

, published under the pseudonym "Mr. Conny Keyber." Shamela portrays the protagonist as an amoral social climber, who attempts to seduce "Squire Booby" while feigning innocence in order to manipulate him into marrying her. Another important satire was The Anti-Pamela; or Feign’d Innocence Detected
The Anti-Pamela; or Feign’d Innocence Detected
The Anti-Pamela; or Feign'd Innocence Detected is a 1741 novel written by Eliza Haywood as a satire of the 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson.- Overview :...

 (1741) by Eliza Haywood
Eliza Haywood
Eliza Haywood , born Elizabeth Fowler, was an English writer, actress and publisher. Since the 1980s, Eliza Haywood’s literary works have been gaining in recognition and interest...

. Although not technically a satire, the Marquis de Sade
Marquis de Sade
Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, and writer famous for his libertine sexuality and lifestyle...

's Justine is generally perceived as a critical response to Pamela, due in part to the former's subtitle, "The Misfortunes of Virtue."

At least one modern critic has stated that the rash of satires can be viewed as a conservative reaction to a novel that called class, social and gender roles into question by asserting that domestic order can be determined not only by socio-economic status but also by moral qualities of mind.

Richardson's revisions

The popularity of Richardson’s novel led to much public debate over its message and style. Richardson responded to some of the criticisms by revising the novel for each new edition; he even created a “reading group” of women to advise him. Some of the most significant changes that he made were his alterations to Pamela’s vocabulary. In the first edition her diction is that of a lower-class maid, but in later editions Richardson made her more linguistically middle-class by removing the lower-class idioms from her speech. In this way, he made her marriage to Mr. B less scandalous as she appeared to be more his equal in education.

Original Sources

A publication, Memoirs of Lady H__, the Celebrated Pamela (1741), claims that the inspiration for Richardson's Pamela is the true life marriage of a coachman's daughter, Hannah Sturges, to the baronet, Sir Arthur Hesilridge, in 1725. Samuel Richardson claims that the story was based on a true incident related to him by a friend about 25 years before, but did not identify the principals.


  • Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974..
  • McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel: 1600–1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
  • Townsend, Alex, Autonomous Voices: An Exploration of Polyphony in the Novels of Samuel Richardson, 2003, Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt/M., New York, Wien, 2003, ISBN 978-3-906769-80-6 / US-ISBN 978-0-8204-5917-2
  • Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957.


The success of Pamela soon led to its translation into other languages (French by abbé Prévost
Antoine François Prévost
Antoine François Prévost , usually known simply as the Abbé Prévost, was a French author and novelist.- Life and works :...

) and its adaptation on the French and Italian stage. In Italy, it was adapted by Chiari
Pietro Chiari
Abbot Pietro Chiari was an Italian playwright, novelist and librettist.-Life:He was a Jesuit until leaving the order in 1747. From 1747 to 1762 he was court poet of Duke Francis III of Modena, in Venice, although not at the public cost...

 and Goldoni
Carlo Goldoni
Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni was an Italian playwright and librettist from the Republic of Venice. His works include some of Italy's most famous and best-loved plays. Audiences have admired the plays of Goldoni for their ingenious mix of wit and honesty...

. In France, Boissy
Louis de Boissy
Louis de Boissy was a French writer. He was elected to seat 6 of the Académie française on 12 August 1754...

 put on a Paméla ou la Vertu mieux éprouvée, a verse comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 in 3 acts (Comédiens italiens ordinaires du Roi
Over time, there have been several buildings and several theatrical companies named the "Théâtre-Italien" or the "Comédie-Italienne" in Paris. Following the times, the theatre has shown both plays and operas...

, 4 March 1743), followed Neufchâteau's five-act verse comedy Paméla ou la Vertu récompensée, (Comédiens Français
The Comédie-Française or Théâtre-Français is one of the few state theaters in France. It is the only state theater to have its own troupe of actors. It is located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris....

, 1 August 1793). Appearing during the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, Neufchâteau's adaptation was felt to be too Royalist in its sympathies by the Committee of Public Safety
Committee of Public Safety
The Committee of Public Safety , created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto executive government in France during the Reign of Terror , a stage of the French Revolution...

, which imprisoned its author and cast (including Anne Françoise Elizabeth Lange
Anne Françoise Elizabeth Lange
Anne Françoise Elisabeth Lange was a French actress of the Comédie-Française and a 'Merveilleuse' of the French Directory. Her stage name was Mademoiselle Lange.-Life:...

 and Dazincourt
Joseph-Jean-Baptiste Albouy , stage name Dazincourt, was a French actor.-Life:Educated by the Oratorians, Dazincourt entered the service of the maréchal de Richelieu in 1766 and had a taste of acting in comedies of manners...

) in the Madelonnettes
Madelonnettes Convent
The Madelonnettes Convent was a Paris convent in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris. It was located in what is now a rectangle between 6 rue des Fontaines du Temple , rue Volta and rue du Vertbois, and part of its site is now occupied by the lycée Turgot...

 and Sainte-Pélagie prisons.

Pamela was also the basis for the libretto of Niccolò Piccinni
Niccolò Piccinni
Niccolò Piccinni was an Italian composer of symphonies, sacred music, chamber music, and opera. Although he is somewhat obscure, even to music lovers today, Piccinni was one of the most popular composers of opera—particularly the Neapolitan opera buffa—of his day...

's comic opera La buona figliuola
La buona figliuola
La Cecchina, ossia La buona figliuola is an opera buffa in three Acts by Niccolò Piccinni. The libretto, by Carlo Goldoni, is based on Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela. This was Piccinni's most successful Italian opera. There was a sequel entitled La buona figliuola maritata by the same composer...



Lesuire imitated the work in his novel la Paméla française, ou Lettres d’une jeune paysanne et d’un jeune ci-devant, contenant leurs aventures (Paris, les marchands de nouveautés, an XI).

Film and TV

  • 1974 – UK movie by Jim O'Connolly: Mistress Pamela with Ann Michelle as Pamela Andrews and Julian Barnes as Lord Robert Devenish (Mr. B).
  • 2003 – Italian TV series by Cinzia TH Torrini: Elisa di Rivombrosa
    Elisa di Rivombrosa
    Elisa di Rivombrosa is an Italian television series....

The popular TV series (26 episodes) Elisa di Rivombrosa is loosely based on Pamela. The story takes place in the second half of the 18th century in Turin
Turin is a city and major business and cultural centre in northern Italy, capital of the Piedmont region, located mainly on the left bank of the Po River and surrounded by the Alpine arch. The population of the city proper is 909,193 while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat...

 (Italy). The role of Pamela is that of Elisa Scalzi (played by Vittoria Puccini) in the series. The role of Mr. B is that of Count Fabrizio Ristori (played by Alessandro Preziosi).

Allusions/references from other works

The character of Doctor Montague mentions several times that he is reading Pamela..
On 9 Jan 2007, BBC Radio 4 broadcast The Long View which contrasted Pamelas effect on eighteenth-century society with that of video games on twentieth-century society.

External links

  • Complete text at Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...