Monday, 19 March 2012

Pamela - Samuel Richardson

READ: FEB 06 - 20, 2012

One of the most spectacular successes of the flourishing literary marketplace of eighteenth-century London, Pamela also marked a defining moment in the emergence of the modern novel. In the words of one contemporary, it divided the world "into two different Parties, Pamelists and Anti-pamelists," even eclipsing the sensational factional politics of the day. Preached for its morality, and denounced as pornography in disguise, it vividly describes a young servant's long resistance to the attempts of her predatory master to seduce her. Written in the voice of its low-born heroine, Pamela is not only a work of pioneering psychological complexity, but also a compelling and provocative study of power and its abuse.

When I finally finished this book I truly felt like I'd achieved something. It's certainly not Richardson's longest work, but in places this book just dragged on and on. I found it particularly tedious towards the end when Pamela had resolved all of her issues with Mr B., his family members and the servants and there honestly wasn't anything else to happen in the book, other that have every secondary character compliment Pamela on how wonderful she was. The first Mary Sue? Perhaps. 

Predictably, I was disturbed that Pamela agreed to marry Mr B. But after my lecture on this book I began to reconsider the way in which I'd read into both the main characters and wonder whether a) Mr B.'s "rape" attempts had really been serious (particularly considering his reaction to Pamela's fit in the scene where he dresses up as a maid) and b) Pamela is truly a reliable narrator, or if she read into things wrongly or exaggerated. Plus, she must have actually had some feelings for Mr B. before she received his letter, otherwise she wouldn't have returned to him. I don't think she's a stupid girl in any way, but perhaps just a bit young and naive, causing her to present events in the letters to her parents in a skewed view at times. So while their marriage initially shocked me, it also made me think quite seriously about the way this book is read by a twenty-first century audience, and the ways in which our perceptions of this book warp our perspective of it. I knew what was going to happen to Pamela - but the eighteenth century audience didn't. 

This book had a lot of food for thought about class relations and romantic relationships in the eighteenth century, as well as the changing face of fiction. But it was also quite tedious in places, and repetitive. My entire seminar class bemoaned the number of times that Mr B. hid in a cupboard in order to spy on Pamela. This book is long, over 500 pages, and the repetitive nature of the scenes and conversations can simply make the story drag on. Trust me, if you need to read this for a class - give yourself two weeks to read it in. I gave myself a week and didn't manage it, partly because I was ill for two days and couldn't focus to read anything more intellectually stimulating than a Sweet Valley High novel, but even if I hadn't been ill it would have taken me more than a week. At the start of the book you'll be like, "I can read 100 pages a day, this is pretty compelling and entertaining." Then you get to Volume II and realise that 200 pages of the novel focus on Pamela and Mr B. AFTER they get married, in which there is exactly ONE conflict. And seriously, that conflict actually dragged on longer than necessary. A classmate told me to look forward to the conflict in Volume II since the start of the volume is pretty uninteresting, but by the time the conflict had been going on for quite some time I was honestly getting bored with it. 

I did quite enjoy this book when I started it, but given the points I've mentioned above (Pamela's perfectness, the tedious nature of many of the scenes, the length of the novel itself) it isn't one that I'd particularly recommend, unless you're interested in eighteenth century fiction or the development of the novel. It provides a lot of good discussion points, but isn't the book for you if you're looking for an entertaining classic akin to Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters. I'm sure I'll be musing over this book for weeks to come, but I did have to force myself to finish it, so I'm rating it 6/10.

1 comment:

  1. Yikes!! That book does sound slow. Kudos to you for finishing it!