Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded  

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"I have great trouble, and some comfort, to acquaint you with. The trouble is, that my good lady died of the illness I mentioned to you, and left us all much grieved for the loss of her; for she was a dear good lady, and kind to all us her servants."--Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson

Title page from Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson
Title page from Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson

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Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) is an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson. It tells the story of a maidservant named Pamela whose master, Mr. B., makes unwanted advances towards her. She rejects him continually, and her virtue is eventually rewarded when he shows his sincerity by proposing an equitable marriage to her. 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 widely mocked at the time for its perceived licentiousness and it inspired many parodies. It is often seen as the first psychological novel.


Conduct books and the novel

When Richardson began writing Pamela, he conceived of it as a conduct book. But as he was writing, the series of letters turned into a story. Richardson then decided to write in a different genre, the novel, 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.

Plot summary


Epistolary novels, 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 countryhouse, 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 reader receives only the thoughts and letters of Pamela, restricting the reader's access to the other characters; we see only Pamela's perception of them. In Richardson's other novels, Clarissa (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (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). Pamela thinks of going back to her parents, who are very poor, 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. Therefore, Pamela is 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 (perhaps even "an atheist!" speculates Pamela) and 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". 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 really 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. Mr. B's sister, Lady Davers, is very cross with him for taking Pamela as his wife.

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, Lady Davers comes to threaten Pamela and considers she is 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 now lives happily in Jamaica with a husband. Pamela is praised by the gentry of the neighbourhood who once despised her.

Literary significance and criticism


Pamela was the bestseller 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, a 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 by Henry Fielding, 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 (1741) by Eliza Haywood. Although not technically a satire, the Marquis de Sade's Justine is generally perceived as a critical response to Pamela, due in part to the former's subtitle, "The Misfortunes of Virtue."

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.


  • 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.
  • 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) and its adaptation on the French and Italian stage. In Italy, it was adapted by Chiari and Goldoni. In France, Boissy put on a Paméla ou la Vertu mieux éprouvée, a verse comedy in 3 acts (Comédiens italiens ordinaires du Roi, 4 March 1743), followed Neufchâteau's five-act verse comedy Paméla ou la Vertu récompensée, (Comédiens Français, 1 August 1793). Appearing during the French Revolution, Neufchâteau's adaptation was felt to be too Royalist in its sympathies by the Committee of Public Safety, which imprisoned its author and cast (including Anne Françoise Elizabeth Lange and Dazincourt) in the Madelonnettes and Sainte-Pélagie prisons.

Pamela was also the basis for the libretto of Niccolò Piccinni's comic opera La buona figliuola.


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

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 (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

On 9 Jan 2007 BBC Radio 4 broadcast The Long View which contrasted Pamela's effect on eighteenth-century society with that of video games on twentieth-century society.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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