Pamela: Mr. B

I first heard about Pamela by Samuel Richardson from a professor discussing Moll Flanders (easily one of my least favorite books). Novels as we know them were a pretty new thing in the 18th century when Moll Flanders was published and many of their authors felt that it was their duty to edify their readers. One of these was Pamela.

He called it a “horrible, awful” book written to teach young ladies not to have sex outside of marriage. The plot he described was very much like some gothic novels so…I had to read it.

The basic premise of Pamela is simple. So simple that when I re-borrowed it from the library for this review, I could just skim it instead of re-reading the whole thing.

Pamela is a kind, beautiful, virtuous maid to a gentlewoman. The woman passes on at the beginning of the book and Pamela comes into the service of the woman’s son, Mr. B. Now Mr. B is incredibly attracted to Pamela and wants her to be his mistress. She refuses because her virtue is so important to her. Thus begins a cycle of Mr. B demanding Pamela submit, Pamela refusing and often fainting and waking up untouched. Repeat.

So obviously Mr. B is just this Snidely Whiplash type villain right? So why go in depth with him?

Well, to understand what happens two-thirds into the novel. Which I won’t promise will be understandable but we will try. Spoilers be ahead because I can’t really discuss Mr. B without discussing the ending.

Pamela is an epistolary novel, the story told to us in letters our heroine writes to her parents. And she’s totally happy that Mr. B is not going to dismiss her now that the gentlewoman has passed but is going to keep employing her and he’s been so nice to her and given her some nice clothes-

O this angel of a master! this fine gentleman! this gracious benefactor to your poor Pamela

This very gentleman (yes, I must call him gentleman, though he has fallen from from the merit of that title,) has degraded himself to offer freedoms to his poor servant! He has now shewed himself in his true colours and to me, nothing appears so black and frightful.

-…Oh dear.

Yes, Mr. B comes on to her, kissing her “with frightful eagerness.” She manages to break from his embrace but he stops her and calls her a “hussey.” She starts sobbing, saying he has done her the greatest harm in the world, he calls her an angry slut and tries to pay her off. She refuses the money and flees the scene.

Wow. Wow.

This repeats many times until it seems Pamela has convinced Mr. B to let her go home. She gets into a carriage and is relieved to be free and then realizes the carriage is going the wrong way. Poor Pamela! The coachman stops for the night and gives her a letter from our gentleman.

Dear Pamela,

The passion I have for you, and your obstinacy, have constrained me to act by you in a manner that, I know, will occasion you great trouble and fatigue, both of mind and body.

You will by this time be far on your way to the place I have allotted for your abode for a few weeks, till I have managed some affairs, that will make me shew myself to you in a much different light, than you may possibly apprehend from this rash action

So they take Pamela to this house where she is under the care of Mrs. Jewkes, a mean and coarse woman who cannot understand why Pamela isn’t giving into Mr. B and berates the girl. Our heroine writes poems to express her despair and addresses herself as “your poor Pamela” to her parents.

Mr. B returns and after a few more rounds  of “Oh Pamela let me have you!” “oh no sir! You do me great dishonor!” Mr. B decides to get sneaky. Or more sneaky, actually. Pamela shares a bed with Mrs. Jewkes and Mrs. Anne the maid. As they ready for bed, the maid seems unusually ill and quiet…

I tremble to relate it! the pretended she came into bed but trembled like an aspen-leaf; and I, poor fool that I was! pitied her much

What words shall I find, my dear mother (for my father should not see this shocking part) to describe the rest, and my confusion, when the guilty wretch took my left arm, and laid it under his neck, and the vile procuress held my right; and then he clasped me round the waist!

Said I, “Is the wench mad! Why how now Confidence?” thinking still it had been Nan. But he kissed me with frightful vehemence; and then his voice broke upon me like a clap of thunder, “Now, Pamela,” said he, “is the dreadful time of reckoning come that I have threatened.”

That's not a woman in the corner...

Pamela screams and cries, Mr. B threatens, Pamela faints…and she wakes up alone and untouched.

At this point you’re probably wondering when the hell does this girl finally escape this horrible, horrible guy? Well…

He finally sets her free after reading her letters and diaries and realising oh hey, this girl is completely miserable. He sends her a letter as she is traveling home, asking for forgiveness and saying that he has always wished her well.  Her reaction?

My dear parents forgive me! but I found, before, to my grief, that my heart was too partial in his favour; but now with so much openness, affection and honour too (which was all I had doubted), I am quite overcome.  This was a happiness, however, I had no reason to expect. But I must own to you, that I shall never be able think of any body in the world but him.

She’s fallen in love with him. After everything–the kidnapping, the assaults, the attempted rape–she loves him. Soon after he asks her to return to him, she does and she marries the man. The rest of the novel is another “break Pamela” cycle of Mr. B’s sister arriving when Mr. B is away, assuming that Pamela hasn’t married her brother and is just some strumpet and but they figure that all out and then it all resolves in Pamela asking Mr. B’s illegitimate daughter to come live with them happily ever after.

What I want to focus on is the fact that she married the man.

It boggles me. It really really does. You might say that it’s just the time period but the author Samuel Richardson wrote another epistolary novel titled Clarissa where the villain Lovelace captures Clarissa, continually tries to get into her skirts and actually rapes her. He dies a villain, there is no love for him even though he, like Mr. B is “reformed” by the good example and virtue of the heroine. The only difference is that Mr. B doesn’t rape Pamela (though not for lack of trying). I think that the author matured in his writing after Pamela to go onto write Clarissa but that doesn’t answer the question of what happened in his first novel.

In the version I’m using (the Everyman’s Library edition) a Prof Mark Kinkead-Weekes says in the introduction that it wasn’t the man Pamela objected to but his terms, and we lose sight of any changes in Mr. B because we only see things from Pamela’s tortured point of view. Alright but I have a hard time finding the good in this man even still. Even though he does reform enough to be nicer to Pamela, he’s no peach. When the drama with Mr. B’s sister happens, it climaxes in Pamela going after him to calm Mr. B’s anger so he doesn’t do something rash. His response? “Pamela you are very good to think that and do that However I told you not to follow me so I’m going to have to send you away” and because Pamela is so good and kind she obeys.

Some people say that Pamela isn’t as good as she seems, that she actually was just playing Mr. B the whole time to get out of her poor class. But I doubt Samuel Richardson had that intent since his purpose was to teach young ladies. So in the end…we’re left with a really troubling love interest who may have changed but we didn’t see enough evidence to feel good about the ending.

So is it an awful book?

Well…yes and no. The first time I read it I couldn’t put it down because I just had to know what happened to Pamela. As sickening sweet as Pamela was, I needed to know what would happen to her. And it is a great way to learn the details of the 18th century. But would I read it again? Probably not. I had a hard time just skimming it and the questionable scenes seemed even worse the second time around.

Breakdown

Appearance: If it is described I cannot find it :/

Personality: passionate, proud, manipulative

Best Quality: He has moments of compassion

Worst Quality: He will not take no for an answer. ever. His way is the only way.

Grade: F. I debated if Mr. B’s passion and “reform” might qualify him for a higher grade but I honestly dislike this man and just can’t score him any higher.

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