by Samuel Richardson

Pamela by Samuel Richardson


Summary / Riassunto

This novel – appeared in 1740 in two volumes with the title of Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded – was an immediate success, we should say a best-seller, and it originated a sort of Pamela rage: everybody read it and Pamela motifs were used on teacups or fans. It is written in the form of letters, that appeared one after the other and were supposed to be from Pamela. This characteristic allowed all the ladies and girls that followed the story of Pamela to try and persuade his author, Samuel Richardson, to make Pamela do what they wanted and asked for.

Samuel Richardson was a printer by trade and when he composed this novel he was already 50. With this book he proposes an acute examination of the human heart and of social customs. The story is very simple: a good girl, Pamela, is rewarded for her virtue (let’s consider the complete title of the novel). Pamela Andrews is a serving maid; when her mistress dies, she is pursued by the lady’s son, Mr. B, who tries to seduce her “by all manner of temptation”, using all his power as a man, an employer, and a member of the upper class. But Pamela is honest, and she repels all the temptations of Mr. B’s, with “many innocent stratagems to escape the snares laid for her virginity”. At the end, the young girl’s virtue is rewarded and the wedding of Mr. B and Pamela comes at last. But it is not meant as the end of the story, but as a beginning of the life of the protagonists and also a continuation of their choices.

Pamela has always been a controversial novel. Many exalted its liveliness and morality, but there were also those who condemned it as low and vulgar and undignified. Anyway, it was certainly a revolutionary work, and it greatly influenced not only English writers, but also European ones. An important aspect of the book is its language. Since the letters are supposed to be written by Pamela herself, they show a country style. The heroin writes “to the moment”, and she uses a good number of common expressions, even vulgarisms, and when we consider the novel as a whole with all the characters it contains we pick up a mix of different languages, also according to the different social status each characters belongs to.

Pamela is not a simple character as she might seem. She is the result of her social position as a servant and a girl. She rebels against the code that, at that time, used to indicate lower-class girls not to set any value on their chastity and morality. When she refused Mr. B’s attacks, she does not consider that marriage will be the logical outcome of her honest behaviour, she is too conscious of her social position. It is the reader that first sees the marriage as the right end of the story, because it is the only way a relationship of equality between Pamela and Mr. B can be fulfilled, thus acknowledging the values of Pamela as a person, regardless of her social position.


Must know / Da sapere

  • Richardson was not an educated man, even if he loved reading. Before writing Pamela, he was a simple printer and had composed only some unimportant prefaces. When he was asked to write an easy book of sample letters providing models of business and personal letters for the semi-literate, he had the inspiration for his novel.
  • After the great success of Pamela, Richardson wrote a two-volume sequel in 1741, and a new novel, Clarissa Harlowe, in which a young and beautiful girl does not accept to marry, as her sever father forces her to do. She falls into despair, and she dies.
  • The success of Pamela originated also Henry Fielding’s satire. A contemporary author of Richardson’s, Fielding wrote Joseph Andrews (1742), a satire on Pamela.

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