A general summary
The novel starts showing us the situation of Pamela, an educated and polite fifteen years-old maid, whose Lady has just died.
Before her death, this Lady recommends her servants and particularly Pamela to the Lady’s son: Mr. B. So he takes her into his service. However, Pamela begins to feel uncomfortable with him, as Mr. B becomes obsessed with Pamela. In the novel we can see Pamela’s efforts to keep her virtue. This is reflected when she speaks to her housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis, as well as in the great amount of letters Pamela writes to her parents, where, once again, she always emphasizes her virtue.
The rest of the novel deals with Pamela’s efforts to defend herself and her virtue from Mr. B.’s advances towards her, as well as her internal debate between love Mr. B and keep providing to her family, or holding true to her morals and losing her chance of a better life.
At the end, she agrees to marry him instead of simply let him taking advantage of her. Probably, because in this way, she retains her virtue and she also gains social status.
Pamela; or virtue rewarded is an epistolary novel, in which Pamela reveals the intimate details of her everyday life in her journal and letters. This creates closeness with the reader as if we were the recipients of the letters and the readers of the journal. The reader sees everything through the character’s eyes, so in this way, there is no omniscient observer.
Samuel Richardson began writing Pamela in 1739 and it finally appeared in 1740 in two volumes, and it was soon considered, what we call today, a best-seller.
Obviously, the novel in letters had existed before Richardson, but not in any work of the same scope.
Pamela as she tells her story she is always in the middle of her own experience, which makes the narration fresh, even to herself. Thus, Richardson discovered a new way of writing that he called ‘writing to the moment’ which means that her thoughts are recorded nearly simultaneously with her actions. This technique will be later developed in his next work Clarissa.
It has often been said that Pamela begins a literary tradition which leads to the novels of Joyce or Virginia Woolf. But letters do not provide the stream of consciousness we see in Virginia Woolf novels. This is because writing a letter supposes some degree of wakefulness, a sense of order and a desire to communicate.
The novel as a genre has always pointed out this vision of unimportant people in history. People such as Lazarillo and Don Quixote who are not leaders and do not control their society, but they try to make their own way in it.
But if we compare Pamela to Don Quixote, we realise that she is a kind of reverse of Don Quixote: While he makes all his experience a reflection of the literature he has read, Pamela finds what she has read totally inadequate to what she is experiencing.
At one point in the novel Pamela says:
“…my soul is of equal importance with the soul of a princess…”
Roger Sharrock points out that Pamela is a making an obvious Christian statement with social implications .Because of this, we can deduce that Pamela considers herself as good as a lady who belongs to the aristocratic class.