Pamela Epistolary novel that was an 18th Century bestseller

Pamela was published in 1740 by Samuel Richardson. It was an epistolary novel (a novel consisting of fictitious letters exclusively), including a servant girl as the protagonist. The novel became famous in an instant. It hasn’t survived in the same way as other classic novel from the 18th century, however, but it remains a mentioned novel in handbooks of literature history.

Richardson’s Pamela is seen as an important literary work for many reasons. It did create a new heroine which have been influential to many feminine novel characters.1

The plot centers around the teenager Pamela who protect her virtue against a man’s advance. This was something new in the literary, since the girls in her position–a servant–usually surrendered to the courting.2 Yet, this should not be exaggerated as the main attitude of the time: there were other books published parodying Pamela for its solemn viewpoint on the female virtue. Probably most known among them is Henry Fielding's Shamela (1741).

In the Richardson novel, Pamela is courted by Mr. B. The book ends with a turning point in which the two are married. Although this happens after Mr. B. has changed his attitude for Pamela: giving her more respect and propose her to be his husband.

The ending would probably not be chosen for a similar story today, but the main thing here is that Pamela isn’t captured by the harmful affair outside the marriage but instead escapes from her low society class to a higher by the marriage.3 The end is also a proof of the contradictions that could be find in Pamela. Charlotte Sussman writes that it is “both a revolutionary novel and a conservative one: revolutionary because it endows a servant girl with not simply subjectivity and the ability to communicate her thoughts, but also with moral authority; conservative because it restraints that authority within the sexual hierarchy of marriage, and shows the dangerous consequences of ever straying from that space”.4

Pamela was, as said earlier, a huge success in its time. Another epistolary novel with many similarities to Pamela that also became popular was Evelina (1778), written by Frances Burney. But the epistolary novel that has remain most well-known was written in France by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and named Julie, or the New Heloise (Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, 1761). But that is quite another story.

The author

Daniel Richardson (1689-1761) was an 18th century English writer and is most known for his novel Pamela. But he wrote also two other novels in the same genre: Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748), known as the longest novel in the English language, and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753). In addition to writing, he was also a printer and publisher.

< The Enlightenment


1. Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Charlotte Sussman. 2012, p. 163 f
2. Ibid p. 166
3. Ibid p. 167
4. Ibid p. 170