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on 23 July 2017
Good Quality
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on 25 May 2016
Two stars. I always give generous ratings. If this hadn't been written two hundred and fifty years ago, I'd have given it one star for portaying a woman marrying her would be rapist. I am amazed that any modern critic or reader could defend that.

Samuel Richardson’s reputation, for so long as bad as it could be among critics, has in recent decades had something of a revival. This is generally among literary scholars, as the length of his works is enough to put off all but the most geekish or courageous of readers (count me among the said geeks). These days, the subtlety of his characterisation, and the complex significance of his use of incident, are now discussed as avidly as once were the scorn and disgust aroused in readers by his self serving Puritanical morality.

Typically awkward, I think this is a loss, because I fully agree with Coleridge’s conclusion about Richardson’s work:

‘I confess it has cost, and still costs, my philosophy some exertion not to be vexed that I must admire, aye, greatly admire, Richardson. His mind is so very vile, a mind so oozy, so hypocritical, praise mad, canting, envious, concupiscent.’

Richardson's writing has a compulsion which one feels has got little to do with literary value, or the creation of sympathetic characters, believable situations, or strong writing.

In fact, after ploughing through ‘Pamela’ 'Pamela in her Exalted Condition, ‘Clarissa’ and part of ‘The History of Sir Charles Grandison’ I can safely state that Richardson is devoted to purple prose.

Unfortunately, this may be why – with his favourite theme being that of female virtue besieged - in an age discovering ‘sensibility’, so many of his inner circle of toadying admirers and literary advisors were women. They wished to explore the ‘female sphere’ of the emotive that this male writer was prepared to take seriously in his writing, and in their enthusiasm for this they seem to have blinded themselves both to the inadequacies of his verbose, florid style and the dismal limitations of the sort of respect for women offered by his Puritan convictions.

It is intriguing that in their discussions, they often employed much the same arguments that are used today in defences on the literary value of the romance novel. In fact, current writers on the value of the romance novel take a stand against the ‘anti-Pamela-ists’ precisely because they define ‘Pamela’ as the first romantic novel. This dismays me, given that Mr B makes a series of sexual assaults on Pamela.

Richardson wrote two hundred years before Freud’s discoveries of sexuality and the unconscious laid bare the source of his appeal, already hinted at by Henry Fielding and Eliza Heywood. In D H Lawrence’s words, he offered voyeuristic ‘Calico purity and underclothes excitement…Boccacio at his hottest seems to me less pornographic than ‘Pamela’ or ‘Clarissa’.

If this seems wonderfully biting, then the critic V S Pritchard in ‘The Living Novel’ goes further:

‘Prurient, and obsessed by sex, the prim Richardson creeps on tiptoe nearer and nearer, inch by inch…he beckons us on, pausing to make every sort of pious protestation, and then nearer and nearer he creeps again…’

This is hilarious, and very apt.

Another critic, Frank Bradbrook in his essay on Richardson ‘The Pelican Guide to English Literature’ remarks trenchantly, ‘Pamela is sentimental and obscene; its obscenity is a direct result of its sentimentality.’

I have to agree with these criticisms, which makes me into an ‘anti Pamela-ist’. But I am even more of an ‘Anti Mr B-ist’ I don’t think Richardson’s heroine is alone in a hypocrite. Mr B is even more of one than Pamela.

Regarding Pamela’s hypocrisy, as soon as her master offers to marry her, he ceases to be a villain in her eyes, and she never asks for an explanation or apology for his abusive treatment of her. In elevating her to his own status, Squire B has put his late mother’s lady’s maid under such a sense of obligation that he can only be her ‘beloved Master’ even if he did attempt to rape her at least once, and sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions.

As for M B’s hypocrisy, apart from his absurd earlier outrage that she has dared to defy him and write accounts of his attempts on her, there is his later astounding self complacency. He is supposed to have undergone a moral metamorphesis triggered by reading her journal. One might think that this would have made him a little confused and diffident about himself, and the value of his opinions. Far from it. As soon as he gives up his attempts on her and decides to marry her, he suddenly shows an incongruous tendency to express pompous views about marriage and a wife’s duty.

Here he is clearly Richardson’s mouthpiece. Still, the contrast between this new persona, and his former behaviour as a self confessed rake, are frankly ludicrous.

The revival of Richardson’s reputation seems to have been partly promoted by the writings of the US academic Mark Kinkead Weekes, and in particular his 1973 book ‘Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist’.

I found Kinkead Weekes’ book intriguing, though I disagree with his conclusions, while I found the parts which defend both heroine and the anti hero Mr B in ‘Pamela’, not only unconvincing but downright offensive to women readers. It has to be said in Kinkead Weekes’ defence, that this book was written in 1973, when the views about the depiction of sexual violence against women in novels was very different.

It is an intriguing thing that Kinkead Weekes considers the scheming unrepentant Lovelace – the rapist anti-hero of ‘Clarissa’ – as a very evil man. But Mr B, by dint of his facile reform is another case altogether.

In the dull sequel, ‘Pamela in her Exalted Condition’ Richardson was later to have Mr B deny that his first seeming attempt on Pamela, where he leaps out of a closet, climbs into bed with her and the housekeeper,and thrusts a hand down her bosom was an atempted rape, and indeed, it is hard to see how he would have contemplated carrying one out in front of Mrs Jervis. However, that piece of punishment through sexual assault is ugly enough, and later in the novel, he does carry out a genuine rape attempt.

Kinkead Weekes goes on to say of Mr B’s second attempt (also made in the presence of another woman, this time the wicked housekeeper Mrs Jewkers: she holds Pamela down, as do the prostitutes in ‘Clarissa’; Richardson did seem to have a rather odd thing about exhibitionist rapes)

‘The final attempt does begin with the intention of rape, though for revenge and subjugation, not desire- but it continues in stubborn pride, unwilling to give in to fear of wrongdoing, and trying hopelessly to salvage something. …It is the last kick of B’s pride, brought remorselessly to face its consequences in the ‘death’ (Pamela has a fit) of the girl he loves. The result is tenderness, and there is no need for B’s subsequent change to seem surprising.’

I see; readers have been told that they are not ‘reading carefully’ if they find his subsequent reformation abrupt and unconvincing. We are also told repeatedly that Pamela is not a hypocrite for accepting such a man when he changes to making ‘respectable’ offers of marriage.

‘It is open to the critic to say that it is immoral to love a man who has behaved like B, even if he seems to have made a break with his past, and that it is immoral to be able to blot out that past in a forgiveness excessive enough to rank repentant sinners ‘in the rank of the most virtuous’/ Only, if that is what we want to say, let us say it clearly, in awareness of what saying it implies. Let us not, on the other hand, talk too much about the jewel market.’

What I would say in response to that, is that of course, Pamela should have forgiven such a man as Mr B. But that she should never have married him.

Strangely enough, Kinkaed Weekes thoroughly endorses Clarissa’s combining forgiveness of Lovelace with an absolute refusal to marry him. While it might be argued that this is because Lovelace never really repents, he says he does. He is willing to marry Clarissa, believing that will put matters right.

I see very little moral difference between the two rapist anti heroes, save that the first is far less clever, and less of a compulsive schemer, and more of a hypocrite, who decides he will obtain more pleasure in joining Pamela in ‘innocent pleasures’ with her as his servile worshipper, and in go about the country giving tedious moral lectures to the neighbours than in jumping out of closets to thrust his hand down her bosom.

'Sentimental and obscene' sums it up perefectly, as far as I am concerned.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 February 2016
One of the hardest books I've ever read - not because of difficult content or language, but sheer length and the inability to end!

My edition was 450 pages of minuscule type, no chapter breaks, thin paper. A mountain of a book to conquer, but I was determined I would finish this and be able to SAY I'd finished this.

It is worth it, such a famous and trend-setting novel. But it is frustrating for a modern reader to put themselves through.

In epistolary (letter) form, servant Pamela writes to her poverty-stricken parents of her trials beating of the advances of her (dead) mistress's son, her master, who takes a shine to the teenage employee.

Her faith, her pride, her horror of dishonour all conjoin in her letters to show us a determined young lady. Her master tries every trick in the book (outright physical assault, hiding in Pamela's room, through to kidnap!) but fainting, arguing and pleas for mercy fend off his attempts. Can Pamela's charms and determination outlast his ardour?

I did like this, but it DOES go on forever. It's hard to believe just what 'Mr B' tries in order to seduce/force himself on Pamela. And that she's successful for so long.

The story takes a turn partway and the pair emerge into a new relationship, one very much of another era, which is fascinating as much as it is hard to understand in this day and age. There are instances where I could see the influences on both Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, with lines, characters and plot-lines that their authors could have taken from Richardson's work.

The religion is hard to swallow for a modern non-believer, with one particular line about atheists both hilarious and offensive. A later plot about another woman is wrapped up remarkably quickly after all that has gone before. I found the turnaround of Mr B a little convenient, and got very tired of Pamela's dad weeping so very often. But I do understand that in the mode of writing at the time this would have been stylistically common.

This is a classic I'm really pleased to say I've read, but not one I'm likely to revisit. Certainly not a joy to read like Pride and Prejudice or Evelina, but a seminal piece of literary history.
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on 21 January 2014
I fear my honour - nay, my virtue - may be taken by happenstance perchance my master should read this epistle, lo he is a good and kindly fine master with many kindnesses to his dear heart: that is when he is not kidnapping me and attempting to take my much-guarded virtue by force. However, he does somewhat suffer from literary diarrhea in that he cannot use but one word when one hundred will suffice. His novel does continue in this vein for an eternity, with endless threats against my virtue and no hope perchance by happenstance of liberty from such distress.
Perchance this may be the only book in christendom which can take three pages purely to describe who sat where with whom at the dining table. Intruth, my master does have a great fear of punctuation and thus his speech does slip into narration into the speech of another - with no indication theretoforthwith. This peculiarity will all be contained within one paragraph, nay page, in which there will be with a complete want of speech marks.
Granted this is a novel of another time but so are the writings of the misses Brontes (supposedly influenced by this detritus!) - yet they managed to create believable plots & narration, not to mention punctuation!
Nevertheless, this novel is not entirely without merit for it has led to much entertainment in our domicile as we favour imitation of his master's verbiage. One would however be most appreciative - nay grateful - if, per happenstance, one could gain back at the end of one's life the interminable hours one has spent reading this nonsensical flotsam and jetsam.
Perchance one should have endured the reading of this atrocity, one should then move on to read 'Shamela' by Mr Henry Fielding. Highly amusing in its mockery!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 September 2010
Pamela is one of those books that always has to appear on undergraduate courses on the history of the novel because it was so influential but it is undoubtedly a book which hasn't stood the tests of time well and which is a difficult book for us to read today. Told in epistolary form, it tells the story of Pamela, a servant girl, pursued obsessively by her master who hides in cupboards, gropes her and rapes her until they finally get married...!

So, ok, the story itself might be pretty offensive to us today and the method of telling is frequently repetitive, but it does tell us quite a lot about the culture, gender relations, and role of literature of the time in which it was written. Realism wasn't necessarily what Richardson was aiming for, and neither is the sort of psychological dimension which appears in the C19th alongside the growth of scientific pyschology.

So this is very much a book which you have to take on its own terms - it certainly won't be for everyone but does have a strange kind of vitality and energy of its own.
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on 20 November 2015
Pamela is pretty smart for a 15 year-old. But this is the 18th century and her master has to confine his lust to a quick grope in the greenhouse. She is resourceful - and I enjoyed the story very much. It paints a true picture of life in Richardson's days - despite his readers condemning it as pornography and the author's judicious editing. Recommended for ladies and gents of letters.
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on 6 December 2009
The first half of the novel is good. The letter form works well and though the heroine is very wet there's a lot of amusement to be derived from her efforts to stay virtuous. Also some interesting points on the abuse of power between master and servant. Unfortunately the second half goes downhill pretty fast. Once Pamela's situation is resolved there's nowhere to go other than round and round in circles which is very boring. Some fun might be gleaned from wondering just how virtuous/manipulative Pamela actually is, but otherwise this novel doesn't live up to its reputation.
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on 17 December 2015
Famous story that went before many other classics
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on 25 June 2015
Great condition and exactly as described
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on 22 December 2015
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