What does Pamela deserve?

One interesting thing that I’ve noticed in the novels we have read so far this semester (Oroonoko, Roxana, and now Pamela) is the way in which the protagonists are presented. In class we noted that one major factor in the development of the novel as a literary form was the transition from subjects from the higher classes (kings, nobility, etc.) toward more “common” characters with individualized experiences. Oroonoko is a slave, Roxana is a destitute woman who turned to vice to survive, and Pamela is a house servant from a poor family. While these protagonists all purport to represent the lower tiers of society, they each are presented as standing out in their respective social class or as not belonging there. Oroonoko is a slave, but he is also a prince. Roxana is destitute, but she comes from wealth. Pamela is a poor house servant, but her beauty and grace suggest that she is above the station she was born into. In the Introduction to the Second Edition of Pamela, one gentleman writes:

[Richardson] has reconciled the Pleasing to the Proper. The Thought is every-where exactly clothed by the Expression: And becomes its Dress as roundly, and as close, and Pamela her Country-habit. Remember, tho’ she put it on with humble Prospect, of descending to the Level of her Purpose, it adorn’d her, with such unpresum’d Increase of Loveliness; sat with such neat Propriety of Elegant Neglect about her, that it threw out All of her Charms, with tenfold, and resistless Influence– And so, dear Sir, it will be always found. — When modest Beauty seeks to hide itself by casting off the Pride of Ornament, but displays itself without a Covering, And so, becoming more distinguished, by its Want of Drapery, grows stronger, from its purpos’d Weakness.

Pamela is presented as possessing some qualities that put her above her fellow house servants. She is not just any, “typical” house servant, she is somehow different (read: better). What is it that makes her stand apart? Maybe it’s her morality/virtue (which, from a modern perspective, is questionable), maybe it’s her physical beauty. In any case, it seems as though Richardson made an effort to present Pamela as belonging to the nobler class that she ultimately winds up in, and that the events of the narrative simply constituted the process of her making her way there.

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