Pamela: Something to Comment on

When we have had more presentations, there will be more student-authored posts on which you can comment. Until then, here are some questions to consider. If you are not presenting this week, then you should comment this week.

1) To what extent does Richardson’s novel fit into the theories of the novel espoused by Hunter, Watts, or Eagleton?

2) Pamela has been linked to class resistance and (in the case of Nancy Armstrong) to colonial captivity narratives. Does Pamela (book or character) contain some resonances with Bhabha’s hybridity and mimicry as resistance?

Hybridity: the co-opting and transformation of the colonizing culture by the colonized

“The discovery of the English book establishes both a measure of mimesis and a mode of civil authority and order. If these scenes, as I have narrated them, suggest the triumph of the writ of colonialist power, then it must be conceded that the wily letter of the law inscribes a much more ambivalent text of authority. For it is in-between the edict of Englishness and the assault of the dark unruly spaces of the earth, through an act of repetition, that the colonial text emerges uncertainly” (149).

“Hybridity is a problematic of colonial representation and individuation that reverses the effects of the colonialist disavowal, so that other ‘denied’ knowledges enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority – its rules of recognition. Again, it must be stressed, it is not simply the content of disavowed knowledges, – be they forms of cultural otherness or traditions of colonialist treachery – that return to be acknowledged as counter- authorities. For the resolution of conflicts between authorities, civil discourse always maintains an adjudicative procedure. What is irremediably estranging in the presence of the hybrid – in the revaluation of the symbol of national authority as the sign of colonial difference – is that the difference of cultures can no longer be identified or evaluated as objects of epistemological or moral contemplation: cultural differences are not simply there to be seen or appropriated” (156).

3) If (and this is debatable) we read this text as an argument for reform, what is it arguing is in need of reform? To whom are its reform efforts directed? How does the act of reading (both within and outside of the narrative) play a role in these reforms?


8 thoughts on “Pamela: Something to Comment on

  1. In response to question 1:

    To a great extent, Richardson’s Pamela fits into the theories of the novel espoused by Ian Watt in his article, “The Rise of the Novel.” As Watt explains, the word “novel” implies something new and original, which aligns with how Richardson and, many other 18th-Century British writers viewed their work (Watt 13). Originality was key for this new type of literature.

    The theories Watt gives regarding the novel, and how the novel differs from prior literary works, parallels with aspects of Richardson’s novel. According to Watt, the novel’s “plot had to be acted out by particular people in particular circumstances, rather than, as had been common in the past, by general human types against a background primarily determined by the appropriate literary convention (Watt 15). Pamela clearly fits these requirements. The young female protagonist Pamela is in such a particular circumstance that she essentially creates her own class since she is neither lower class nor middle class. Pamela is also in a particular circumstance with her peculiar situation with Mr. B and the demands he presses upon her. She also faces expectations from within herself in addition to her parents, Mr. B, Mrs. Jervis, and society as a whole.

    In this way, Pamela is not a “general human” type, but rather a very specific person in a very specific situation. In this way, Richardson focuses on individuals rather than general plots; in fact, his novel is a rejection of traditional plots (Watt 13). Similarly so, the time is not a universal element in Richardson’s work, relating back to the idea of a particular person and place rather than an unchanging past. While Richardson may establish themes and morals in his novel for the audience to apply to their own lives, the very plot of the novel is about the individual, Pamela, and her circumstances.

    Watt also writes how novels broke the convention of prior literature by focusing on the aspects of common life, which relates to the previous paragraph discussing how Richardson writes of a particular “common” person, such as Pamela. His novel is an attempt to “imitate reality” and “morally instruct” (Watt 32). While it may seem contradictory, the two aspects relate to each other, as Pamela’s situation is particular and specific, yet it is not limited to being a piece of literature that only tells of an ancient hero or elite ruler. Readers of Pamela also experience a close “correspondence” with the characters in the novel, especially given the personal epistolary nature of the work (Watt 33).

    With all of these ideas in mind, Pamela fits quite nicely as what Watt believes constituted a novel and how it differed from prior texts.

  2. 3) I would agree that it is debatable whether or not this text advocates for reform, but regardless, reform remains a pertinent lens through which to view this novel. The relationship between Mr. B and Pamela very much reminds me of one analogous to predator and prey. Pamela is a young, poor girl who must endure the constant and aggressive sexual advances of her superior, Mr. B. In many ways, this novel then points out not only the disparities between classes, but also the ways in which the ruling class has forceful control over the working class. Mr. B’s advances have strong implications, as they don’t only seek a sexual relationship with Pamela, they seek control over her. It is not enough that the ruling class has socioeconomic power over their workers, but as shown through Mr. B’s advances that constantly circle back to power, he wants to maintain a high level of superiority over her. In this sense, the novel can be read as arguing that reform efforts should be geared towards the ruling class and the complete power that the ruling class has, as it often comes via the devaluation of the working class. Engaging in an epistolary novel allows the readers to feel the trepidation of Pamela during Mr. B’s advances, and subsequently called me to evaluate the potentially oppressive nature of class relations.

  3. Pamela’s Relation to Eagleton’s Definition of the Novel
    In critic Terry Eagleton’s What is a Novel?, he begins with this statement: “a novel is a piece of prose fiction of a reasonable length.” And while he goes on for twenty more pages, he doesn’t offer a definitive definition, but rather explores different definitions. With respect to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, I found the following definition most useful: “The novel is a mighty melting pot, a mongrel among literary thoroughbreds… If it is a form particularly associated with the middle class, it is partly because the ideology of that class centres on a dream of total freedom from restraint” (1-2). While Eagleton offers manifold remarks on the novel, this one resonates best with Pamela.
    Pamela is certainly a melting pot. It combines a romance novel with an epistolary novel with a journal with a moralistic tale with a realist novel, all under the auspices of a found text. Eagleton specifically notes Richardson’s marketing his Clarissa as a “found text,” that Richardson tries to straddle the line between fiction and nonfiction. “Richardson comments that he wants nothing in its Preface which would prove that the work was fiction, but that he does not want it to be thought genuine either. This captures the realist quandary exactly” (13).
    Pamela definitely fits Eagleton’s theory of the novel, not merely because his theory is so all-encompassing but because of Pamela’s amorphous play with genre.

  4. 2) I found notions of hybridity to be particularly noteworthy in the novel, especially when regarded in conjunction with the changing use of accents between the 1740 and 1801 editions. Hybridity, as it is defined on the blog, marks the transformation of the colonizing culture by the colonized. In the sections of the 1740 version I have read, Pamela continually speaks with a heavy and almost unrecognizable accent. She sounds almost as if she is a different character and her conversations with Mr. B do change drastically. The 1801 version presents Pamela without this accent, and as such, I found that she gained an ability to influence Mr. B, or the colonizer, in a much more significant way. The accent provides a tangible class distinction between the two characters. Personally, I found the 1801 Pamela has a higher probability of being able to influence Mr. B than the 1740 due to this visible distinction. Although the general plot line remains the same, the believability of the plot does change for me. Mr. B does end up marrying Pamela, so there inarguably exists a sense of hybridity, but the characters seems to be at odds with one another much more in the 1740 version than in the 1801 version.

  5. Pamela is full of examples of class resistance, but the one that stands out the most vis a vis Homi Bhabha’s theories of hybridity and mimicry is the much-discussed-in-class subject of clothing. As Bhabha says: “Hybridity is a problematic of colonial representation and individuation that reverses the effects of the colonialist disavowal, so that other ‘denied’ knowledges enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority – its rules of recognition” (156). In this case, the hybridity of which I speak is found in Pamela’s manipulation and alteration of her former Lady’s clothes. Pamela states that she is altering the clothes in order to make them more appropriate to her class, but it actually serves as a form of resistance, albeit a passive one.
    Taking her normal, lower-class clothes as “denied knowledge,” it can be said that the modified clothes, still related to her lower-class ones, infringe upon and enter the dominant discourse. The hybridity of her clothes, not quite upper-class but not lower-class, “estrange the basis of [the dominant discourse’s] authority.” We can take Mr. B-‘s gifts to her as attempts to reestablish the authority of the dominant discourse, by ridding her wardrobe of the hybrid clothes and replacing them with ones entirely representative of the dominant discourse.

  6. I hesitate to agree that Pamela’s predicament parallels with the experiences of people undergoing colonial captivity, however I do agree that elements of Pamela’s situation relate to the idea of class and colonial resistance. This notion of hybridity, defined earlier as “the co-opting and transformation of the colonizing culture by the colonized,” appears throughout the novel. As a previous post commented, it is evident in the accent change of Pamela from the 1740 edition to the 1801 edition. However, I suggest that her resistance to the authority of the “colonizing” culture is most evident in the clothing Pamela chooses to wear and the letters she is forced to share with others.

    Pamela’s rejection of clothing from both her previous master and Mr. B reveals her resistance to dismiss her humble beginnings and lower class. By refusing the jewelry, clothing, and money from Mr. B, Pamela not only refuses to be his mistress, but also refuses to be of his class. This causes Mr. B, who is largely a symbol of upper class authority, to reassert his power over her in other ways, such as the scenes when he assaults her in bed and when he demands to read her letters. These ideas relate to Bhabha’s quote regarding hybridity, as hybridity is most obvious when it causes a “revaluation of the symbol of national authority as the sign of colonial difference” (156). Throughout the novel thus far, Pamela struggles to retain her class identity as much as she struggles to retain her identity as a young, virtuous woman.

  7. 1) I feel that Richardson’s novel correlates directly with specific ideas given by Eagleton. One idea in particular is that “Sex and property, one might claim, are the themes of the modern novel from start to finish” (2). In Pamela’s case, it is the combination of these two elements that present Eagleton’s ideas lucidly. These two elements become evident throughout the novel in the sense of sex becoming some form of “property.” The way that I analyzed this novel with Eagleton’s ideas is by picturing an actual property of land. From the beginning, Mr. B saw Pamela as this beautiful and elegant lady, which first had arisen his interests in her. Then, through the viewing of her letters along with constant banter between the two, Pamela began to flourish and blossom in Mr. B’s eyes, further increasing his demand for her. Now if this was a piece of beautiful land, the addition of flowering crops would definitely arouse one’s interest in that piece of land. This idea of sex and property in Pamela is nothing more than just a commentary on the classes of that time period as well.
    As David stated before, this novel is nothing more than the classic predator and prey novel. There is a constant need for Mr. B to attain the “property” that is Pamela. His ultimate goal to attain that property is through sex, furthering Eagleton’s observations. Due to Mr. B’s high class, his is eventually able to obtain Pamela to call his own, making it clear of the unavoidable constraint of class mobility with in that time period.

  8. Pamela embodies the idea of class resistance throughout the novel, however the example that sticks out most to me is the description of her three piles of clothing before she is to head home to her parents. She only chooses to take the small pile of only her clothes. She rejects the other two piles because with regards to the clothing her old lady gave her she cannot, “wear them at my poor father’s’ for I should bring all the little village upon my back” (111). When telling Mrs. Jervis why she cannot take the parcel of clothing Mr. B gave her, she states, “you see what was his intention in giving them to me” (111). This clearly shows her resistance towards classes because she does not want to wear these “nicer” clothes because for one, she would look silly to those of her hometown and her virtue is also hinders her ability to take the clothes Mr. B gave her.
    With relation to Bhabba’s definition of hybridity, Pamela’s rejection of these two parcels resonates perfectly with the idea of hybridity because she is directly refusing to represent that “upper class” that both Mr. B and Pamela’s deceased lady are a part of. This in turn “estranges the basis of its authority,” because it calls to attention the idea of a complete reversal of the idea of the colonizing power over the colonized.

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