An Education

In class last Wednesday, we  ended the class discussing if and what kind of power Pamela possesses in the novel and the eery collapse between the reader and Mr. B when he finally reads Pamela’s letters. And, in the context of our discussion about the level of Pamela’s consciousness of both her effect on others and the power she has in manipulating this image, I began thinking about the way that there is another kind of collapse in that novel as Pamela is as much a force as a reflection of her environment, which is perhaps why it is difficult to discuss what and if Pamela has power in the novel. In class, we concentrated on the visual way that Pamela expresses herself, externalizing the way she internally perceives herself as well as her position in the social structure, and we mentioned the complexity that is added when Pamela literally sews her letters into the layers of her dress. Yet, we failed to speak about the implications of the external being collapsed so seamlessly with the internal especially the complications they add to parsing out what compromises Pamela and what compromises the performative Pamela. As reader’s of Pamela’s letters, we are automatically in the mindset that we are privy to the “true” Pamela in the same way that Mr. B believes that he will be closer to Pamela by reading them; however, one must remember that the epistolatory style of the novel is arguably more demonstrative of Pamela’s performed self than her true self. In writing to her parents, one must remember that all the information conveyed in Pamela’s letters are filtered not only through the letter style but also the filter she has for her parents, which one can witness in the visual sense in the incident we focused on in class where Pamela reverts back to her country dress in order to return to her parents verses the more ornate clothing she has grown accustom to wearing. So, as Mr. B discovers that he is not able to come to understand Pamela through her letters, we too discover that we are also only getting yet another kind of performance through these letters. This discovery causes yet another slippage between the external and the internal, or as we’ve been talking about it in class the public and private Pamela, but also reveals how much Pamela is subject to the environment and audience she is addressing. In class, we discussed how Pamela influences the people around her creating kind of Pamela “converts” amongst her peers, yet we haven’t spoken extensively about the reverse effect these instances have on Pamela. For instance, in the Jon Arnold letter we read in class, we spoke about the way that Jon is almost switching allegiances from Mr. B to Pamela by revealing the ways that he has been aiding Mr. B and how Pamela’s reaction to the letter is almost hypocritical in the sense that she too has been (perhaps unknowingly) deceitful with the other characters in the way that she manipulates her behavior to suit the environment she is in. Yet, we  never discussed the ramifications, or rather effects this letter has on Pamela’s interactions moving forward with other confidents in the novel. Does Pamela grow from Jon’s letter, does it effect the way she will perhaps interact later with others? Will it inspire her to be less trusting? Besides being a moment of betrayal, is this a moment of education within the story?

At the end of his letter, Jon Arnold says, “You see your Undoing has been long hatching. Pray take care of your sweet Self. Mrs. Jewkes is a Devil. But in my Master’s t’other House you have not one false Heart, but myself. Out upon me for a Villain,” (Richardson 154) a statement that seems to be paradoxically Arnold’s apology for revealing the disloyal nature of people to the innocent Pamela as well as an affirmation of Pamela’s trusting view of the world. As we discussed, Pamela is outraged by Jon’s betrayal, yet we never discussed perhaps the most intriguing element of her slandering of his letter, when she decides to keep his apology  secret, “Yet I can but pity the poor Wretch, since he seems to have some Remorse, and I believe it best to keep his Wickedness secret; and, if it lies in my way, to encourage his Penitence; for I may possibly make some Discoveries by it” (Richardson 154). In keeping it a secret, Pamela realizes she will be able to benefit just like Mr. B was previously off of her relationship with Jon as he is privy to the private Mr. B. I would argue that this moment is just as much a moment of disappointment as it is a moment of learning for Pamela, and as she becomes more aware of the true nature of people it seems the more she becomes a part of this system of performances. It is instances like this that the reader is able to pick up on not only the influence that Pamela is gaining but also the social education that she is receiving as the private Pamela collides with the public sphere.

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