Pamela’s Power & Class

Every aspect of Pamela, her ideas on money, her labor, her clothing and her writing shows her limbo between classes. Pamela isn’t exactly in the labor class, although she is a servant. Yet she isn’t at a higher class, as Mr. B says that he could not marry her because of her place. Pamela shows a complex picture of class, and if there is an ability to change place in the hierarchical system of British 18th century.

The first aspect of Pamela’s limbo is her labor. Pamela, whose parents started out with money but fell on hard times, becomes a servant for money. But instead of being just a regular housemaid she becomes basically the assistant to the lady of house, performing duties that other servants did not and being treated almost like a daughter, learning to read and write and taught by her superior. After the death of her boss though there is no mention of Pamela’s duties within the house. It seems as if her only job is to write, something she even says herself; “my pen and ink…is all I have to empoy myself with” (Richardson 209). Throughout her stay at Mr. B’s country house and B-Hall Mr. B and Mrs. Jewkes continuously chide her by her idleness. Often being called an “idle girl” or even an “idle slut.” Mr. B even mentions that “this girl is always scribbling, I think she may be better employ’d”.

One of things discussed in our presentation and throughout the rest of class was whether Pamela was aware of her limbo between classes, and if she used deceit and methodical practices in ways to get what she wanted, to eventually marry Mr. B. She seems aware of her possibilities of labor, in the scene when she comes down with three bundles, each of with, according to Rosenthall in “Pamela’s Work”, represent her possible job endeavors. “She is not just selecting clothes to express a moral choice but also in a sense, choosing an outfit for work: the bundles point to three different ways that Pamela could make a living. Her first bundle would dress her for genteel service, the second for being a kept mistress and the third for manual labor…Most critical responses to Pamela have focuses on the tensions that the novel so relentlessly negotiates between middle-class and aristocratic ideologies, represented in the sorting scene by Pamela’s rejection of the ‘wicked’ bundle and thus her rejection of aristocratic luxury and moral laxity. Without a doubt, Pamela’s ultimate transition from servant to wife rather that mistress suggests the new forms of upward mobility available in the eighteenth century” (Rosenthal 245-6) Pamela makes conscious decisions to reject the possibility of a life of luxury as the mistress to Mr. B and instead braces herself to manual labor, even practicing sewing and callousing her hands. Ingrassia in “‘I Am Become a Mere Usurer’: Pamela and Domestic Stock Jobbing” discusses how Pamela is not only aware of her limbo between classes, but deceitful uses techniques to gain access into the higher class through Mr.B on her own terms. Instead of becoming his mistress, as he wants she deceives him and eventually are married, despite her lower status. Pamela throughout the novel seemed overly aware of money. Pamela seems to connect credit and virtue and uses her knowledge of the two to “succeed socially, economically and sexually”. Ingrassia believes that Pamela sees Mr. B as that ability to advance, citing things she says like “Such a thing could ruin his credit as well as mine (pg. 30) showing how she continuously connects money and credit with virtue. Despite her lack of money Pamela is able to gain control over the most ‘credited’ character of the story, Mr. B. She uses her clothing as a way of control, the most obvious aspect of her deceit according to Ingrassia. “The rustic dress serves as another symbolic instrument that Pamela creates and places into circulation, and it suggest the transformative power of money” (Ingrassia 311) Pamela goes on about how much she likes the way she looks in the dress and is even pleases how no one recognizes her, and even a fellow servant curtseys to her. She deceives Mr. B through the dress, making him even more attracted to her and uses it as another step in her way of becoming a wife of the house rather than the mistress.

Although many might see Pamela as a naïve or innocent young girl that eventually is able to overcome class difference and be the wife of Mr. B through love Pamela is truly the tale of knowledge and how to get what one wants. Pamela, although she may like Mr. B, is smart enough to know that being a mistress does not equal power, and she could eventually end up job-less and money-less. She knows that her virtue equals her credit and that if she continues to safe-guard it and yet continuously provoke Mr. B through her known beauty and intelligence she eventually will gain the power of being his wife.


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