A Bit More on Character Reliability; and Pamela’s Happiness

As I left class after Grant, Eliza, and I presented, and then over the past week and a half, I have found myself coming back to the question of Pamela’s power over her social position. Time and time again we have discussed Pamela’s limbo, that she is neither a lowly servant yet does not fill the typical role of Mr. B-’s wife. Instead, she occupies a new space, one that lacks a definable identity. In our presentation we discussed the following quote from the Brückmann article,

“[Richardson’s] focus is on Pamela’s invention, in the double sense of creating and finding, of clothes of her own—her decision to make and buy them, her expenditures and the factors and sources that formed her choices and her taste. Pamela, I argue, shows herself able to become the mistress of the hall not only because she is verbally adept, but because she also has the practical talents necessary for such a place and has been formed in the essentials of choice and taste. She creates a self through her letters and successful evasion of B-‘s designs, but also through an education in the critical materials and signs of costume. In creating this self, she remains distinct from the B- world and from the lower class from which she came” (202).

I wonder about the idea of creating one’s self; did the reader in 1704, and then in 1801, take Pamela’s example as a means for her own social mobility? Were women like Pamela reading Pamela? In altering Lady B-’s clothing and educating herself, Pamela physically takes on the role of Mr. B-’s female counterpart, without having any birth or social right to do so.

                  As the reader watches Pamela work diligently to create and find an identity, it becomes clear that her actions are role-oriented, her life centered on finding a place to settle. This Wednesday we examined Pamela’s two positions, first as a lady’s maid and then as a wife. Does Pamela exist outside of these two identities? Does she merely mold herself and her actions around the role she fills at that moment? Moreover, is there something wrong with these actions? As I discussed in my Keywords post, there is an obvious class disparity between Pamela and Mr. B- when she acts as a servant in his house. Rather than fade away when they are married, the power struggle between husband and wife develops even further, as Pamela quits fighting Mr. B- and takes on the (sole) role of dutiful wife. Moments where she used to fight his orders and advances now present themselves as instances of compliance and toleration.

                  I find myself questioning, then, how to define happiness for Pamela. In addition, how believable is Pamela’s tale to the reader? I applaud Eliza Larson’s post in which she states, “ As a female, I, too, find it hard to believe that Pamela would not embrace her feminine power more and take advantage of her master’s infatuation. In an era where women’s rights were coming into the forefront of public scrutiny, Pamela’s actions seem as if they would not match with young women of her time.” Richardson’s depiction of Pamela as such a strong and then suddenly passive character plays with the question of character reliability, but also touches on, as Eliza highlights, the unpredictability of a teenage girl in the 18th century. Moreover, this week’s discussion brought us to the topic of social and economic stability, neither of which Pamela would have had she not married and been dutiful to Mr. B-. While the novel’s ending resolves the tension Richardson created, the social inequality still remains; Pamela is not Mr. B-’s nor does she have any true agency in her new social position.

                  Living in limbo, Richardson’s Pamela never truly resolves as a character. While her social growth is evident, her person actually appears static, never seeming to make any moves within the hierarchy that she is not a part of. Despite her attempts to fit into Mr. B-’s life and location, Pamela does not fit into traditional social spheres; she cannot reside in a culturally defined realm if she does not have the characteristics required for any of them. She transcends the roles asked of her, be it high or low, while simultaneously attempting to fit into them. Does Pamela lack a strong identity outside of social roles because her main goal in the novel is to fit into those very roles? The intensity of the social structure in Pamela creates an impossible challenge for happiness for a girl like Pamela, residing in her own space outside of the roles she, seemingly, has to choose between.


3 thoughts on “A Bit More on Character Reliability; and Pamela’s Happiness

  1. Thank you so much for your insight – and for agreeing with me haha.

    Along a similar vein to my post, I think you bring a very interesting notion of the idea of “limbo” in which Richardson’s Pamela exists. As we discussed in class on Wednesday, Pamela and, similarly, Mr. B both underwent major character changes. Something that, I find hard to believe; for two characters who seem very set in their ways and personal tastes/values/virtues thus far in the novel, suddenly switching to see the errors of their ways seems, frankly, unrealistic. Your final paragraph starts out by saying “Living in limbo, Richardson’s Pamela never truly resolves as a character. While her social growth is evident, her person actually appears static, never seeming to make any moves within the hierarchy that she is not a part of.” Static personality, in this light, comes across as indecisive and saucy, meaning non-mediated and uncultured for Pamela’s time.

    That being said, it is possible for a person to change his or her opinions on something. Happens every day. Pamela and Mr. B could have undergone a major change of heart in the novel, but we, as it’s readers, do not get enough of a glimpse to this to truly understand why and how.

  2. The last class discussion when we discussed Pamela as being a flat character, who never truly grows, I think ties into this post. Pamela in the beginning held on to her virtue and fended off the advances of her master, but as soon as she was allowed to go back decided that she could just marry him and have a stable life. Although there is motive in that decision to be able to have stability economically and socially there is no real substance behind Pamela. Her letters solely focus on the relationship between her and Mr. B, and when he uses power over her (even if it changes from sexual assault to rules within their marriage) and she allows him to do so. Pamela may change between classes when she marries Mr. B (even if it’s just as a “painted piece of dirt”) but within the novel she doesn’t change in other ways, she’s still the naive girl that marries a man who sexually assaults and threatens her and then continues to allow him to control her even in her new position as the lady of the house.

  3. Sarah, you raise some great and interesting points about Pamela and movement between social classes as a whole. I was particularly interested in your discussion of Pamela’s state of limbo in conjunction with questions regarding Pamela’s happiness, as I have seen many contemporary pieces continue to portray this very theme. I found your description of Pamela as a character “residing in her own space outside of the roles she, seemingly, has to choose between” to be spot on. Living in this in between state can provide large obstacles for certain people to overcome. When a person of a lower class rises into a higher class, it seems they often have to disassociate from one of those two groupings. I wonder if happiness is ever actually achievable for a character like Pamela who lives in this state of limbo you have (I think accurately) described. Your post made me think of the ways in which people might have to give certain things up in order to rise into a higher class, and how their way of life may be drastically altered by a dramatic change in financial situations.

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