Class Boundaries in Peril

“They say I’m no good, cause I’m so hood, rich folks do not want me around… They call me new money, say I have no class, I’m from the bottom I came up too fast.” – 50 Cent

If you were descended from a family of yesterday, from one who is but a remove or two from the dirt you seem so fond of, that would be another thing. Let me tell you, that I, and all mine will renounce you for ever, if you can descend so meanly. A handsome man, as you are in your person, so happy in the gifts of your mind; and possessed of such a noble and clear estate; and very rich in money besides, left you by the behest of fathers and mothers, with such ancient blood in your veins, untainted.” – Lady Davers (293-4)

            Something you may not have noticed during your reading and subsequent discussion of Pamela: Pamela and Mr. B are from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Specifically, Mr. B is from a very well-off, moneyed background and Pamela is from a poor, disadvantaged background. You likely recall that Allie, Hannah, and I (you may know us as “Group 3”) broached this subject during our presentation. In this blog post, I’d like to talk a little more about class. At some point, I may talk more specifically about how the 1801 version presents a whitewashed version of class as opposed to the 1740 version.

            One of the most interesting aspects of Pamela, with respect to issues of class and socioeconomic background, was the letter from Lady Davers to her brother Mr. B. She goes on for a while, but her general thesis is that Pamela is not a match fit for a man of her brother’s because she does not come from the proper class.

            As with Eliza’s prudent reference to Shaun “Jay-Z” Carter and his sort of hybrid status between the lower and upper classes, I would like to reference rapper, entrepreneur and philanthropist Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Please reread the quotes that opens this post. The parallels between Cent’s quotation (from The Game’s song “How We Do”) and Lady Davers’s letter are numerous. While Davers and Cent approach the matter from different sides, they are very much discussing the same thing: the cultural gap between old money and new money. And both speak about this gap in terms of appearances, of the social impact of blurring the lines between the upper and lower classes.

            One is reminded of critic Catherine Ingrassia’s essay, “‘I Am Become a Mere Usurer’: Pamela and Domestic Stock-Jobbing.” Ingrassia touches on an issue raised in one of our earlier readings: the new trade economy’s effect on norms of manhood and masculinity. “‘Investing men were now expected to be obsessed with what others thought, or might think of them,’ observes J. G. A. Pocock” (305). More broadly, this quote speaks to the newly important impact of social pressures. The burgeoning trade economy forces men to carefully construct and trade on their reputations; one can see why Davers is particularly worried about her brother’s impending marriage/entanglement with the lowly Pamela. Old-money families, such as the “B’s,” have much to be concerned about in this time of slippage between class boundaries.

            We’ve talked a bit in class about contemporary reactions to Pamela (contemporary to Paemla, not contemporary to us). One of the things Dr. Kugler mentioned was a sort of pushback from the upper classes against depictions of upper class people in the novel. I thought that this was interesting, and it made me think a bit more about class in Pamela with respect to the 1801 revision to the original version. One of the biggest things that we’ve talked about, the elimination of Pamela’s country dialect way of speaking, seems to be a sure way of responding to class-critiques of the novel. While it is debatable whether Richardson’s use of dialect was accurate to how a lower-class 18th century British girl would actually talk, the dialect was a clear attempt to separate Pamela’s class from Mr. B’s class.

            I contend that the revision of Pamela’s dialect into plain language was done purposefully to place her lower-class status in the background. Ingrassia states: “Richardson similarly recognized the value of the conduct book ­– the self-help manual ­– in contributing to the rise of the individual; he benefited from the public’s increasing awareness of the ability of a text to provide information that could improve or alter one’s life” (307). Richardson began writing Pamela as an epistolary text on conduct; might the editors have, with that fact in mind, eliminated Pamela’s dialect in order to quash any attempts by poorer servant girls to identify with Pamela? I am not certain whether the elimination of the dialect occurred in any edition of Pamela that was published before Richardson’s death, though that would also be interesting to know. Speech patterns are integral to identity; eliminating Pamela’s dialect makes her far less identifiable with the lower class.

            Food for thought: are there other examples of slippage between class boundaries? Are there any other examples of the sort of “circle the wagons” idea put forth in Lady Davers’s letter? And lastly, does Pamela reinforce or deconstruct class stereotypes?

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