A Fate Worse than Death? Really?
With my HardBookHabit partner in crime, Lucy determinedly ploughing through ‘Clarissa’, I thought it was time I knuckled down and tackled old Sammy Richardson myself. I plumped for the comparatively lightweight ‘Pamela’, clocking in at a mere 538 pages, because I like an easy life.
I was expecting a dull upper class drawing-room dalliance, but my dread turned to curiosity after reading the novel’s introduction. Pamela is a servant girl whose correspondence describes her tireless vigilance in thwarting the relentless attempts by her master to relieve her of her virtue.
The inequality between them makes the story far more politically charged. Pamela is beholden to her pursuer for both her livelihood and reputation, but she also had society’s expectations stacked against her. There was an understanding that the gentry were not only entitled to indulge their sexual appetites with those in their employ, but servant girls were seen as taking themselves too seriously if they persisted in resisting such advances. What, then was a young woman to do?
Thank heavens Pamela could at least turn to her parents for advice and consolation. Her letters clearly demonstrate that she discourages her master’s attentions, yet still he persists. So what words of comfort do her loving mother and father offer her?
Arm yourself, my dear child, for the worst; and resolve to lose your life rather than your virtue.
No pressure there then! No wonder you didn’t get many women in fiction prancing across imaginary lands on quests, fighting dragons and the like, they were far too busy on full-time missions protecting their virtue like their lives depended upon it, because they did!
In my head, I’m imagining Pamela like an 18th Century Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, tooled up to the eyeballs with fire-irons and feather dusters ready to take on the scarily persistent melting man, but in this version he’s wearing an embroidered waistcoat, a dandy powdered wig and hose. Sorry Pamela, you’re on your own. failure is not an option.