Sunday, November 2, 2008

Virtue Endured

41. Pamela; Or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson

This eighteenth century classic barely dignifies notice. This is over five hundred pages, in the eponymous character's letters, of expostulation on the proper behavior of a servant whose master wishes to rape her. Worse, Richardson is in dead earnest. Oh, sure, social commentary on the contemporary relationship between rich and poor, and Victorian ideals for women can be found here, but the popular conduct manuals of the time are probably comparatively fascinating. Pamela is an insufferable heroine, obsessed with her Virtue, and yet not possessed of the sense not to marry a man who several times attempted to rape her. The would-be rapist, Mr. B, is a wimp as a villain, as he never actually commits his intended crime, and yet he expects the (albeit complying) Pamela to yield to his every wish the instant he presents her with the coveted ring. A single passage from this novel is enough to confirm its subject, any historical or literary merit I doubt it contains, and the absolute lack of necessity of reading further.

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