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Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded

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Publication date  1740
Author  Samuel Richardson
Country  England
2.8/5 Goodreads

Originally published  1740
Original language  English
Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded t0gstaticcomimagesqtbnANd9GcSJYcLR1Z6ejEYBu1
Publisher  Messrs Rivington & Osborn
Characters  Mrs. Jewkes, Mr. Williams, Mr. B, Pamela Andrews, Lady B
Genres  Epistolary novel, Psychological Fiction
Similar  Works by Samuel Richardson, Epistolary novel books, Classical Studies books

Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded is an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. It tells the story of a beautiful 15-year-old maidservant named Pamela Andrews, whose country landowner master, Mr. B, makes unwanted advances towards her after the death of his mother. After Mr. B attempts unsuccessfully to seduce and rape her, he eventually rewards her virtue when he sincerely proposes an equitable marriage to her. In the novel's second part, Pamela marries Mr. B and tries to acclimatize to upper-class society. The story, a best-seller of its time, was very widely read but was also criticized for its perceived licentiousness.


Volume 1

Pamela Andrews is a pious, innocent fifteen-year-old who works as Lady B's maidservant in Bedfordshire. The novel starts after Lady B has died, when her son, the squire Mr. B, begins to pay Pamela more attention, first giving her his mother's clothes, then trying to seduce her in the Summer House. When he wants to pay her to keep the attempt secret, she refuses and tells Mrs. Jervis, the housekeeper, her best friend at the house. Undaunted, he hides in her closet and pops out and tries to kiss her as she undresses for bed. Pamela debates returning to her impoverished parents to preserve her innocence, but remains undecided.

Mr. B claims that he plans to marry her to Mr. Williams, his chaplain in Lincolnshire, and gives money to her parents in case she will let him take advantage of her. She refuses and decides to go back to her parents, but Mr. B intercepts her letters to her parents and tells them that she is having a love affair with a poor clergyman and that he will send her to a safe place to preserve her honour. Pamela is then driven to Lincolnshire Estate and begins a journal, hoping it will be sent to her parents one day. The Lincolnshire Estate housekeeper, Mrs. Jewkes, is no Mrs. Jervis: she is a rude, "odious", "unwomanly" woman who is devoted to Mr. B; Pamela suspects that she might even be "an atheist!". Mrs. Jewkes constrains Pamela to be her bedfellow. Mr. B promises that he won't approach her without her leave, and then in fact stays away from Lincolnshire for a long time.

Pamela meets Mr. Williams and they agree to communicate by putting letters under a sunflower in the garden. Mrs. Jewkes continues to maltreat Pamela, even beating her after she calls her a "Jezebel". Mr. Williams asks the village gentry for help; though they pity Pamela, none will help her because of Mr. B's social position. Sir Simon even argues that no one will hurt her, and no family name will be tarnished since Pamela belongs to the poor Andrews family. Mr. Williams proposes marriage to her to escape Mr. B's wickedness.

Mr. Williams is attacked and beaten by robbers. Pamela wants to escape when Mrs. Jewkes is away, but is terrified by two nearby cows that she thinks are bulls. Mr. Williams accidentally reveals his correspondence with Pamela to Mrs. Jewkes; Mr. B jealously says that he hates Pamela, as he has claimed before. He has Mr. Williams arrested and plots to marry Pamela to one of his servants. Desperate, Pamela thinks of running away and making them believe she has drowned in the pond. She tries unsuccessfully to climb a wall, and, when she is injured, she gives up.

Mr. B returns and sends Pamela a list of articles that would rule their partnership; she refuses because it means she would be his mistress. With Mrs. Jewkes' complicity, Mr. B gets into bed with Pamela disguised as the housemaid Nan, but, when Pamela falls into a fit and seems like to die, he seems to repent and is kinder in his seduction attempts. She implores him to stop altogether. In the garden he implicitly says he loves her but can't marry her because of the social gap.

Volume 2

A gypsy fortuneteller approaches Pamela and passes her a bit of paper warning her against a sham-marriage. Pamela has hidden a parcel of letters under a rosebush; Mrs. Jewkes seizes them and gives them to Mr. B, who then feels pity for what he has put her through and decides to marry her. She still doubts him and begs him to let her return to her parents. He is vexed but lets her go. She feels strangely sad when she bids him goodbye. On her way home he sends her a letter wishing her a good life; moved, she realises she is in love. When she receives a second note asking her to come back because he is ill, she accepts.

Pamela and Mr. B talk of their future as husband and wife and she agrees with everything he says. She explains why she doubted him. This is the end of her trials: she is more submissive to him and owes him everything now as a wife. Mr. Williams is released. Neighbours come to the estate and all admire Pamela. Pamela's father comes to take her away but he is reassured when he sees Pamela happy.

Finally, she marries Mr. B in the chapel. But when Mr. B has gone to see a sick man, his sister Lady Davers comes to threaten Pamela and considers her not really married. Pamela escapes by the window and goes in Colbrand's chariot to be taken away to Mr. B. The following day, Lady Davers enters their room without permission and insults Pamela. Mr. B, furious, wants to renounce his sister, but Pamela wants to reconcile them. Lady Davers, still contemptuous towards Pamela, mentions Sally Godfrey, a girl Mr. B seduced in his youth, now mother of his child. He is cross with Pamela because she dared approach him when he was in a temper.

Lady Davers accepts Pamela. Mr. B explains to Pamela what he expects of his wife. They go back to Bedfordshire. Pamela rewards the good servants with money and forgives John, who betrayed her. They visit a farmhouse where they meet Mr. B's daughter and learn that her mother is now happily married in Jamaica; Pamela proposes taking the girl home with them. The neighbourhood gentry who once despised Pamela now praise her.

Conduct books and the novel

Richardson began writing Pamela as a conduct book, but as he was writing, the series of letters turned into a story. He then decided to write in a different genre: the new form, the novel, which attempted to instruct through entertainment. In fact, most novels from the mid-18th century and well into the 19th, followed Richardson's lead and claimed legitimacy through the ability to teach as well as amuse.


Epistolary novels—novels written as series of letters—were extremely popular during the 18th century. Fictional epistolary narratives originated in their early form in 16th century England; however, they acquired wider renown with the publication of Richardson's Pamela. Richardson and other novelists of his time argued that the epistolary form allowed the reader greater access to a character's thoughts. Richardson stressed in his preface to The History of Sir Charles Grandison that the form permitted the immediacy of "writing to the moment": that is, Pamela's thoughts were recorded nearly simultaneously with her actions.

In the novel, Pamela writes two kinds of letters. At the beginning, while she decides how long to stay on at Mr. B's after his mother's death, she tells her parents about her various moral dilemmas and asks for their advice. After Mr. B. abducts her and imprisons her in his country house, she continues to write to her parents, but since she does not know if they will ever receive her letters, the writings are also considered a diary.

In Pamela, the letters are almost exclusively written by the heroine, restricting the reader's access to the other characters; we see only Pamela's perception of them. In Richardson's other novels, Clarissa (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753), the reader is privy to the letters of several characters and can more effectively evaluate the characters' motivations and moral values.


Pamela was the best-seller of its time. It was read by countless buyers of the novel and was also read in groups. An anecdote which has been repeated in varying forms since 1777 described the novel's reception in an English village: "The blacksmith of the village had got hold of Richardson's novel of Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, and used to read it aloud in the long summer evenings, seated on his anvil, and never failed to have a large and attentive audience.... At length, when the happy turn of fortune arrived, which brings the hero and heroine together, and sets them living long and happily... the congregation were so delighted as to raise a great shout, and procuring the church keys, actually set the parish bells ringing."

The novel was also integrated into sermons as an exemplar. It was even an early “multimedia” event, producing Pamela-themed cultural artefacts such as prints, paintings, waxworks, a fan, and a set of playing cards decorated with lines from Richardson's works.

Given the lax copyright laws at the time, many "unofficial" sequels were written and published without Richardson's consent, for example, Pamela's conduct in high life published 1741, sometimes attributed to John Kelly (1680?-1751). There were also several satires, the most famous being An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews by Henry Fielding, published under the pseudonym "Mr. Conny Keyber". Shamela portrays the protagonist as an amoral social climber who attempts to seduce "Squire Booby" while feigning innocence to manipulate him into marrying her. Another important satire was The Anti-Pamela; or Feign’d Innocence Detected (1741) by Eliza Haywood. Although not technically a satire, the Marquis de Sade's Justine is generally perceived as a critical response to Pamela, due in part to its subtitle, "The Misfortunes of Virtue".

At least one modern critic has stated that the rash of satires can be viewed as a conservative reaction to a novel that called class, social and gender roles into question by asserting that domestic order can be determined not only by socio-economic status but also by moral qualities of mind.

Richardson's revisions

The popularity of Richardson's novel led to much public debate over its message and style. Richardson was of low birth, and among England's upper classes, where the novel was very popular, there was some displeasure over its at times plebian style, and many ladies of distinction took exception at the way in which their fictitional sisterhood had been represented. Richardson responded to some of the criticisms by revising the novel for each new edition; he even created a "reading group" of such women to advise him. Some of the most significant changes that he made were his alterations to Pamela's vocabulary. In the first edition her diction is that of a lower-class maid, but in later editions Richardson made her more linguistically middle-class by removing the lower-class idioms from her speech. In this way, he made her marriage to Mr. B less scandalous as she appeared to be more his equal in education. The greatest change was to have her his equal too in birth - by twisting the story to make her parents reduced gentlefolks.

Original sources

A publication, Memoirs of Lady H__, the Celebrated Pamela (1741), claims that the inspiration for Richardson's Pamela was the marriage of a coachman's daughter, Hannah Sturges, to the baronet, Sir Arthur Hesilrige, in 1725. Samuel Richardson claimed that the story was based on a true incident related to him by a friend about 25 years before, but did not identify the principals.

Shirin and Pamela

Pamela has significant similarities to the famous Persian tragic romance of Khosrow and Shirin by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. In both tales a rich, famous, and hedonistic man is trying to seduce the main female character of the story. Even though the female character is truly in love with the male counterpart, she resists his seductions and requests a proper marriage. At the end the male character gives in to an official marriage with the woman he loves and this love causes a gradual and positive change in the male character. The moral of both stories is the triumph of patience, virtue and modesty over despotism and hedonism.


  • Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.
  • Keymer, Tom; Sabor, Peter (2005), Pamela in the Marketplace: literary controversy and print culture in eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press .
  • McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel: 1600–1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
  • Townsend, Alex, Autonomous Voices: An Exploration of Polyphony in the Novels of Samuel Richardson, 2003, Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt/M., New York, Wien, 2003, ISBN 978-3-906769-80-6 / US-ISBN 978-0-8204-5917-2
  • Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957.
  • Stage

    The success of Pamela soon led to its translation into other languages (French by abbé Prévost) and its adaptation on the French and Italian stage. In Italy, it was adapted by Chiari and Goldoni. In France, Boissy put on a Paméla ou la Vertu mieux éprouvée, a verse comedy in three acts (Comédiens italiens ordinaires du Roi, 4 March 1743), followed Neufchâteau's five-act verse comedy Paméla ou la Vertu récompensée, (Comédiens Français, 1 August 1793). Appearing during the French Revolution, Neufchâteau's adaptation was felt to be too Royalist in its sympathies by the Committee of Public Safety, which imprisoned its author and cast (including Anne Françoise Elizabeth Lange and Dazincourt) in the Madelonnettes and Sainte-Pélagie prisons. Mademoiselle Lange's straw hat from the play launched a trend for Pamela hats and bonnets which were worn well into the second half of the nineteenth century.

    Pamela was also the basis for the libretto of Niccolò Piccinni's comic opera La buona figliuola.


  • Robert-Martin Lesuire imitated the work in his novel la Paméla française, ou Lettres d’une jeune paysanne et d’un jeune ci-devant, contenant leurs aventures (Paris, les marchands de nouveautés, an XI).
  • Bay Area author Pamela Lu's first book Pamela: A Novel evokes Richardson's title and also borrows from Richardson the conceit of single-letter names to create a very different type of "quasi-bildungsroman," according to Publisher's Weekly.
  • Film and TV

  • 1974 – UK movie by Jim O'Connolly: Mistress Pamela with Ann Michelle as Pamela Andrews and Julian Barnes as Lord Robert Devenish (Mr. B).
  • 2003 – Italian TV series by Cinzia TH Torrini: Elisa di Rivombrosa
  • The popular TV series (26 episodes) Elisa di Rivombrosa is loosely based on Pamela. The story takes place in the second half of the 18th century in Turin (Italy). The role of Pamela is that of Elisa Scalzi (played by Vittoria Puccini) in the series. The role of Mr. B is that of Count Fabrizio Ristori (played by Alessandro Preziosi).


    Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded Wikipedia