The more I read of the 18th century, the more I am astonished how long it took people to figure out how to tell a story.
About a quarter of the way through writing 'Pamela' Richardson seems to have realized that the epistolary format is awkward and prevents the author from putting in any sense of suspense or drama into a story. So he half gives it up, getting rid of the letters that chopped up the, I use this word lightly, action and leaves behind a narrative that still lacks all suspense and must keep justifying its existence. Nor does it help that Pamela, modest as she is, can't help but sing the praises of her virtue and prudence at every opportunity. Whether its against cross housemaids who fail to say their prayers every night, crass housekeepers who tell vulgar stories, or noble ladies who turn up their noses at their social inferiors, Pamela is more devout, modestly reticent and utterly without affectation than anybody.
It may be unfair of me to judge Pamela so harshly, however, in the face of the abuse that she takes throughout the book. It's mostly verbal, but this one time she gets smacked on the shoulder and falls down in tears. To spare others the trouble, here's a near-comprehensive list of what Pamela is called by her master, her master's sister and his second-best housekeeper and sometimes she gets so down she calls herself a few things:
(it's half the book, so I don't want to spoil it)
Artful young baggage
[one possessed of] vanity and conceit, and pride too
Subtle, artful gypsy
"Thou strange medley of inconsistence"
The speaking picture
The romantic ideot
Perverse Pamela, ungrateful runaway
Vile forward one
Mistress of arts
[one possessed of a] little, plotting, guileful heart
Intriguing little slut [as in plotting, not interesting]
And don't think each of those was used just once.
And she still says by the end: "Dear sir, said I, pray give me more of your sweet injunctions."
and later, for the book goes on and on long after it should have left off: "O dearest, dear sir, said I, have you nothing more to honour me with? You oblige and improve me at the same time.--What a happy lot is mine!"
I get that hussy and slut didn't have the connotations they do now - in fact, 'Pamela' marks the beginning of the period in which a common variant for housewife, hussy, became a derogatory term. Thanks Samuel Richardson! - but it leaves me questioning the morals of the whole century.
Indeed. This book could be adapted faithfully and be a harrowing thriller. Richardson intended this book as a guide to young women of proper behavior in distressing situations. I insist that nobody else read this ever again.