Samuel Richardson´s ´Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded´

Nov 2016
"Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded" first appeared in November 1740 and caused a sensation in England and also on the mainland that is probably unique in literary history. The novel not only became the first international bestseller in the history of literature, but also marked the beginning of a new narrative style and is regarded by many literary scholars, despite Daniel Defoe's works, as the very first modern novel whose direct or indirect influence on subsequent European writers, including important pioneers of the Enlightenment, cannot be overestimated: Fielding, John Cleland, Rousseau, Diderot, Lessing, Goethe, De Sade, Laclos, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Proust, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and many more.

Innovative about "Pamela" was, among other things, the following:

+ as first artistically serious epistolary novel prototypical for the Europe-wide epistolary novel boom in the 18th century
+ first detailed depiction of the emotional and intellectual inner life of a novel character (psychogram), i.e. the first psychological novel and thus the prototype of many modern novels with their focus on inwardness
+ supplementing the previous point, the first psychogram of a female figure
+ open and unswerving protest of a socially weak protagonist against an overpowering antagonist as a prelude to the French Revolution.

An overview of the academic secondary literature on the Pamela controversy, opened by "Shamela" and dividing contemporaries into Pamelists and Annti-Pamelists, quickly shows that the vast majority of today's academia has uncritically adopted the criticism. Jarrod Hurlbert writes: "In his parody, Fielding exploded Richardson's morality with a duplicitous view of Pamela's character, a view that still has a significant impact on critical readings of ´Pamela´ today" (in: Pamela: Or, Virtue Reworded: The Texts, Paratexts, and Revisions that Redefine Samuel Richardson's Pamela, 58). This influence can even lead to an obvious misperception of the manifest content of "Pamela". For example, on the website of the English Department of a German university, it says that the protagonist often fakes fainting fits to escape Mr. B which has actually nothing at all to do with the manifest text, because the two fits described in it are undoubtedly real. The seizures are explicitly faked only in "Shamela".

As far as Fielding's motivation to deal obsessively with "Pamela" in "Shamela" and in "Joseph Andrews" is concerned, two main components have to be distinguished, one of which is clearly visible and is also thoroughly appreciated by literary scholars - Fielding's criticism of the concept of virtue demonstrated in "Pamela" - and the other lies deeply hidden beneath the surface, namely in the form of an unresolved trauma that Fielding, perhaps even more than his discomfort with Richardson's ´Virtue´, drove into his "Pamela" obsession. To my knowledge, this second component has not yet been recognized as such in literary studies, although an at least hypothetical causal connection between the trauma and the said obsession can easily be reconstructed, as I show in detail below.

The main goal of Fielding's critique, Richardson's concept of virtue, implies in "Pamela" above all the preservation of the premarital virginity of the protagonist, which follows the puritanical sexual concept, according to which sexuality before and outside marriage is an unconditional no-go, but is an unconditional duty within marriage, which also serves the pleasure of both partners and not only reproduction, the latter being the standpoint of Catholicism rejected by the Calvinist Puritans in this and other points. (For a deeper analysis of the religious conditions in England of the 17th and 18th centuries, however, the term "Puritanism" is too vague). Longer-term sexual refusal by a spouse could be sanctioned by the Puritans through excommunication.

This concept is a religious one and from other ideological point of view quite criticizable, which can be however literature-scientifically no topic. To some readers of "Pamela" today, who certainly have no problem with appreciating escapist stories about mutants, werewolves, vampires and magic rings, such a taboo seems so alien that they reject the book for this reason alone. It seems to me that the story about a beautiful girl who guards her genitals like a treasure and defends them like a fortress, at a time when sexuality is an industrial and media-driven imperative with a commodity character ("You must enjoy!") and Hollywood addresses are almost compulsively competing for who puts the most revealing pornographic photos on the Internet, has a very special and refreshing appeal because it sharpens the critical eye for a sexuality that has mutated into an imperative. To avoid misunderstandings, I emphasize that I have written a pornographic novel myself, but this does not rule out that I accept life plans with other priorities and perhaps even rate them higher.

In Fielding's eyes, in "Pamela" the observance of the premarital sex taboo is inappropriately stylized into a paradigm of virtue, which per se deserves to be rewarded by a materially advantageous marriage without proving itself in good works. Richardon naturally provoked such an interpretation through his title ("virtue rewarded"). The fact that godly behaviour entails an earthly reward or that, conversely, material success leads to a godly way of life, was a subsequent interpretation of Calvin's doctrine of predestination, which itself made no connection between success and choice. This interpretation led to the widespread tendency among the English Calvinists, above all the representatives of the aspiring bourgeoisie, to push for material success in order to gain personal security over divine favor. Max Weber later saw this "Protestant ethic" as the fuel for the development of the capitalist economic system under the additional condition that profits be reinvested in the economic process.

What attracted Fielding a priori to the contradiction was his strong aversion to Methodism, which he directly attacks several times in "Shamela". In this movement initiated by John Wesley and George Whitefield (pronounced: Whitfield) in the 1730s, the subjective feeling of direct contact with the divine was regarded as a characteristic of a true faith. Many Anglicanism-compliant critics of this movement, including Fielding, were highly suspicious of this attitude and suspicious of hypocrisy. They also accused Whitefield and Wesley of unduly placing faith above the good works a Christian should also be distinguished by. In fact, however, this criticism was a gross distortion of the Methodist doctrine, which clearly states that good works follow necessarily from faith, which without them is not true faith at all. In "Shamela" Whitefield is alluded to by mentioning Shamela's copy of Whitefield's "The whole Duty of Man", from which the pages about the duty to a neighbour are "torn out", i.e. in Fielding's view the human virtues, the good works, are underestimated in Whitefield, whereas the subjective certainty of faith is hypocritically overestimated. Accordingly, Fielding accuses Pamela and Richardson of elevating premarital chastity to a virtue that per se deserves to be rewarded by God, whether or not it is accompanied by good works. He criticizes even more strongly that Pamela's chaste behavior is rewarded by social advancement and thus incoming material advancement. In contrast to the Puritan Richardson he attributes this development not to a divine providence - which Richardson only implicitly hints at - but to Pamela's alleged hypocritical strategy of preserving her chastity until her fervent admirer fulfills all her conditions only to finally have sex with her.

The question now arises which virtue is actually rewarded in "Pamela". The virtue of premarital chastity or Pamela's defense of this chastity against all attacks and seductions by Mr. B? Obviously Fielding fails to recognize that the latter is at stake, the rebellious resistance against an overpowering adversary and against a social convention of this epoch, according to which maids were sexual fair game for many noble gentlemen, the so-called "rakes," who saw their victims not as subjects but as objects that could be urged to sex or physically forced, i.e. raped. The most striking point at which this contrast is expressed is the following dialogue in "Pamela" between the protagonist and her warden Mrs. Jewkes:

"And pray, said I, walking on, how came I to be his property? What right has he in me, but such as a thief may plead to stolen goods?--Why, was ever the like heard? says she.--This is downright rebellion, I protest!"

So the rebellion of Pamela against a social convention which did not concede any dignity of their own to girls from the lower class, is rewarded. Elsewhere, Pamela emphasizes exactly this self-dignity in a conversation with Mr. B:

"But, O sir! my soul is of equal importance with the soul of a princess; though my quality is inferior to that of the meanest slave."

This attitude of Pamela was very unusual not only in literature, but also in the general consciousness of that epoch, and was quasi a quantum leap towards the concept of human dignity, as it became the political program and the basis of modern human rights through the two great revolutions in America and France. The enormous popularity of the novel at the time and its influence on important authors such as Rousseau and Diderot undoubtedly contributed decisively to this development.

See also:

Some Considerations on Henry Fielding´s "Shamela"
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Nov 2016
With ´Justine´ De Sade not only reacted to Richardson, but also to Rousseau. Richardson's virtue is religiously motivated, while Rousseau's is an expression of original human nature, which opposes vice which is seen as pathological degeneration. De Sade, whose cruel tendency was presumably innate, saw it the other way round: the true nature of man is vice and cruelty, and virtue is only an artificial shell that captivates man and prevents him from being free. It's especially this notion of virtue that De Sade is attacking. So he practices a rationalization of his own mental illness.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
Lorraine tudesque
In real life le divin marquis was quite harmless. Each time he had some money he spended it to help people.
Nov 2016
In real life le divin marquis was quite harmless. Each time he had some money he spended it to help people.
He wasn't quite that harmless, see the lengthy quote from Wiki at the bottom. But he also had his good points and even saved some people's lives, see my recent post in another thread:

Which historical person would you like to drink a beer with?

(quote from my post)

The cruel actions which he practiced in real life are undoubtedly symptoms of a morbid sexual perversion, as they have in even worse form those monsters which are active in the snuff business.

But he was also a free-thinking philosopher who regarded private property, class differences, the family and religion as the causes of the European misery. In the years of the terror regime under Robespierre and Saint-Just, he supported the revolution and served as a judge with a death sentence license, but without ever imposing such a sentence because he was an opponent of the death penalty. In this way he saved lives that another judge in his place would have exterminated. In general, he was a critic of the violence perpetrated by the revolutionaries. He was therefore arrested again and sentenced to death for his alleged anti-revolutionary convictions. Only Robespierre's fall in 1794 prevented the execution and he was released. That he contributed to the improvement of the French health care system in his years as a judge is only marginally noteworthy.

When his "Justine" appeared in 1797, the book caused a scandal and led to De Sade's arrest in 1801. That he denied authorship was of no use to him. He had to spend the rest of his life in a lunatic asylum where he performed plays.

Marquis de Sade - Wikipedia

(quote from Wiki)

Beginning in 1763, Sade lived mainly in or near Paris. Several prostitutes there complained about mistreatment by him and he was put under surveillance by the police, who made detailed reports of his activities. After several short imprisonments, which included a brief incarceration in the Château de Saumur (then a prison), he was exiled to his château at Lacoste in 1768.[15]

The first major scandal occurred on Easter Sunday in 1768, in which Sade procured the services of a woman, Rose Keller,[16] a widow-beggar who approached him for alms. He told her she could make money by working for him—she understood her work to be that of a housekeeper. At his chateau at Arcueil, Sade ripped her clothes off, threw her on a divan and tied her by the four limbs, face-down, so that she could not see behind her. Then he whipped her. Keller testified that he made various incisions on her body into which he poured hot wax, although investigators found no broken skin on Keller, and Sade explained that he had applied ointment to her after the whipping. Keller finally escaped by climbing out of a second-floor window and running away. The Sade family paid the maid to keep her quiet, but the wave of social embarrassment damaged Sade's reputation.[17] La Présidente, Sade's mother-in-law, obtained a lettre de cachet (a royal order of arrest and imprisonment, without stated cause or access to the courts) from the King, protecting Sade from the jurisdiction of the courts. The lettre de cachet would later prove disastrous for the marquis.[18]

Four years later, in 1772, Sade would commit further acts with four prostitutes and his manservant, Latour.[17] That episode in Marseille involved the non-lethal incapacitating of prostitutes with the supposed aphrodisiac Spanish fly and sodomy with Latour. The two men were sentenced to death in absentia for sodomy and the poisoning. They fled to Italy, Sade taking his wife's sister with him. Sade and Latour were caught and imprisoned at the Fortress of Miolans in French Savoy in late 1772, but escaped four months later.

Sade later hid at Lacoste where he rejoined his wife, who became an accomplice in his subsequent endeavors.[2] In 1774, Sade trapped six children, including one boy, in his chateau for six weeks during which time he subjected them to abuse, which his wife allowed.[2] He kept a group of young employees at the chateau, most of whom complained about sexual mistreatment and quickly left his service. Sade was forced to flee to Italy once again. It was during this time he wrote Voyage d'Italie. In 1776, he returned to Lacoste, again hired several servant girls, most of whom soon fled. In 1777, the father of one of those employees went to Lacoste to claim his daughter, and attempted to shoot the Marquis at point-blank range, but the gun misfired.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
Vilnius, Lithuania
With ´Justine´ De Sade not only reacted to Richardson, but also to Rousseau. Richardson's virtue is religiously motivated, while Rousseau's is an expression of original human nature, which opposes vice which is seen as pathological degeneration. De Sade, whose cruel tendency was presumably innate, saw it the other way round: the true nature of man is vice and cruelty, and virtue is only an artificial shell that captivates man and prevents him from being free. It's especially this notion of virtue that De Sade is attacking. So he practices a rationalization of his own mental illness.
Cruel times make cruel people. Not to say, humans can be very cruel ( e.g. women who bury alive their newborn babies ). How poor de Sade who wrote few deranged books became embodiement of a 'monster' when compared with dictators like Pol Pot or heartless serial killers is beyond me.