Dress Down Sunday: Pamela by Samuel Richardson

first published 1740


And so [I] sat myself down on the bed-side, and went on undressing myself. And Mrs. Jervis being by this time undressed, stepped into bed, and bid me hasten, for she was sleepy. I don't know what was the matter, but my heart sadly misgave me… I pulled off my stays, and my stockings, and all my clothes to an under-petticoat; and then hearing a rustling again in the closet, I said, Heaven protect us! but before I say my prayers, I must look into this closet. And so was going to it slip-shod, when, O dreadful! out rushed my master in a rich silk and silver morning gown. I screamed, and ran to the bed, and Mrs. Jervis screamed too; and he said, I'll do you no harm, if you forbear this noise; but otherwise take what follows. Instantly he came to the bed (for I had crept into it, to Mrs. Jervis, with my coat on, and my shoes); and taking me in his arms, said, Mrs. Jervis, rise, and just step up stairs to keep the maids from coming down at this noise: I'll do no harm to this rebel.

observations: This entry should be read with a previous one, and contains PLOT SPOILERS.

Samuel Richardson gives a very clear picture of a social system that horrifies us, but must have seemed – although dangerous for young women – quite normal to him: Pamela is utterly in Mr B’s power, from the small matters of her difficulties communicating with the outside world, or the worries about her getting more employment, to the knowledge that if he does ‘ruin’ her, virtually no-one will blame him or be interested. He offers her quite generous terms for her virtue in fact: you suspect many real-life Mr Bs were not so thoughtful or so patient. The scene above is just part of a long campaign on Mr B’s part.

And just when you think you understand how different life was then, you get something like Pamela’s report of a lecture on the duties of marriage from her husband:
Let me see: What are the rules I am to observe from this awful lecture? Why these:…

26. That the words COMMAND and OBEY shall be blotted out of the Vocabulary. [Pamela’s comment] Very good!

She sounds like Bridget Jones. And the list of rules is very funny, and odd, and thought-provoking.

The book is considered one of the earliest novels, and given Richardson didn’t have much of a tradition to build on, he did amazingly well. Every now and again he uses the famous papers and journal as an excuse to give a recap of the plot so far ‘I will briefly mention the contents to you. In these papers, then, are included, An account of Mrs. Jewkes's arts to draw me in to approve of Mr. Williams's proposal for marriage’ etc etc at great length, but quite helpful.

Previous entry on the book here. For more Dress Down Sunday entries, click on the label below. 


  1. The little bits I read, trying to skip over the Spoiler, even though I probably won't read this book, sound very intriguing. But I have just been cataloging books and looking at my boxes of TBR books... or ones I have saved because I might read them again... and I have sworn off buy books. For a while anyway.

    1. It is a good book, but very long. You probably ought to concentrate on the ones you have...

  2. Moira - I have to admit, I find it so very difficult to wrap my head round the mores of the time. Pamela's list sounds funny, but I think I would find it awfully hard-put not to scream in frustration. I thought that about the novel when I read your other post too, and this one hasn't changed my view.

    1. I know, Margot - trying to think yourself into the mindset of 250 years ago can be difficult. But it is interesting to compare....


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