Hey, guys. Last week I alluded to a novel recap I was working on that was a rather hellish experience for me. That novel was Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. It’s about a hundred years away from being a Victorian novel, and this is what I get for stepping outside of my comfort zone. You can read it here if you are dumb enough not to follow my advice and NEVER READ THIS BOOK. Normally I encourage people to read everything for him or herself and form his or her own opinion, but I can’t in good conscience suggest this book to you, because after I read this, it felt like someone had reupholstered my brain.
I was going to start these recaps sooner, but this whole story turned me irate and I couldn’t even face it for about a week. If this isn’t proof that I love y’all, I don’t know what is. I read this shit so you don’t have to. I will warn you that my expletives are going to be exceptionally salty this time.
It’ll probably take three or four posts to recap this book entirely. I actually wrote down my recap as I was reading it, so Present-Day Me might interject on occasion to pity Past-Me, who had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Warning for triggers involving rape, kidnapping, abusive relationships, etc.
Okay, I guess I can’t put it off any longer. The recap for Mother Fucking Pamela.
The narrator opens with this big long preface about how he wants to instruct people on virtue, and since the subtitle of the book is “Virtue Rewarded”, you know some seriously slutty stuff is going to go down so all the skanks can be punished and Pamela, the good girl, can live happily ever after. I’d write “Spoilers”, but Richardson already spoiled his own damn book with that subtitle.
Anyway, Pamela, a beautiful 15-year-old girl from a poor family, has a position as a great lady’s personal maid. The book opens with the great lady dying. On her deathbed she tells her handsome twenty-something son to take care of all her servants, especially Pamela.
He says (verbatim), “’I will take care of you all, my good maidens; and for you, Pamela,’ (and took me by the hand; yes, he took my hand before them all), ‘for my dead mother’s sake, I will be a friend to you, and you shall take care of my linen’” (3).
That sounds extremely sketchy. I think by “take care of my linen”, he actually means “rumple my linen”. I’m predicting it here and now: he is going to be the bad guy. Or at least the first bad guy. This book has a vaguely Justine feel to it.
Okay, so to continue reading:
The son, whose name they don’t tell us, starts giving Pamela gifts. He gives her money and she sends it home to her poor parents and her parents write to her and say, “Uhhh, I don’t like where this is going.” Yeah, you and me both. Pamela writes back and says, “No, at first I was concerned, too, but it’s apparently custom to give the lady’s maid whatever money her mistress had on her at the time of her death. I checked it over with the other servants, and the respectable housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis who in my head I’ve cast as Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey“.
So her parents are like, “Well, okay, but be careful. Because your virginity is a “precious jewel”, and it is so important that if you have premarital sex with anyone, we will literally die. You will send “our grey hairs to the grave” (7).
Huh. Nothing like teaching your daughter that she’s worth more than her mere body. Nice. Also, I want to see how many times they use the word “virtue” in this book. It’s got to be dozens by this point already.
So then the guy starts given Pamela some of his mother’s really expensive clothing, but it’s okay because the respectable Mrs. Jervis is there and even gets some clothes of her own. But then one day, he gives her some stockings and shoes and undergarments and all-around inappropriate stuff, and MRS. JERVIS ISN’T THERE TO MAKE SURE IT’S ABOVE-BOARD, OHHH NOOOO, and Pamela is profoundly creeped out, because this is roughly akin to a high school teacher of a 15-year old giving her some of his dead mother’s thongs and telling her to wear them. NO.
On a super sketch-tastic note, the text (and Pamela) have started referring to this guy exclusively as “the Master”. My Kink-O-Meter is going off. WoOoOoOoOo! (That’s what a Kink-O-Meter sounds like).
So Pamela is outside one day and her Master (*shudder*) comes up and kisses her. She protests, and that doesn’t work and he keeps slobbering all over her face, so she does the only reasonable thing and falls into a swoon, but remains just conscious enough to realize that he’s still kissing her semi-unconscious mouth, and this doesn’t surprise me at all, because I have a feeling this guy is into some DEPRAVED SHIT. So Pamela comes out of her swoon and runs back to the house and screams “MRS. JERVIS, I’M SLEEPING IN YOUR BED WITH YOU FOREVER, BECAUSE SAFETY IN NUMBERS” and tells her everything, and Mrs. Jervis is like, “You are such a good girl to avoid temptation, you come stay with me and I’ll protect you.”
So the Master is really pissed off, but doesn’t want the servants to talk, so he stays away from her a for a bit. Pamela writes home and tells her parents and they’re like “GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE. Come home RIGHT NOW,” because they are people with brain cells. And Pamela’s like, “I will leave as soon as I can, I promise.” No, Pamela, you leave that house right this goddamned son of a bitching minute.
Yeah. She ends up staying there for over a year. And during that year there’s a lot of back-and-forth nonsense where the Master is like, “Get the hell out of my house, servant! I hate you! Oh, but wait, you have to finish embroidering my beautiful waistcoat. You can leave as soon as that’s done. How dare I lower myself to be kind to you? But I’d totally marry you if you were of my class. Get out! No, stay!”
Someone get me in touch with Samuel Richardson’s estate. I’m going sue them for all the whiplash he’s given me.
This whole time, the Master keeps intercepting and/or stealing the letters Pamela writes to her parents and getting really pissed off because she’s telling people that he’s attempted to seduce her. So he does the only logical thing and tries to seduce her again, because, you know, she was clearly sooo on the fence about the whole thing.
He bursts into her room and kisses her again and sits her on his knee and basically says the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say ever, which is “Hey, baby, just give in and let me rape you. I’ll get all the blame, and you’ll get everyone’s pity as a victim, because I’m stronger and I’m your Master, and there was nothing you could do to stop it. So you won’t really have lost your virtue, mmkay?”
And she’s like, “Wow, tempting offer. But I’m going to go with . . . HELL NO.”
And then he “offers to kiss her neck.” And I keep thinking, buddy, do you really expect her to say yes to that? I swear to god, this guy is a goldfish. He can’t remember anything beyond what happened three seconds ago, and as a consequence, the narrative swims in tiny damn circles for FIFTY PAGES.
So she pulls out of his rapey embrace and there’s this terrifying chase sequence down the hall where she just barely manages to barricade herself in Mrs. Jervis’s room, but he was so close behind her that he ripped off a section of her skirt.
Then he plays the most disgusting “excuse the rapist” cards ever. He holds a meeting with her (with Mrs. Jervis there to supervise and make sure he doesn’t try anything funny), and basically says, 1.) You’re making it up. I’m just trying to be nice to you, in accordance with my dead mother’s wishes, and you’re going crazy and being hysterical and making scenes over nothing. 2.) Okay, maybe I am trying do so some stuff, but it was all a joke. It was one biiiig joke. Can’t you take a joke? 3.) Okay, maybe I was serious about it, but it’s only because I love you, and I would totally marry you if we were of the same class. 4.) Okay, maybe I wouldn’t marry you, but hey, keep in mind that you were asking for it. You’re not as innocent as you seem. You know exactly what you’re doing.
Awwww HALE NO. I want to SMACK this guy. I want to smack him all the way to the end of the book where he’s going to get some horrific punishment, like being set on fire and covered in fleas and mangled by a trash compactor. [Future Me says, “Bless you, Past Me. That is adorable”].
During all of the Master’s horrible speech, he’s bouncing these class-driven points home to both Pamela and Mrs. Jervis being like, “But I’m the Master. I’m always right. I’m the Master. Are you saying I’m lying?” And because they are 1.) employees, and 2.) lower class people, they’re caught in this really horrible place of not being able to contradict anything he says or blame his behavior, but also not wanting to give in to his demands.
And then we have TONS more of the whole, “Get out, no stay, no get out” dynamic, and Pamela’s parents keep writing to her saying, “Come home NOW” and I keep screaming at the book “Go home NOW” but Pamela never listens to me because she’s an idiot.
And there’s also something going on with Mrs. Jervis that makes me kind of wary don’t you betray me, Mrs. Hughes, don’t do it!!!! because on the one hand, she is the staunch defender of Pamela’s virtue and always tries to be there as a chaperone when the two of them are together, and cries her eyes out when Pamela tells her another seduction was attempted. But on the other hand, she seems to be encouraging Pamela to stay in that house way longer than she should have stayed, and is often meeting privately with the Master and discussing Pamela. Something about her rubs me the wrong way. Some of her more suspicious behavior makes me feel like they’ve loaded Chekov’s housekeeper here . . . Time will tell.
Anyway, there’s more back and forth, and then some more back and forth, and then even more back and forth, and oh my god this is so boring. Pamela finally finishes his goddamned stupid waistcoat and she’s like, “PEACE OUT, SUCKAAAS”, but then doesn’t actually leave because she’s waiting for someone to be able to drive her home no, Pamela, at this point you fucking walk home, crawl home if you need to and so of course the Master starts saying, “Actually, my sister, Lady Davers, needs a new maid, so I think I’m going to send you over to be her servant.”
And this is somehow supposed to be his deeply cunning plan to seduce Pamela because—wait for it, wait for it, it’s beautifully asinine—he wants her to worry about being sent away from him, and realize that she actually wants to stay there with him (you know, the girl he’s been sexually harassing, who has been BEGGING to leave for a year, who he keeps insulting and telling to leave, but then making stay). Funnily enough, it doesn’t work. Pamela’s like, “Well, that’s a really swell opportunity and everything, but I just want to get out of here and go be with my family because they’re old and their gray hairs are near the grave or some shit like that”. And the Master goes, “But but but—my plan didn’t work? You don’t care if you leave? FIE ON YOU, WITCH HARLOT VILLAIN”. Also, I think this guy definitely has a thesaurus because he comes up with some really creative insults to call her. [Future Me says, “Yeah, and you’ll be calling her half of those things before another hundred pages are done”.]
So of course there’s more back and forth because GAAAAH this book wants to kill me. Then one night Pamela and Mrs. Jervis are getting ready to go to bed and Pamela is like, “I think I hear something coming from our closet.” And Mrs. Jervis is like, “It’s nothing.” So Pamela gets undressed and says, “I still hear something in our closet.” And Mrs. Jervis says, “It’s nothing.” And Pamela gets into bed and says, “No, really, something’s moving around in there, I’ma check it out, what could it possibly be?” And Mrs. Jervis goes, “IT’S NOTHING, IT’S JUST THE CAT”, and Pamela checks it out, and it’s totally the Master who is perving on her. And Pamela laments the fact that the one night she didn’t check in the closet and under the bed for him (seriously, she’d apparently been doing that this whole time) was the one night he actually was hiding there. You guys, the Master is a real-life boogeyman.
So Mrs. Jervis, who was really acting like she was in on the whole thing, suddenly screams when Pamela screams, and throws herself on top of Pamela to help cover her up. The Master says, “Uhhh, Mrs. Jervis, Pamela is screaming a lot, so, uh, why don’t you just go upstairs and keep all the maids from interrupting us, because I’m pretty sure Pamela’s woken the entire house and I don’t want the servants to worry. Just leave us alone, it’ll be fine.”
And Mrs. Jervis goes, “NEVER. I WILL KILL YOU.” So we have this weird scene where the Master is holding Pamela in his arms, but Mrs. Jervis is also laying bodily on top of her to protect her, and it’s the least sexy ménage-a-tois EVER, especially because Pamela faints because she has two heavier people dog piling on top of her she’s so frightened. And she faints so hard that even the Master gets scared and walks off (wait, how do you faint “hard”? Do you somehow go more unconscious than normal fainters? What does this even MEAN?). When she finally comes too, Mrs. Jervis said that Pamela had been unconscious for three hours but still maintained her virtue. And I don’t like this ONE BIT. I don’t know what Mrs. Jervis’s game is, and I strongly suspect that she let things happened when Pamela was unconscious.
The master gets mad at Mrs. Jervis (oh, I guess she didn’t let anything happen to Pamela?) and he fires her, but then totally changes his mind and lets her stay (oh, so maybe she is in on it with him? What is your GAAAAME, Mrs. Jervis?).
What’s irritating about this book is that everything returns to a base level: something will happen, and then it will be undone, or someone will have an opinion, but then instantly change their mind back. The whole story goes NOWHERE, which is not reassuring only 100 pages in.
[Future Me: Oh, Past-Me, you have no idea how much more acrimonous you are about to get over this book. This book should come with a warning label: “Sparks maaad umbrage, yo. Don’t read if you have a heart condition”.)
END PART ONE. Part two next week.