Today I'm continuing my recap of Pamela, the 1740 book by Samuel Richardson that made me want to throw myself down a well more and more with every passing chapter. This is the second out of three entries for this book. The full text is here, if you want to read it for yourself. The first recap entry is here.
Keep in mind that I wrote these recaps in real-time as I was reading the book, so any predictions I make about the plot are not spoilers. I also apologize, but I swear a lot in this recap. My language is increasingly vitriolic, so if you have issues with excessive swearing, you probably shouldn't read this.
Where we last left off, Pamela, a virtuous 15-year-old servant, is harassed by her Master (who is trying to seduce her) over and over again for the course of a year. All she wants to do is go home to her aged parents, but she somehow can't seem to muster up the intelligence to walk out the front door. The Master FINALLY agrees to let her go home after 100 pages of yo-yo-ing nonsense.
Warning: triggers for rape, kidnapping, abusive relationships, suicide, etc.
Pamela gets ready to leave, and she’s sickeningly virtuous, to the point where she returns everything ever given to her by her original mistress or by the Master. She will only leave with things that she can actually call hers. And I’m like, “Pamela, you should be stealing everything that isn’t red-hot or nailed down, after all the crap he put you through!” You know, because I’m a moral person.
The day before she leaves, the Master calls her up to his room and says, “Shut the door, we’ve gotta talk,” and she goes, “Ummmm, nooooo” and he says, “No, I promise I have no tricks up my sleeves, shut the door.” And she does, because she’s a MORON. And he says, “Pamela, I have to confess that I’m head-over-penis in love with you,” because he’s had such a great way of showing it over the last year. Then he says that he wants her to stay at his house for another week or two. Oh, for fuck’s sake. If she still hasn’t left in another hundred pages, I’m flat-out not finishing this book. GET OUT OF THERE ALREADY, I’M SO BORED AND YOU’RE SO STUPID.
The Master says he’s going to give fifty pounds a year to Pamela’s family and she’s like, “WHY??? LET ME LEAAAAVE” and I’m thinking, “SO JUST LEAAAAVE, it’s not fucking Sing-Sing.” The Master then says, “Hey Pamela, how would you like it if I found you a gentleman for a husband? You need someone to protect you because men will always have evil designs when they see your hot body. How about the chaplain at my other estate? He has no idea about this marriage, but he’ll be so grateful to do me a solid and gain a smokin’ hot wife
and also, you will be forced to live on my property for ever and ever.” And she says, “Let me escape go consult my parents and I’ll get back to you, mmmmkay?” And he says sure.
THANK THE BABY JESUS
So the next morning she jumps in a carriage to go back to her father’s and, oh, Christ on a cracker, the Master has instructed his coachman to secretly drive Pamela to his other estate where he can lock her in his sex dungeon or something. I should have known her escaping was too good to be true. Well, I should be happy that she’s at least out of the house. The setting hasn’t changed in 100 pages.
So the Master writes to Pamela’s family and says, “I know she wrote you a lot of horrible things about me, but your daughter is a liar and is totally fornicating with my chaplain, so they should probably get married. Do I have your permission to get them hitched?”
And her father is having NONE of this nonsense and goes directly over to the Master’s giant estate (see, Pamela? It is totally within walking distance! You could have gone home over a year ago if you didn’t have that mighty wind-tunnel between your ears). And her father goes, “Listen, fucker, cough up my daughter NOW.” And the Master goes, “No, my intentions with her are honorable . . . she’s, uhhh, away from home right now. I don’t have to explain myself to you: I’m rich.” And since her father can’t do anything and has no idea where his daughter is, he is forced to go home.
Meanwhile, Pamela is in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere when she discovers that the coachman is taking her in the opposite direction from her parents’ house. The coachman gives her a letter written by the Master, which basically says, “I kidnapped you because I love you. But don’t worry: my intentions are honorable.”
Pamela gets delivered to his evil country mansion and becomes the prisoner of his evil country mansion housekeeper, Mrs. Jewkes. There may have been some doubt about Mrs. Jervis’s loyalties, but there is no doubt about Mrs. Jewkes’s. She tries to talk Pamela into sleeping with the Master, saying it’s the natural state of things. When Mrs. Jewkes discovers that the kidnapping victim hasn’t quite reached the Stockholm Syndrome phase yet, she says, “I’m going to have to sleep in your bed with you so you don’t run away during the night. I’ll keep doing this until we get you good and brainwashed.”
I guarantee there is a lesbian sub-dom slash-fic out there about them.
Mrs. Jewkes keeps Pamela under crazy lock-down while they wait for the Master to arrive. Pamela says that she loves writing, and asks Mrs. Jewkes if she can have some paper and ink. Mrs. Jewkes, who has all the servants under her thumb and knows that Pamela has no way to send a letter, says “Sure, since you can only write for your own amusement.” Pamela then starts hiding paper, pens and ink all over the house because she knows there will probably come a time when 1.) she’ll be denied writing supplies, and 2.) she’ll find someone who will deliver one of her letters and will need to be able to write something FAST.
Pamela eventually gets to meet with Mr. Williams (the chaplain on the estate who the Master says is her intended husband) under Mrs. Jewkes’s supervision. Whenever her back is turned, Pamela is able to talk quietly with Mr. Williams and let him know that she is a prisoner. They eventually develop a plan to leave letters for each other in a secret place if they need to communicate.
Mrs. Jewkes, of course, makes everything very difficult for Pamela for a while, because Pamela is an idiot. She finally smartens up and starts acting sweet and earning Mrs. Jewkes’s trust, which is really just Being a Smart Hostage 101. She earns Mrs. Jewkes’s trust pretty much instantly, because this book is populated by morons. It’s all very, “Oh, you were obedient one single time? Wow, your spirit must be broken! I’ll leave you alone now!” I really don’t know which of them is the stupidest.
She and Mr. Williams communicate via secret letters for a while, so they continue to plan Pamela’s escape, only one day Mr. Williams disappears, and Pamela’s like, “Uhhh, that’s not good.” She then get a
deus ex machina letter from the Master which is addressed to her, but actually meant for Mrs. Jewkes. He had written them both letters, but mixed up the addresses. Yeah, because he’d totally be that careless if the plot weren’t sinking under the weight of its own inertia. Hey, whatever gets me through this book without setting it on fire, amiright?
Pamela decides to read the letter, even though it’s probably dishonest, because she needs as much information as she could get. Good, Pamela, good! You’re learning! The letter says, “Dear Mrs. Jewkes, I’m so glad you found out about the plan that Pamela’s been concocting with Mr. Williams to escape. How dare she try to fight being kidnapped! I condescended to kidnap a girl of lowly status. She ought to be honored! Anyway, I’ve totally thrown Mr. Williams in prison for being an asshole, and now I hate Pamela. [Then the letter gets deeply unpleasant, so brace yourselves] Where I was once upon a time going to love-rape her, now I’m going to hate-rape her. I’m also sending an ugly Swiss servant to come stay at the house and help you guard her. See you in a few weeks!”
So Pamela’s like, “SHIT GOT REAL, YO. I gotta get out of here NOW.” And I’m like, “No fricking shit, stupid.” So Mrs. Jewkes realizes the mix up with the letters and yells at Pamela for reading it, because, yeah, in this situation, Pamela’s the one in the wrong.
So the Swiss guy shows up and add an extra tail to the “Pamela stake-out duty” and now she’ll never escape, bwahahahah!
Pamela then comes up with the most brilliant, fool-proof plan anyone has ever thought up. She’ll steal a key to the garden door, climb out of her window during the night, throw her petticoat and handkerchief in the garden pond so they’ll think she’s drowned herself, and while they’re busy dragging the pond for her body, she’ll have time to run off before they come to look for her.
1.) Why, of all things, would her petticoat come off? Her handkerchief, I grant you. But why not a shoe, or a hat, or something that would be more likely to come loose? Her petticoat is pretty firmly tied around her waist, and under other layers of clothing. It would look . . . odd.
2.) Yes, the pond may be big enough to need dragging, but that will take all of an hour or two. It’s a garden pond, not a lake. I don’t know why she thinks it will buy her a whole day.
3.) If she could steal a key and climb out of her window, why didn’t she do it before? Pamela, you’re just not trying hard enough.
So she does all of this, and it goes off without a hitch, until she tries to unlock the garden door. They’ve changed the lock! Ohhhh noooooo! So then she tries to climb the garden wall, but of course manages to pick the section of wall that has loose bricks on top, and some bricks fall on her head and
kill her, and we can all go home happy daze her. So she stumbles around the garden not knowing what to do, so she goes and looks at her petticoat floating in the pond and thinks, “Maybe I should just kill myself. [DOOOO ITTTT, YOU’RE TOO DUMB TO LIVE] .That will definitely make my Master feel remorse and release Mr. Williams from jail, and buy me a nice grave in a good cemetery, and support my parents in their old age.”
Yes, Pamela. Because that is totally in-character with everything you’ve observed your Master do.
Then she decides against suicide, not because it won’t accomplish anything, but rather because of deep moral reasons and it’s a sin, and blah blah whatever.
So when she decides, “Nope, can’t kill myself,” she then goes to one of the little out-buildings in the garden and curls up behind a big pile of wood, and just waits to be found by her captors while she feels reaaaaally baaaaad about herself. Pooooor Pamelaaaaaa.
Except NO. Pamela, this is why I want to kill you. You admit that you’ve seen the gardener use a ladder and know there must be one in the grounds. You also admit that there are out-buildings that you’re not bothering to search because meh, and you also have a giant pile of firewood in front of you. MOVE THE WOOD TO THE WALL. STACK IT UNTIL YOU CAN SWING YOURSELF OVER THE TOP OF THE WALL. Seriously. You know what? You deserve to stay in captivity. I hope they lock you up forever. Except not, because that would be really boring, and I still have 300 pages of this book left.
Mrs. Jewkes wakes up in the morning and freaks out because she can’t find Pamela. She starts a search party on the grounds, sees Pamela’s petticoat floating in the pond, and everyone instantly believes that Pamela has, in fact, drowned. Huh. It worked after all. I guess in books like these, your plans only need to be slightly less dumb than the people who you need to believe them.
But then a maid stumbles across Pamela in the outbuilding behind the wood stack, and Pamela is somehow near death (for reasons I don’t understand—she says the falling brick only made the shallowest of cuts on her head), and everyone carries her back into the mansion where they nurse her back to health in her prison again.
Both the Master and Mrs. Jewkes are supremely pissed, and they decide to punish Pamela by making her marry the repulsive Swiss guy instead of the hunky Mr. Williams, and Mr. Williams will be punished for his complicity by being forced to perform the ceremony.
Okay, predictions: at the end of the book she will escape, the Master will die, and she will end up with hunky, virtuous Mr. Williams. Not that that’s a difficult prediction to make.
So here’s the Master’s master-plan to “have” Pamela. He wants to marry her to somebody unscrupulous (I don’t know why he thought Mr. Williams, a CLERGYMAN, would be a good candidate, but whatever) and then pay the husband for his sexual rights to Pamela on the night of their marriage. He figures that because Pamela is so virtuous, she would be more scared of disobeying her husband than she would be scared of adultery.
Seriously, this is the most convoluted seduction I have ever heard of.
Only the Master has one serious flaw in his plan (not that anyone in the book is smart enough to realize it’s a flaw, including Pamela). The Swiss guy is already married to someone in his own country, and they tell Pamela. And she’s like, “Gross, bigamy, how horrible!” And I’m thinking, “Well, if he’s already married, then he can never actually be your husband, so he has no authority to order you to do anything, let alone sleep with the Master on your wedding night.”
Then the Master completely backtracks on this plan, and says, "No, you don't have to marry anyone!" . . . Okay, so what was the whole point of him plotting out this whole thing? It went absolutely nowhere. Instead he presents Pamela with a legal document listing out all of the pretty, pretty things he’ll give her if she becomes his mistress. And after she’s his mistress for a whole year, he may marry her, because apparently his love for her keeps growing. Nothing says “love” like legal paperwork.
Funnily enough, she refuses. Though I know it must have been hard for her: contracts are sexy.
He gets pissed and hates her again, because gee, he’s never said that before, and goes off in a huff.
That night Pamela comes into her bedroom when it’s time to sleep and discovers Mrs. Jewkes is already in there with the maid, who has gotten drunk and passed out in a chair with her apron up over her head. Nothin’ suspicious there. Pamela says, “We should wake the maid so she can go to bed.” And Mrs. Jewkes says, “Nope, leave the maid and come get undressed. Nice and slowly. And talk to me about things. Compromising things.” And Pamela says, “Don’t mind if I do! Only I have nothing compromising to discuss, because I am a pillar of innocence. But let me just take off all my clothes.”
And of course, the “passed-out maid in the corner with the conveniently covered face” is the Master in drag, spying on Pamela getting all nekkid, because, again, his plans are dead sexy. If only a guy I rejected had pretended to be an alcoholic domestic conked out in my bedroom . . . phwoar.
So Pamela goes to bed, and the “maid” “wakes up” and comes to bed too, but really he just jumps on top of Pamela while Mrs. Jewkes holds her arms down, and he says to Pamela, “’Now, Pamela . . . is the time of reckoning come, that I have threatened!’” (239). But Pamela faints and it scares him and he doesn’t end up doing anything. Then he has the gall to say that he meant her no harm or insult, and he cares only for her well-being. Because he is a pig.
But, guys, we’ve already seen this scene at least twice, where he attacks her, she faints, and it scares him off. This story is a weird combination of sensationalist Gothic and SO BORING. Big exciting things don’t stay exciting if you just repeat them over and over again.
Then we go through mind-numbing, ENDLESS cycles of:
“No. Can I leave?”
“Can I leave?”
If you looked up “wheel spinning” in a dictionary, it would just say, “The plot of Pamela.”
END PART TWO! The conclusion of the book will be next Monday.