From Academic Kids

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded is a novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. While Richardson did not invent the name Pamela the novel did help to popularize the name in English-speaking countries. The novel is in epistolary form, consisting of letters and diary entries.

The heroine, Pamela Andrews, is a maid whose master, Mr. B, makes unwanted advances towards her. She rejects him until he shows his sincerity by proposing a fair marriage to her. In the second part of the novel, Pamela attempts to accommodate herself to upper-class society and to build a successful relationship with her husband.

Widely mocked at the time for its perceived licentiousness, the story inspired many parodies, including two by Henry Fielding: Shamela (1742), about Pamela's less virtuous sister, and Joseph Andrews (1742), which exposes the sexual hypocrisy in Pamela by retaining the plot but switching the sexes of the protagonists.

Conduct books and the novel

When Richardson began writing Pamela, he conceived of it as a conduct book. (One could say that the eighteenth-century conduct book is the forerunner of today’s etiquette and self-help books.) But as he was writing, the series of letters turned into a story. Richardson then decided to write in a different genre, the novel. He attempted to instruct through entertainment. In fact, most novels from the middle of the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth century, following Richardson’s lead, claimed legitimacy through their ability to teach as well as to amuse.


Missing image
An engraving by Francis Hayman and Hughbert Gravelot from the 1742 octavo edition of Pamela, which combined all four parts of the novel into one volume. The scene is Mr. B's interception of Pamela's first letter.

Epistolary novels, that is, novels written as a series of letters, were extremely popular during the eighteenth century and it was Richardson's Pamela that made them so. Richardson and other novelists of his time argued that the letter allowed the reader greater access to a character's thoughts; Richardson claimed that he was writing "to the moment," that is, that Pamela's thoughts were recorded nearly simultaneously with her actions.

In the novel, Pamela writes two kinds of letters. At the beginning of the novel, while she is deciding how long to stay on at Mr. B’s after the death of his mother, she writes letters to her parents relating her various moral dilemmas and asking for their advice. After Mr. B abducts her and imprisons her in his countryhouse, she continues to write letters to her parents, but because she is unsure whether or not her parents will ever receive them, they are to be considered both letters and a diary.

In Pamela, the reader receives only the thoughts and letters of Pamela, restricting the reader’s access to the other characters; we see only Pamela's perception of them. In Richardson's other novels, Clarissa (1748) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753), the reader is privy to the letters of several characters and can thus more effectively evaluate the motivations and moral values of the characters.


  • Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.
  • McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel: 1600-1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
  • Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957.

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