Reading, Writing, and Narrative Possibilities in Pamela and Anti-Pamela
We have decided to address the last prompt: the ways in which Pamela and Anti-Pamela are about storytelling, writing, and narrative possibilities. We looked into the idea of voyeurism in terms of letter writing and epistolary novels, and how it transcends time—any reader, whether they were alive in the 18th century, or today, would still be intruding, but not in malicious way. Furthermore, in both novels characters themselves end up reading letters that are not addressed to them. We also looked at how writing and education give women agency. Those two academic aspects allow them to express themselves, and also give them a leg up on the rest of the female population who didn’t have the privileges that they did. Richardson and Haywood present their respective novels in such a way that the reader ends up sympathizing with both Pamela and Syrena. But looking at the novels from a historical standpoint, the reader must remember that many women didn’t have the luxury of education, being literate, and having the ability to write. While we might feel bad for Pamela and Syrena, we have to take into consideration that both women had, at least, the possibility of climbing the social ladder.
In Pamela, voyeurism works in two ways—first, we, as readers, are reading letters that are not actually addressed to us. We are well aware of whom the letters are intended for, and we understand the context in which Pamela is writing, and why she might be saying things in the way that she does. Because most of the letters that she writes are addressed to her parents, we know that she is filtering her thoughts. We are then able to understand her position as a narrator, which, in turn, gives us a better mindset from which to examine her reliability. We as readers give her more authority because we are taking her word for everything in reading her letters.Mr. B-’s reading of Pamela’s letters is also a form of voyeurism. It mirrors the reader’s own experience with and interpretation of the text. This aligns the reader with Mr. B-, even though he is not the most likable character, because we are in similar positions—reading letters that are not for our eyes. Because Pamela writes to a specific audience—particularly her mother and father, two people whom she knows quite well—both Mr. B- and the reader are automatically on the outside. But we, as readers, are intruding even more than Mr. B- is because at least the letters are about him, and he has more knowledge of the situation than we do. He knows the situations, and does not get all of his knowledge of them through his letters—he is only getting his knowledge of her understanding, opinions, and skewed view of their interactions. We, however, only have Pamela’s perception (and perhaps deception) of what has happened to her in regards to Mr. B-.
We think that reader has such a difficult time understanding why Pamela ends up marrying Mr. B- after he has treated her so poorly, at least according to her letters. But maybe we should consider that she could actually be exaggerating the severity of his misbehavior to evoke sympathy from her parents, and to make herself look virtuous for forgiving him and allowing him to have a second chance after he abuses her, and even kidnaps her. Maybe Pamela is not as virtuous as she claims to be, which would justify why she is able to go off with Mr. B- so willingly. If we had any form of narration aside from Pamela’s letters, perhaps we could better understand her reasoning for giving in to Mr. B- and marrying him. In turn, we would have a clearer notion of his transformation and it would not seem nearly as abrupt. Maybe then we could give Pamela more credit as a character if there were a narrator, removed from the situation, who sympathized with her and show the reader another side of her. In Anti-Pamela, voyeurism functions in a slightly different way. Although Syrena and her mother Ann Tricksy write private letters to each other, the “voice over” quality of the narration between letters subverts the epistolary nature of the novel. Because the episodic nature of the text is connected through narration—as opposed to the lack of narration between letters in Pamela—the reader feels as though the text is meant for his or her eyes due to the cohesion and flow lent to the text through this style. Due to this fact, Anti-Pamela resembles a modern novel more closely than Pamela. This raises a number of interesting questions about the nature of writing, and especially letter writing. Perhaps Eliza Haywood, the author of Anti-Pamela, wrote her take on Pamela’s tale of social mobility as a direct challenge to the structure of Richardson’s writing. Maybe she sees a series of letters as not enough to create a well rounded, complete text. Letter writing allows the reader to access the subjectivities of the characters of the texts, where the reader is able to understand and sympathize with (or reject) the protagonist’s worldview and morality. However, narration clarifies and expands upon the thoughts and actions of the protagonist, as well as scenes throughout the novel. Instead of just taking Syrena’s word for it, as the reader is forced to do with Pamela, the narrator opens the text to not just her subjectivity, but to the objectivity of the world around her as well. Ian Watt, in his essay The Rise of the Novel, writes, “The concept of realistic particularity in literature is itself somewhat too general to be capable of concrete demonstration: for such demonstration to be possible, the relationship of realistic particularity to some specific aspects of narrative technique must first be established. Two such aspects suggest themselves as of especial importance in the novel—characterization, and presentation of the background: the novel is surely distinguished from other genres and from previous forms of fiction by the amount of attention it habitually accords both to the individualization of its characters and to the detailed presentation of their environment” (17-18). Perhaps Haywood understands what Watt points out in his essay. Pamela, with its lack of narration, accesses the individual nature of Pamela’s psyche, while Anti-Pamela is a “complete” novel (in Watt’s terms) in that the letters get into Syrena’s mind through the revealing nature of the letters, along with narration, which opens up Syrena’s environment to the reader. Syrena’s mobility, evidenced through her travels around London, is made possible through the function of the narrator. The reader gains a better sense of the world around Syrena, and how the social and sexual pressures of London affect her. Anti-Pamela revises Richardson’s Pamela because Haywood views his take on the epistolary novel as flawed. These flaws are alluded to in how Richardson, after letter XXXI’s “Verses on My Going Away,” has to rely on a detached narrator to put together all the various plot points and secret subplots (such as how John, the “messenger of her letters to her father… was an implement in his master’s hands” and gave Pamela’s letters to Mr. B [p. 78]) that the letters cannot do by themselves. At the end of the 1741 edition, the detached narrator arises again and makes a didactic case for Pamela’s virtue: “The reader here will indulge us in a few brief observations, which naturally result from the story and characters; and which will serve as so many applications of its most material incidents to the minds of YOUTH OF BOTH SEXES” (461). Later editions removed this section, perhaps showing Richardson’s belief in Pamela’s ability to do the work of telling the whole story. Maybe Haywood added in more of this sort of detached narration because she saw it as necessary to fully explore the world of Syrena Tricksy. American author James Baldwin, in his essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” writes that “sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty” (14). As alluded to above in the discussion of Pamela, this quote illuminates and complicates the nagging feeling that the reader experiences in his or her reading of Pamela—that perhaps she is not as virtuous as she makes herself out to be. What happens between her letters is unknown to the reader, and her “virtue” is certainly analogous to Baldwin’s idea of sentimentality as “the mask of cruelty.” It complicates Anti-Pamela because the “mask of cruelty” worn by Syrena is ripped off by the narrator, exposing the underlying conflicting emotions of a young woman who believes in the possibility transcending her class. The narrator functions here to further explore the “individualization of character” as proposed by Watt. Thus, the presence of a narrator better explores the both the character and her environment, achieving a roundness of character Richardson fails to attain. It is interesting to witness how Pamela and Anti-Pamela revise and complicate each other when it comes to writing. The voyeurism of both novels is a springboard, which opens up the discourse on writing and allows us to jump into the implications of the relationship between reader and text, which we elaborated upon above. Anti-Pamela intimates what Pamela would have been like if there was less of a focus on letter writing—perhaps Pamela would have emerged as a round, realistic character if there had a been a narrator, instead of a character whose motives and opinions the reader mistrusts because the mediating nature of the letters are not mediated themselves by a clarifying, honest, and trustworthy narrator. Although, one must recognize that the narrator in Anti-Pamela is didactic and moralizing, which complicates the text. Perhaps this kind of narrator brings more attention to the moralizing, overly-virtuous, and similarly didactic nature of Pamela herself, and reveals the undercurrent of conservative, normative Christian values that Pamela surreptitiously espouses through her discussion of “virtue” (virginity, purity, chastity, etc.).
A discussion of story telling through Pamela and Anti-Pamela would be mute without acknowledging the power both Pamela and Syrena gained through writing those very stories – and their obvious status as well-educated women. In a time when, as mentioned on our class blog, one out of five women was a prostitute, both narrators were using their intellect as a means of self-understand and exploration of the self. Letter writing and journaling encouraged broad thoughts outside of what is permitted in the public sphere. For Pamela, taking time to herself to write to her mother and father, away from the influences of Mr. B-, allowed her the chance to truly reflect and process her emotions without bias. While what she may have written was, as we discussed earlier, for the specific audience of her parents, the very process of writing the letters encourages self-exploration.
Pamela’s and Syrena’s empowerment grew from, because of their education, their opportunities to reflect on their daily lives – and an understanding that they have much to say, and a great deal of say. In a sense, the letters give the reader a (albeit voyeuristic) view into the lives of two intellectually stimulated, self-aware women. The privilege of knowledge is, in a sense, lost on us as readers until we acknowledge the exceptionality of their situations. Women in the eighteenth century are becoming acutely aware of the power of their words and, in turn, their ideas. In Women and Property in the Eighteenth-Century Novel, April London discusses the novel Richardson published after Pamela: Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady. She writes, “Clarissa expresses...two reasons for writing: the first, an obsessive response to the absence of alternative “employment or diversion,” the second, a constitutive act that recalls the terms of Charles Taylor’s ‘punctual self’ in its assumption that the self may be anchored in history by means of a documentary ‘compact’” (51). Here, London looks at a moment where Clarissa expresses how truly enthralled she is by the written word. For Clarissa, and as can be assumed to be true for other women with the power to write in the 1700s, the ability to write grew into an understanding of the power of her own words, that one’s personal writings, when penned, may fall into the hands of someone else. We see this with Pamela, as we have already touched upon, and we see her dismay when the wrong person sees her words. Moreover, it becomes clear there that those very ideas, those of a female, instill fear in the eyes of a male, adding to their weight.
Written by Eliza Appleton, Sarah Janes, and Grant Patch, April 2012
Baldwin, James. “Everyone’s Protest Novel.” Notes of a Native Son. Beacon Press, 1984. 13-23. Web. <http://www.uhu.es/antonia.dominguez/semnorteamericana/protest.pdf>.
London, April. Women and property in the eighteenth-century English novel. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999. ebrary. Web. 4 Dec. 2011.
Richardson, Samuel. Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded. Everyman’s Edition. New York City: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. and E.P. Dutton and Co.,1914.
Watt, Ian P. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960. Print.