Group 3

From Keywords for American Cultural Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

The Status of Realism in Richardson’s Pamela, Haywood’s Anti-Pamela, and Hogarth’s “A Harlot’s Progress” and “Industry and Idleness”


What is the status of "realism" in these novels?

While we as a class have done a great deal of analysis on Pamela and Anti-Pamela with respect to clothing, class, public and private spaces, and a few others, we have not yet delved in any substantial way into the status of realism in those novels (as well as a general gloss of what, exactly, realism is). The aim of this essay, then, is to explicate and complicate notions of realism and to explore the ways in which Pamela and Anti-Pamela engage each other dialogically, both in the context of realism and in relation to each other.

Our Response

When judging a novel, the critic’s first complaint is often realism or, more precisely, the lack thereof. As critic Terry Eagleton states in his work The English Novel, “[realism] is also the yardstick of so many critical judgments. Literary characters who are not ‘realistic’, in the sense of being credible, animated, well-rounded and psychologically complex, are generally awarded low marks by the critical establishment” (11). But realism, like the novel, is a thorny concept to define in any concrete sense. The most basic definition of a realistic work might look something like this: a work that, while fictional, gives a truthful representation of reality. This is a definition that could be labeled, as Eagleton does for his definition of the novel, “toothless” (1).

Realism is tied, according to both Ian Watt and Eagleton, to the middle class. This tie is a function of both the realistic novel’s reception by and its depiction of that class. But it is not simply the depiction of the middle and lower classes, after centuries of literature focusing on the lives of warriors, kings, and queens, that makes literature realistic. A novel describing the lives of common people could be very unrealistic (as some argued about Pamela). Watt clarifies: "If the novel were realistic merely because it saw life from the seamy side, it would only be an inverted romance; but in fact it surely attempts to portray all the varieties of human experience, and not merely those suited to one particular literary perspective: the novel’s realism does not reside in the kind of life it presents, but in the way it presents it" (11). This definition begins to unpack one of the core aspects of realism. It is not a representation of a particular reality but a way of representing reality; a painting of a king may be just as realistic as a painting of a mendicant or a landscape.

Raymond Williams, in his work Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society, breaks down realism in its many incarnations, giving four different definitions for the word as of its first appearances in the 19th century. The first two definitions are now relevant only in their historical context, and of the remaining two the fourth is the one that pertains to realism in art and literature. Writes Williams: “[Realism] as a term to describe a method or an attitude in art and literature–at first an exceptional accuracy of representation, later a commitment to describing real events and showing things as they actually exist” (259). So, we can see that though there are myriad definitions of realism, they do, for the most part, share a common focus: faithful representation of reality (if not, specifically, real events).

Such an introduction to the literary classification of realism brings us back to these two eighteenth-century novels: Pamela and Anti-Pamela. Readers and scholars still debate the status of realism in these novels, while the more comprehensive view suggests that both novels possess aspects of realism, though neither completely captures the reality of 18th century life.

The characters and their plots in these works align with the theories of the novel, with realism serving as the trademark of this new and original novel. The novel’s “primary criterion was truth to individual experience – individual experience which is always unique and therefore new" (Watt 13). Richardson’s Pamela Andrews, a young female servant who transforms others with her unwavering virtue and morality, has a very unique character and situation. Initially for example, she is neither of lower nor upper class, as she is a highly educated servant who enjoys the leisure activities of higher classes, such as reading and writing. This particular and unique situation further unravels, as she ultimately transcends class barriers and magically – and to some literary critiques unconvincingly – transforms the wealthy and powerful Mr. B. In this way, Pamela fits with the literary tradition of realism that began with the creation of the novel, as Richardson tries to depict 18th century life among servants and the middle class.

As the antithesis of Pamela, Haywood’s Syrena Tricksy is a materialistic and devious young girl, but she also supports with the intentions of realism in novels, as she is a particular character in a unique situation rather than a “general human” type (Watt 13). Like Pamela, Syrena models the individualistic aspects of novels that focus on specific human experiences, often while morally critiquing society. Whereas Pamela models the rewards of individual morality no matter how desperate the situation, Syrena models the results of immorality, as she ultimately leaves London for Wales. Unlike Pamela, Syrena’s unique scenario and choices lead to her rejection by society and economic hardship that follows. Although their endings oppose each other, both novels strive to “imitate reality” and “morally instruct” readers, which aligns with the realistic intentions of the authors (Watt 32). But given that Haywood is completely mocking Richardson, as the title of her novel “Anti-Pamela” suggests in addition to her entire plot and characterization, which novel is a more realistic depiction of 18th-century society, motives and morals?

In terms of believability, Pamelists believe that Pamela aptly portrays the rewards of virtue and morality. However many readers suspect the credibility of Pamela’s morality and her transformation of others. Anti-Pamelists would likely agree that Syrena Tricksy’s account offers a more believable plot and ending. Both novels have realistic and unrealistic depictions of this time period and society. For example, even if Syrena’s immoral actions, driven by her insatiable materialism and desire to ascend class barriers, accurately depict the financial motives of women during this time, other elements of her character are highly unrealistic given 18th century society. For example, Syrena boldly negotiates the public sphere, when in reality, as gender studies scholars Emily Allen and Dino Felluga state, “The public sphere belonged to men: it was the sphere of business and money-making, of politics and empire building, of industry and struggle. The private sphere, on the other hand, was considered to be a feminine preserve: it was the space of the home and the hearth, of sympathy and nurture, of simple piety and childrearing.”

Given the context of the public and private sphere, Syrena’s navigation of the public sphere, as she circulates between men like an item of commerce, not only reveals her economic motives, but also presents a flawed depiction of women during this time. On the other hand, while Mr. B’s transformation and Pamela’s steadfast virtue are suspicious, Pamela’s interactions within the private sphere dominate the novel, suggesting a more accurate depiction of the limitations caused by her sex and social position. Though established in a realistic context and situation, both Pamela and Syrena lack realistic portrayals of humans; they are neither well rounded nor psychologically complex, thus lacking the credibility that Eagleton claims realistic characters possess (11). Overall, the novels contain realistic settings and basic plots of young members of society finding their place within it while striving for financial stability; however, perhaps the lack of credibility derives from the lack of realistic depictions of the people during 18th century Britain, as both novels offer exaggerated and extreme portrayals of their character.

Richardson and Haywood, for example, oftentimes support the same, unrealistic social assumptions. Both Pamela and its supposed parody Anti-Pamela support the idea that moral character ensures personal security, i.e. that safety is a reward of virtue. In Pamela the exaggerated, virtuous character (Pamela) is guaranteed safety while in Anti-Pamela the exaggerated, virtue-less character (Syrena) is continuously denied safety. For example, when Pamela loses consciousness (when she passes out in the middle of Mr. B’s attempted rape, for one), Mr. B leaves her body miraculously untouched. When Syrena loses consciousness (when Vardine gets her tipsy in the tavern), Vardine immediately takes her virginity. While the characters’ parallel loss of consciousness means a parallel loss of control, Richardson’s narrative will always protect passive Pamela while Haywood’s narrative will always leave passive Syrena vulnerable. These instances in the novels are not particularly compatible with the social ambiguities inherent in realism. They are, however, compatible with social assumptions held by the broader, hegemonic moral rhetoric of 18th century Britain that is typified in the didactic narratives of William Hogarth.

Hogarth’s narratives (usually presented through a series of engravings, though also through paintings) illustrate a variety of moral lessons using the logic of cause and effect. In “A Harlot’s Progress,” for example, Moll Hackabout arrives in London without good social connections, which leads to a life of prostitution, which leads to venereal disease, which leads to death. All Hogarth’s narratives are plausible life stories, but, at the same time, Hogarth always tells the most shocking story, the most extreme possible chain of events. Hogarth’s undisguised motive is to instruct and, therefore, he willingly exaggerates the rewards of virtue and the punishments of vice in order to intensify reader response. In “Industry and Idleness,” for example, two apprentices–the virtuous Francis Goodchild and the virtue-less Tom Idle–begin working in the same textile shop. Hardworking Goodchild engages actively with his work and eventually (consequently?) becomes mayor of London. Indolent Idle, on the other hand, spends his time gambling and whoring and eventually (consequently?) is executed for murder. Hogarth makes several familiar (for readers of Pamela and Anti-Pamela) social assumptions in “Industry and Idleness,” including the assumption that moral character ensures personal security–while Goodchild ascends the social latter smoothly, Idle is betrayed and robbed by his prostitute mistress and hooligan friends. Because he builds narratives around abstract social assumptions, Hogarth does not represent a truthful, fictional representation of reality and, therefore, his moral rhetoric is incompatible with our definition of realism.

That being said, the extent of Hogarth’s work reaches far beyond his moral rhetoric. If we evaluate the realism of Hogarth’s work separate from what social assumptions it may hold in common with Pamela and Anti-Pamela, we find that Hogarth’s lack of moral realism is complicated by the fact that, in his work, Hogarth addresses a myriad of real social issues that weighed heavily on the citizens of 18th century London. In “A Harlot’s Progress,” for example, Hogarth portrays the troubled migration of British citizens from provincial England to urban centers like London. In the first engraving Hackabout, fresh from the provinces, dons a simple white dress that contrasts with the dirty London street around her. The pincushion on her sleeve and the message on her luggage, addressed to the nonexistent “lofing cosen in Tems Stret in London,” indicates that the naive Hackabout has been tricked into seeking shelter at the Thames Street brothel. Here Hogarth comments on the city’s predation of provincial newcomers. Furthermore, in “A Harlot’s Progress,” as in many of his narratives, Hogarth incriminates actual infamous Englishmen and women. The likeness of well-known brothel keeper Elizabeth Needham inspects the blushing Hackabout while the infamous rake/rapist Colonel Francis Charteris and his pimp, John Gorlay, eye her greedily from the brothel steps. Here Hogarth evokes notorious London scandals, indeed describing “real events as they actually exist” and thus fulfilling Williams’s conservative definition of realism.

At the beginning of this essay we called our definition of realism–a work that, while fictional, gives a truthful representation of reality–toothless. When it comes to Hogarth this flexible definition must be bent even more–the realism in Hogarth’s narratives can only be teased out person by person, event by event, symbol by symbol. On top of that, what is real in Hogarth’s narratives (though he may evoke actual people and events) is always somewhat compromised by his overt didactic intentions.

Hannah Fillmore-Patrick, Michael Langley, and Allison Rigby. 6 April 2012.

Work Cited

Allen, Emily and Dino Felluga. “General Introduction to Theories of Gender & Sex.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. 2011. Purdue University.

Eagleton, Terry. The English Novel. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. 1, 11. Print.

Haywood, Eliza. Anti-Pamela; or, Feign’d Innocence Detected. Ed. Catherine Ingrassia. Canada: Broadview Literary Texts, 2004. Print.

Richardson, Samuel. Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. London: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1960. 11. Print.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. 259. Print.