December 6, 2007
Class structure and social status are enduring themes that concern people of all time periods. There has been a change and development regarding views concerning issues with class. In 18th century England, thoughts and opinions regarding class were changing and developing into a close comparison of our modern thoughts and opinions. Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is a novel that traces this development and I have focused on the class structure represented during this time to show the progression towards deconstructing the divisions among classes. I hope to reveal an understanding of the previously rigid class divisions and an appreciation of the movement Richardson’s Pamela contributed to attempting to dissolve such divisions. I will be using the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Pamela.
18 “For he has given me a Suit of my old Lady’s Cloaths, and half a Dozen of her Shifts, and Six fine Handkerchiefs, and Three of her Cambrick Aprons, and Four Holland ones: The Cloaths are fine Silks, and too rich and too good for me, to be sure. I wish it was no Affront to him to make Money of them, and send it to you: it would do me more good.”
The differentiation among classes was clearly established and one of the most visual evidences of class was revealed by one’s dress. Pamela, a servant in the household, is given the opportunity to at least appear as if she were in a higher class than her own. Jennie Batchelor expounds on the peculiarity of Mr. B’s actions, “Though the practice of bequeathing clothes to servants in wills or passing on unfashionable or cast-off clothes was relatively commonplace at the time, the inappropriateness of B. giving the young woman such items as fine cambric aprons, a silk gown, stays, and stockings causes Pamela’s embarrassment” (1). Pamela is well aware that these clothes are well above her station. Furthermore, while these are items for Mr. B to simply give away, she (as well as anyone in her class) views them as money for her family living in poverty.
22 “This very Gentleman (yes, I must call him Gentleman, tho’ he has fallen from the Merit of that Title) has degraded himself to offer Freedoms to his poor Servant!”
Pamela here responds to her parents’ cautions regarding Mr. B. During this period, social class divisions were difficult to ignore. Aristocrats and noble people were born into the upper class, remained, and married as such. Likewise, poor people were born into the lower class, remained, and married lower class people. Richardson clearly exposed such distinct divisions of class throughout the novel (though not always adhered to) and the irony of it is seen here in this early passage. He is to remain in reference to as “gentleman” because of his social status, no matter his behavior. The degradation is in the fact that he would show any interest in someone viewed as his inferior.
23 “I said, I won’t stay! You won’t, hussy, said he! Do you know who you speak to! I lost all Fear, and all Respect, and said, Yes, I do, Sir, too well!—Well may I forget that I am your Servant, when you forget what belongs to a Master.”
The blurred lines between master and servant are shown here as Mr. B attempts to order Pamela to stay with him though she is unhappy with his advances toward her. He speaks to her from a superior position by calling her a name, rebuking her insolence, and demanding her respect. To Pamela, however, Mr. B has misguided his authority as master so she in turn misguides her duty as servant.
23 “You have taught me to forget myself, and what belongs to me, and have lessen’d the Distance that Fortune has made between us, by demeaning yourself, to be so free to a poor Servant.”
The idea that one must stay in the class he or she was born into was a long held belief. Many believed that their birth class was determined by Fortune or Providence, which is part of the reason it remained a part of peoples’ ideologies and why there was so much resistance toward change. In this passage, Pamela points to Mr. B’s actions that hold him accountable for contributing to the deconstruction of class structure—as a character in the novel and a well known character in Richardson’s actual society.
83 “Don’t doubt me, Pamela. From this Moment, I will no more consider you as my Servant . . . I, in spite of my Heart, and all the Pride of it, cannot but love you.”
At this moment in the novel, Mr. B attempts to separate him and Pamela from their class distinctions. Though admitting the division between them, he contends to no longer treat her as a servant or inferior, but rather an equal whom he can love. In doing so, he is boldly dismissing all he has known and all his society views regarding class structure.
126 “And pray, said I, walking on, how came I to be his Property? What Right has he in me, but such as a Thief may plead to stolen Goods?—Why, was ever the like heard, says she!—This is downright Rebellion, I protest!”
This passage begins with Pamela’s bold defense of herself and, as likely, her class. She asserts to Mrs. Jewkes that although she is Mr. B’s servant, she is not his property. This kind of attitude from Pamela evokes a similarly bold reaction from Mrs. Jewkes. Mrs. Jewkes protests Pamela’s very idea that she is entitled anything more than such. She reacts to Pamela’s idea of having a will of her own as rebellion of someone of her class to someone of Mr. B’s.
207 “Shew the dear Girl all the Respect that is due to one I must love, if she will deserve it, as I hope she will yet; and let her be under no unnecessary or harsh Restraints.”
Mr. B here addresses the mistreatment of Pamela, not only by himself, but more so by Mrs. Jewkes. This imploration to Mrs. Jewkes is a great departure from Mr. B’s former attitude towards Pamela. Not only does he admit that he loves her, he asks that Mrs. Jewkes show her respect. This is a pivotal point in the novel because kindness towards a servant is one thing, but respect is quite another.
209 “Why, said I, (struggling from him, and in a great Passion) to be sure you are Lucifer himself in the Shape of my Master, or you could not use me thus.”
Clearly, in this passage, Pamela is still untrusting of Mr. B. His demeanor towards her has been fickle, to say the least. Pamela feels that she must remain guarded to protect her virtue since she is unconvinced of his true feelings. She, likewise, struggles with her feelings towards Mr. B. There are times when he shows kindness to her that she finds it difficult to resist him. On the contrary, as clearly seen in this passage, she compares him to Lucifer. This is an allusion to the devil in the Bible as he is referred to as “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations” (King James Version)!
215 “O Sir, said I, my Virtue is as dear to me, as if I was of the highest Quality.”
This concept is ever present throughout the novel, but I believe it is best stated here. This statement of Pamela’s sums up the major themes in this novel of class as well as Pamela’s precious virtue. Pamela is of a low class, which is looked down upon by many. She is not rich or powerful by her society’s standards, so that is why she must protect her virtue with such zeal. Her virtue is all that she has. It makes her rich and powerful in the sense that with it, she becomes equal to Mr. B. Her virtue is rewarded as she gains equality of class with Mr. B in marriage.
422 “The Difference is, a Man ennobles the Woman he takes, be she who she will; and adopts her into his own Rank, be it what it will: But a Woman, tho’ ever so nobly born, debases herself by a mean Marriage, and descends from her own Rank, to his she stoops to. When the noble Family of Stuart ally’d itself into the low Family of Hyde, (comparatively low, I mean) did any body scruple to call the Lady Royal Highness, and Duchess of York? And did any body think her Daughters, the late Queen Mary and Queen Anne, less Royal for that?”
In Mr. B’s discussion with his sister, Lady Davers, they argue whether marrying below one’s class is as bad for a man as for a woman. In Mr. B’s argument, he claims that a man who marries below his class raises a woman to his class, while a woman who marries below her class lowers herself to her husband’s class. As is evident in his opinion expressed here, Pamela did gain equality of class with Mr. B, although he clearly does not feel that she is his equal because she is still a woman. Williams however questions the equality of class because of the example he used of Queen Anne. Williams contests that her marriage to Charles II “was usually cited as the classic example of everything an unequal match ought not to be. It is certainly a most inauspicious precedent for Mr. B’s marriage to Pamela (516).”
Issues of class were strongly addressed in 18th century England. Traditional beliefs held that people who were born of a higher class deserved better treatment and opportunities than people who were born of a lower class. During this Age of Reason, many began to question these long-standing beliefs and consider people as people and not only the class in which they are born. Richardson’s Pamela offered a strong context for this topic during its time and continues to reveal the progression humanity has made into our modern time. It was very beneficial to my understanding of such issues to trace this theme throughout the novel. I hope that my annotation will provide a connection of this theme in the novel as it did for me. Furthermore, I hope that it will reveal the progression concerning equality of class that the novel represented of the society in which it was written.
Batchelor, Jennie. “Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded.” The Literary Encyclopedia. 21 Mar. 2002. The Literary Dictionary Company. 2 December 2007. <http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=2983>
Richardson, Samuel. Pamela. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.
Williams, Carolyn, D. “Pamela and the Case of the Slandered Duchess.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 29.3. Summer 1989: 515-533. JSTOR. 1 Dec. 2007.
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