Dear fellow readers,
I must admit that Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded took me longer to read because of the outraged marginalia that seemed to rise unbidden from my pen. My cultural conditioning seemed to prevent me from fully appreciating the valiant Pamela, lauding Mr. B. for his change of heart, and celebrating their nuptials.
One of the more troubling scenes is when Mr. B. goes alone to the garden because of his anger at Lady Davers. Pamela and Lady Davers, reconciled, follow him, and he tears into them, saying to both, “I desire to see neither of you on this occasion,” and to Pamela, “how dare you approach me, without leave, when you see me thus disturbed! Never, for the future, come near me, when I am in tumults, unless I send for you” (454). After he “tossed” Pamela’s hand, he tells his sister Pamela “must take the consequence of a passion, which, when raised, is as uncontroulable as your own” (455). He barely manages to control himself at the end of the scene, and Pamela describes it as a “storm” which has “happily” passed (456).
Even more troubling, after his temper has cooled, he repeats his commands for her to avoid him in such moods.
My question is: Why is it all right for him to put the onus on Pamela to avoid him, rather than on himself? Why are his passions and emotions treated as storms and natural disasters that are just part of life, and why must Pamela adjust her course in light of them, tacking and jibing like a sailboat in a storm? Why do Mr. B. and Lady Davers get to have such uncontrollable passions (and remain admired by society), and Pamela does not?
Partly, this is just part of Mr. B’s modus operandi: throughout the text, Mr. B. seems to externalize responsibility for his emotions and his actions. He keeps repeating “in the mind I am” to protect himself if he changes his mind (275). So this is partly just a continuation of that—lust and love alike are out of his hands. (Pamela too claims that her love for him is not of her choosing, so there is at least some parity there, but she must still act controlled in a way he does not .)Mr. B. and Pamela, in contrast, trace it back to how well-off children are spoiled, which in turn connects to the very structure of society that drives much of the plot and machinations behind the scenes. Society is fundamentally unequal; wealth and status grant freedoms that create uncontrollable storms of emotions that others must weather.
Mr. B. and Pamela, in contrast, trace it back to how well-off children are spoiled, which in turn connects to the very structure of society that drives much of the plot and machinations behind the scenes. Society is fundamentally unequal; wealth and status grant freedoms that create uncontrollable storms of emotions that others must weather.
Oddly, this focus on spoiled children gives me a glimmer of hope, for Pamela asserts that she will not spoil her own children “if any part of children’s education falls to” her (467-468). Is that an implied criticism, however slight? Does she see some of the problems with this situation?
I hope so, for despite Mr. B.’s many compliments and his exhortation for Pamela to consider herself his equal, this passage demonstrates his deficient sense of responsibility for his more destructive emotions.
You, astute reader, might notice that I opened this post with disclaimers about my own responsibility for my response to Pamela. So let me correct it: I wrote the angry and aghast marginalia, I did not completely appreciate the rewards we were supposed to revel in, and I lost control over my emotions. I take complete responsibility . . . and wish Mr. B. would too, spoiled childhood and gentleman-status notwithstanding. Tell me honestly—do I ask too much?
A Troubled Reader