In Samuel Richardson’s Pamela or, Virtue Rewarded,
it is Pamela’s virtue that she strives to protect and maintain. But is this a mere trick to sway Squire B. into marrying her? As can be seen through Pamela’s letters and her own accounts of the ongoing situations, Pamela is not as virtuous as she wants others to view her. Her tricks, fronts, and fits are seen as conniving behaviors that will move her closer to her ultimate goals of high social status and wealth, both of which can be obtained by marrying the squire.
Although Pamela is only a young woman, her naivety cannot be the blame of her sexual unawareness. Pamela grew up in poverty with both of her parents who were equally poor and virtuous. Pamela’s childhood conditions can be escaped by one thing: an upward movement in the class hierarchy to truly escape poverty. This can only be done by marrying into a higher and wealthier class. Not only is Pamela well aware of her predicament, she is well aware of the solution as well.
Through Pamela’s accounts in her letters to her parents and then in her own journal we can only see her as an unreliable narrator. She is always unsure about her feelings towards the squire, sometimes feeling hatred, sometimes drawn to him in ways she can’t explain. Pamela pretends that she doesn’t know why the master wants her and appears to be shocked at the idea that servants are merely mistresses. In her letter to her parents, Pamela states, “I’m sure ’tis time you was marry’d, or at this Rate no honest Maiden will live with you,” (p.70). Pamela suggests that the squire will possess no companion until he is married because no virtuous woman would accept her role as a mistress, yet that is exactly what Pamela is doing herself. Despite her unsure feelings, Pamela continuously denies the squires advances, seemingly putting up a front claiming her virtue but only causing the squire to pursue, respect, and want her more.
In one letter Pamela writes to her mother and father, she tells them about the instance in which the squire finally expresses to her how he feels by stating, “From this Moment, I will no more consider you as my Servant,” (p.83) a phrase that Pamela has been longing to hear. When the squire goes on to explain why he treated her so rudely simply to frighten her, he states, “You see I own it ingenuously; and don’t play your Sex upon me for it,” (p.83). Pamela’s reaction was, “unable to speak,” (p.83). She again tries to maintain her composure, and exemplify her virtue when she responds, “Yes, Sir, as poor and as honest too,” (p.83). Although the squire is acknowledging the fact that Pamela “plays her sex”, she ignores his accusations and tries to act as lowly and remorseful as she can by seeming undoubtedly poor and inferior.
At one point in the story, Pamela recalls a poem in which a Rich man and a slave join together, “And, at the last, are levell’d, King and Slave, / Without Distinction, in the silent Grave,” (p.259). This poetry of the union between a master and servant reassures Pamela that she has in fact risen to the level of the squire. She strives to impress him by putting on her best silk night gown but is wary still. Pamela thinks, “So I’ll get ready. But I won’t, I think, change my Garb. Should I do it, it would look as if I would be nearer on a Level with him: And yet, should I not, it may be thought a Disgrace to him. But I will, I think,” (p.259). This again shows Pamela as an unreliable narrator because she cannot make up her mind, and because the story is written through her perspective, we see her every thought, confusion, and question. She wants to dress in fine clothing, yet she doesn’t want to offend the master or any other servant in the house. By doing so, Pamela is again reinstating the fact that she is below the squire so that he will compliment and praise her, bringing her to more of an equal stage with him and giving her the satisfaction that she longs for.
Pamela stresses how horrible she is treated by the squire in his name calling, rape, and degradation of her, yet she is still drawn towards him as she expresses in her always unsure feelings. Pamela even suggests that, “Poor Peoples Honesty is to go for nothing,” (p.134) hinting to the fact that she fits in with this group of “poor people” and accepting deceit in her character. Pamela seems to forget about all the mistakes the squire has made in his mistreatment of her because she still wants him. This shows what she is truly interested in: his money, estate, and status. No matter what he does to her, she is aware of the fact that he is drawn towards her claim of the preservation of her virtue and he will keep advancing and lusting after her as long as she keeps refusing.
Pamela even pretends to reject money, taking it, but pretending to be dumb about how to divide it amongst servants again playing up her naivety to him. Although Pamela’s ultimate goal is the squire’s money, house, and status, she has been continuously using them even before the marriage proposal to her expense. After Pamela leaves, the squire then becomes forced into a marriage proposal because he knows that his advancements and propositions of her as a mistress keep being rejected and that it will take marriage for her to return and give her virtue to him. Upon receiving the letter from the squire asking Pamela to return she states, “So selfish are the Hearts of poor Mortals, that they are ready to change as Favour goes!” (p.253) It seems that Pamela only loves the idea of being loved, and doesn’t really love the squire or view him as her spiritual equal, but yet she turns back for him. It seems that not everyone is blind to Pamela’s deceit. In a mistaken letter that Pamela cunningly reads, rationalizing her judgments by, “this may be a lucky Mistake; I may discover something,” (p.162) Lady Davers writes to Mrs. Jewkes, “As for her denying that she encouraged his Declaration, I believe it not. ‘Tis certain the speaking Picture, with all that pretended Innocence and Softness of Heart, would have run away with him,” (p.162-3). Lady Davers seeks to discover Pamela’s means because being a woman of a high status, she plans on marrying rich, successful men of an equal status, while Pamela is only a servant taking the eligible bachelors that are not meant for girls with little importance, such as Pamela.
After the squire and Pamela are married, he establishes an elaborate list of rules for her to follow. The squire lists all 48 rules to her, but to again assure herself of the long list of requirements she writes them out. Pamela agrees with some rules, questions some, and disagrees with others. Beginning with the first rule, Pamela’s response is, “Well, I’ll remember it, I warrant. But yet I fansy this Rule is almost peculiar to himself,” (p.448). This questioning and unwillingness to follow her husband’s wishes can again be seen with the seventh rule. Pamela’s response this time is, “Well! I’ll do the best I can!” (p.448) In the nineteenth rule, Pamela does not oblige to follow it at all but merely responds with, “Let me ponder this with Awe and Improvement,” (p.448). In the second list of rules we get a more critical look. We actually see Pamela’s true thoughts, experiences, and morals. Pamela accepts most of the rules and is of course willing to trade her virtue for large sums of money, a vast and prosperous estate, and a high social status. In the end, Pamela ensures a feeling of authority when she attains everything she desired, and with the squire as her equal.