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SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Pamela by Samuel Richardson.
Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) is a famous example of an epistolary novel, or a novel composed of letters. Richardson was famous for this style of writing and used it in his other novels. Pamela differs from Richardson’s other novels in that the letters are mostly from the titular Pamela; whereas in his other novels, more points of view are included. The novel focuses on Pamela to hone in on her experience and state of mind.
Pamela is a fifteen-year-old maidservant in Bedfordshire. She is innocent and virtuous. She serves Lady B, who is kind to her. Unfortunately, Lady B has just passed away. Pamela is nervous about her work situation, as she does not come from money. Lady B’s son, Mr. B, promises to keep her and all the other servants employed.
Mr. B begins making advances towards Pamela. At first, they are just verbal, as she reports to her parents. She promises she will do everything to preserve her virtue. Her parents agree with her, but advise her if Mr. B ever makes physical advances towards her she should return home, despite their impoverishment. Soon thereafter, Mr. B makes a physical advancement towards Pamela, which she rebufs. He attempts to pay her to keep her quiet, but she refuses and tells her friend the housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis.
Mr. B continues to make advances towards Pamela, including trying to kiss her while she undresses for the evening after hiding in her closet. She faints, which dissuades Mr. B from continuing. Pamela threatens to return home to her parents. Mr. B is against this and thwarts her return.
He offers Pamela more money, then marriage to a Lincolnshire clergyman named Mr. Williams. She refuses and packs her bags to return home. Mr. B tricks Pamela and sends her to his estate in Lincolnshire. He also writes her parents telling them he has sent her away to preserve her virtue, as she has had an affair with a penurious clergyman. Pamela’s father does not believe him and attempts to retrieve her at the Bedfordshire estate, but she is not there.
Pamela begins a journal in Lincolnshire, hoping one day her parents will read it and understand. She is virtually a captive there, under the watch of Mrs. Jewkes, the spiteful housekeeper. Mr. B writes to Pamela and invites her to be his mistress. She refuses. Pamela begins to plan her escape and enlists the help of Mr. Williams. They exchange letters leaving them next to the sunflower in the garden. Mr. Williams tries his best to help her, even asking the local gentry for assistance. They refuse due to Mr. B’s social standing, advising Mr. Williams to marry Pamela.
Mr. Williams asks Pamela to marry him to help her escape, but she refuses. Pamela is concerned when Mr. Williams is robbed, wondering if Mr. B set the robbery up to steal her letters. She is determined to escape but gives up on this idea when she is hurt during her attempt.
Mr. B soon arrives at Lincolnshire. He again asks Pamela to be his mistress and she refuses. Mr. B and Mr. Jewkes come up with a plan for Mr. B to finally seduce Pamela. He dresses up as a female servant named Nan and pretends to be drunk. As Nan, he sneaks into Pamela’s bed. When Pamela realizes what is happening, she has a violent fit, similar to a seizure.
After Pamela’s fit, Mr. B’s demeanor changes. He seems regretful in his actions, but continues to pursue her, albeit without force. Pamela begs him to stop his advances. He admits that he loves Pamela, but feels he is unable to marry her due to the social gap. Pamela is shocked, but somewhat stirred by his confession. She hopes he means what he says. Mr. B leaves his estate for a few days. While he is gone, Pamela is stopped by a fortuneteller who says Mr. B is trying to force her into a sham marriage. She rethinks her burgeoning affection for Mr. B.
When Mr. B returns, Mrs. Jewkes gives him some of Pamela’s recent writings. After reading them, his affection for Pamela only grows. He feels guilty for the way he has treated her and promises to make things right by marrying her. Pamela is still suspicious of him and denies him, asking to return home. Mr. B is upset and angry, but allows Pamela to go home. Pamela feels strangely sad.
On her way home, she receives a letter from Mr. B, imploring her to return and marry him. He speaks of reform and changing his ways, and Pamela, believing him, decides to return. On her return, they wonder how the gentry will react to their marriage, and Pamela tells Mr. B why she was wary of his proposal. He admits he thought of luring her into a sham marriage, but changed his mind.
The gentry accept Pamela easily, due to her charm. Her father comes looking for her, worried that she is now a mistress, but is happy and excited to see her engaged and content. Mr. B and Pamela are soon married. Pamela then has a hostile interaction with Mr. B’s sister, Lady Davers where she effectively holds Pamela hostage, disparaging her social status. Lady Davers forces Mr. B to confess to a dalliance he had as a young man. Pamela learns there was a child produced from this dalliance named Miss Goodwin. He introduces Pamela to Miss Goodwin, who believes Mr. B is her uncle. Miss Goodwin’s mother is happily married in Jamaica.
Mr. B sets up Pamela’s parents to look after Mr. B’s estate in Kent. Lady Davers ultimately accepts Pamela. Pamela has many children with Mr. B and visits with her family often. She is happy and takes Miss Goodwin under her wing, ensuring that she becomes as pious as Pamela.