29. Samuel Richardson - Pamela (1740)
Samuel Richardson was a great writer, and if you really want to read a whopper you would do well to skip right over Pamela and go to Clarissa. Pamela is, however, where you should go if you don't want to read 1500 pages of epistolary novel which ends badly.
So Pamela seems more like a study for Clarissa than a work in itself, but it is a much more manageable one for the more casual reader. Richardson's novels are ostensibly all about Virtue but for the modern reader they are more than anything about claustrophobia and injustice.
Pamela does a great job of making the reader empathise with the main character, Pamela is slightly annoying due to her "virtuosity" but so much shit happens to her and her situation is so impossible and claustrophobic that as a reader you can't stop from sympathising with her. The main male character of the book, Mr. B is an oaf with good intention but using quite horrible means to get to his ends. Mr. B is unfortunately a much inferior villain to Mr. Lovelace in Clarissa. Richardson's epistolary novel is also not perfect, at one point he falls off the device of telling the novel through letters and puts in omniscient narrative. Again this technique is much improved in Clarissa. Pamela is however where I will go if I want to read Richardson again, Clarissa is a book you read once, Pamela is more manageable.
Pamela was the bestseller of its time. It was read by countless buyers of the novel and was also read aloud in groups. An anecdote which has been repeated in varying forms since 1777 described the novel's reception in an English village: "The blacksmith of the village had got hold of Richardson's novel of Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, and used to read it aloud in the long summer evenings, seated on his anvil, and never failed to have a large and attentive audience....At length, when the happy turn of fortune arrived, which brings the hero and heroine together, and sets them living long and happily...the congregation were so delighted as to raise a great shout, and procuring the church keys, actually set the parish bells ringing."
The novel was also integrated into sermons as an exemplar. It was even an early “multimedia” event, producing Pamela-themed cultural artifacts such as prints, paintings, waxworks, a fan, and a set of playing cards decorated with lines from Richardson's works.
No video, sorry.