Pamela contains one of the longest continuations of a “happily ever after” ending I’ve encountered, and this is perhaps due to the novel’s effort to remain life-like, factual, or true. The epistolary form might require an extensive conclusion as, realistically, Pamela would not discontinue her exhaustive letter-writing to her parents after marriage. Still, is it necessary to apprise one’s parents of intimate, marital details that are typically kept private between husband and wife?
I found Pamela’s introduction to high society interesting as well. To everyone’s surprise, (except the reader’s) she insists on maintaining the lifestyle of her original class. Such a decision is morally consistent with her character as the newly acquired status of a Lady wouldn’t phase a girl so keen on emphasizing her poor but virtuous upbringing. It’s also interesting how Pamela turns up her nose at Lady Daver’s disapproval, specifically to her belief that Mr. B’s marriage to Pamela would corrupt their aristocratic bloodline or roots. She responds to Lady Daver’s repulsion with repulsion:
And many of these Gentlefolks, that brag of their ancient Blood, would be glad to have it as wholesome, and as really untainted, as ours! – Surely these proud People never think of what a short Stage life is; and that, with all their Vanity, a Time is coming, when they shall be obliged to submit to be on a Level with us; and true said the Philosopher, when He looked upon the Skull of a king, and that of a poor Man, that he saw no Difference between them (258).
She offers both religious and philosophical grounds for why Lady Daver’s argument is fallicious. Both cases are compelling, and as a result, both reasons strengthenPamela’s individuality as an active agent of her spiritual and narrative destiny. However, Pamela’s agency in the novel is somewhat complicated by her contradictory desire or wish to assume both a domestic and public role in her household. She would like to become a “treasure” and manage Mr. B’s finances but does not want to do so at the expense of making Mr. B unhappy for her ultimate goal is to please her master. When asked by Mr. B what she might do to pass her time as a “gentlelady” should other ladies shun her (this would prevent her from fully acquiring the status of a lady since she cannot do what ladies do in leisure, that is to entertain and be entertained), she responds,
I will myself look into such Parts of the Family Oeconomy … I will ease you of as much of your Family Accounts, as I possibly can, when I have convinced you, that I am to be trusted with them; and, you know, Sir, my late good Lady made me her Treasurer, her Almoner, and every thing … I will also receive and pay Visits, if your Goodness will allow me so to do, to the sick Poor in the Neighborhood around you …(263).
She makes it clear to Mr. B that she does not intend to pass time the way aristocrats pass time. Doing so oversteps certain class boundaries her birth cannot overcome, but more importantly, doing so is morally inferior to a life better spent in labor. Her response might be Richardson’s way of taking a shot at the aristocracy since Pamela ultimately values a middle-class lifestyle over an aristocratic one.
By managing Mr. B’s economic affairs, Pamela can also acquire an unconventional position of power. The role of a treasurer would give her access to and knowledge of a male-dominated sphere, permitting her to cross both class and gender boundaries. However, Pamela is not eager to capitalize on her previous knowledge of “Oeconomy.” She makes it clear that her chief duty as a wife will be to please her husband, and this is why she continues to refer to Mr. B as master. Insisting the relationship between husband and wife is tantamount to one between maser and servant, she declares to Mrs. Jewkes, “He shall always be my Master; and I shall think myself more and more his servant” (303).
Pamela’s virtue has empowered her throughout the novel: it has altered Mr. B’s morally corrupt behavior, it has weakened his rhetoric as a figure of authority, and has given her access to a space typically dominated by men. Yet, as a reader I wonder why she does not capitalize on the opportunities presented to her as the wife of Mr. B, why she does not want to become his equal, and why she wants to continue the role of a servant. Why is Pamela – the unmarried, virtuous daughter of poverty so bold and empowering while Pamela – the wife of Mr. B disappointingly subservient?