Whereas as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is steady progression of “virtue rewarded,” it seemed proper that Eliza Haywood’s Anti-Pamela progresses as tale of “depravity punished.” What didn’t seem proper was the existence of a strong matriarchal figure in the text – one who would teach her daughter how to acquire power through means that was most productive and feasible at the time: a profitable marriage. I found myself rightfully deploring the “cunning” Mrs. Tricksy for encouraging Syrena to marry for money but was surprised that I was doing so at the expense of excusing the protagonist of moral blame. Thus, Syrena became the victim of Mrs. Tricksy’s selfish objectives and poor advice.
I can’t help but be drawn to Syrena more than Pamela as I can posit the existence of a world inhabited by many Syrenas, and as hard-pressed Pamela is in demonstrating its realism, I found it was overcompensating its realism by masking the need to strive for an ideal, an ideal that is a model of feminine virtue. Syrena, though certainly not as innocent as Pamela but her feminine counterpart, is still a victim of her circumstances. Her name, for instance, seems to textually mark the insincerity of her character before we come to know her in the narrative. It is far removed from a name like Pamela and perhaps functions as its exotic counterfeit. Pamela is associated with the biblical, allowing us to anticipate her religiosity, while Syrena is associated with the foreign, preventing us from ascribing to her a character a sense of religiosity. It might be argued that Syrena is a kind of “textual” victim before a social one for her name ascribes a foreign mark, or stain, on her character. It ingrains in the reader’s mind a image of a person that hasn’t been fully described.
Moreover, Syrena seems to be a victim of incorrect and destructive parental advice. Her mother teachings do not encourage her to be internally and externally pure but advise her to do the opposite by building a life based on deceit and lies. This advice, along with Syrena’s own selfish doings, often leads her into a position weaker than the one she began with. Parental authority in Anti-Pamela is wrongfully abused, and unlike some of the texts we’ve read thus far (Robinson Crusoe and Love in Excess for instance), it is something we would never encourage or admire. Patriarchal figures have been dominant in our texts, and parents have usually suffered the consequences of the unwise and imprudent decisions of children, but in this text, we are introduced to a matriarchal figure whose power problematizes the notion of morality altogether. We feel sorry for Syrena for having to follow the advice of such a poor mother but upbraid her for not using the tact her mother teaches her when she finds herself entangled in more than one love affair.
Mrs. Tricksy, however, does not nurture the type of home expected of a mother. On the contrary, she organizes a kind of whorehouse for her daughter so that they can relieve themselves of certain necessities. We are certainly led to believe that both mother and daughter enjoy living beyond their means and that Syrena’s desire for luxury continues to cripple her judgment and sense of morality. Still, the text demonstrates the ways in which Syrena becomes a victim of prostitution. After moving to Greenwitch, Mrs. Tricksy finds a way for Syrena to entertain a wealthy Portuguese merchant:
The cunning Mother soon perceiv’d his Inclination, and to encourage him to discover it, in a proper Manner, was always entertaining him with Misfortunes of her family, and the Straits to which they were subjected. – He took the Hint, and gave her to understand, he was ready to contribute to the Relief of the Necessities she complain’d of, provided he might obtain a grateful Return from the fair Syrena. – In fine, the Agreement was soon struck up between them – he gave his gold, and Syrena her Person (127).
Nowhere during this conversation is Syrena present nor does she have to be as the text demonstrates how Mrs. Tricksy becomes the final arbitrator of her daughter’s body, which she uses for the purpose of economic benefit. Syrena becomes a victim of prostitution via matriarchal authority, and while it can be argued that she has always been complicit in enacting such sexual transactions, one can also make the counterargument that at the vulnerable age of fifteen/sixteen, Syrena cannot be persecuted as an accomplice to her moral debasement.