The epistolary novels
How the story begins
Pamela has been the servant girl of Lady B for many years. When the noblewoman dies, Pamela is much grieved and also warried about her future. Mr. B, Lady’s B son let her to remain in the house and Pamela accepts with gratitude but it soon clear that Mr. B intends to seduce her.
How the story ends
Pamela lives in Mr.B’s house like a prisoner and has no one to help her; Mr. B tries to seduce her several time but the girl resists all of his advances; finally Mr. B, who is really in love with Pamela, asks her to marry him. The second part of the book shows Pamela and Mr. B’s married life.
He was born in 1689 into a lower middle-class family. He moved to London quite young and there he worked as a printer. At the age of 51, he turned novelist. In 1740 he published Pamela, an epistolary novel about a young servant girl who is persecuted by her master, a young nobleman. The book had an immediate success, but also caused a great debate for the way it represented the relationships between the different social classes. After this success he wrote a second epistolary novel Clarissa, published in 1747. Its popularity was also great and the story was similar to that Pamela but in this story are involved upper-class families. The great difference between the two novels consists in the ending: clarissa refuses to marry her seducer. In his old age Richardson was a great novelist and public figure. He died in London in 1761.
He created an epistolary literary form that is a work written in letters.
Pamela was the first best seller in the history of the english novel. Its publication was followed by discussion, public debates, letters written to journals and newspapers. The country was didived into Pamelists and anti Pamelists. To many readers Pamela was a heroine and hers was the triumph of virtue; for others Pamela was not a virtuous girl but a crafty young lady who tried to climb the social ladder by becoming a nobleman’s wife.
Pamela was felt as a social dangerous book, encouraging servant to oppose their master’s wishes. This was true because Pamela put forward the values of the middle class ( rectitude and morality) as opposed to the free life style of the nobles.
Sexual violence is always present or latent in Richardson’s stories and the heroines’s feelings about their persecutors are not clear-cut. This ambiguity makes Pamela and Clarissa the first psychological novels, through a clever and innovative use of epistolary technique. Richardson’s epistolary novels combine the drama with an accurate and detailed description of people, places and object, tipical of the novel.
Richardson’s historical importance is twofold. On one hand he reflected in his novels the rise to power of the new portestant middle class. Pamela in this respect is exemplary. Her virtue is the virtue of rebellion and presages the era of french revolution and of romanticism. Onthe other hand Richardson began sentimental novel which became very popular in the second half of the century and survive well into the kater phases of Romanticism.