Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Problem with Pamela

Finishing Pamela is like surviving bubonic plague: you're relieved, but it was extremely painful and you wish you'd never had to go through it in the first place.The plot is fair for its day, excluding the fact that a servant girl marries her boss, so I'm going to skip over that and criticise literally everything else about it instead.

Let's start with the execution. Pamela is told through a series of letters (and letters masquerading as journal entries) written by the eponymous heroine to her parents. She writes in the present tense and, at one point, manages to narrate an entire conversation she isn't actually present for. She also refers to herself in the third person a lot. Honestly, if I had to read the phrase, "Poor Pamela," one more time...

I'm not a great fan of the epistolary form anyway, but it's made even more unbearable because Pamela is insufferable. She's the perfect woman, and Richardson wants us to know it. She's virtue personfied, as she or Mr B reminds us on every other page, and she drops to her knees to praise God so much that I'm surprised they're not bruised. She is not vain or obsessed with material possessions, despite the fact that at times she seems to talk about nothing else. She's also too physically inept to climb a wall, and she faints more than the average gothic heroine because this was a desired quality in a woman for around half a century. Every now and again I would remember that she was only fifteen and wish I could give her a burger because this girl never seems to eat. Ever.

The pacing is also awful. Mr B, an absolute tyrant who has literally had Pamela abducted and imprisoned, is redeemed the moment he falls in love with her. Following this, he acts like a saint. Similarly, Pamela, a girl who has done nothing but wish to return to her parents since the novel began, breaks off her journey home halfway to return to Mr B the moment she receives his letter. Suddenly, he is not a monster, he is the man of her dreams. Yes, I'm aware that character development is a concept that doesn't really appear this early on, but these changes are still jarring. It's like they've had complete personality transplants. Then there's the fact that it's over 500 pages and almost nothing happens. Cut out the repitition and you could get it down to 200, if that.

The most irritating thing about Pamela is that it could have made a great Gothic novel. Heroine kidnapped and imprisoned? Check. Fancy house? Two of them. Double check. Male love interest is not at all desirable and actually kind of evil (or, in this case, totally evil)? Check. Instead, it's a conduct book. Emily Brontë was baffled that so many women saw Heathcliff as an attractive bloke, but Samuel Richardson apparently views Mr B as the type of man any woman would dream of marrying. 

Pamela is genuinely the worst novel I have ever read. This has been an anti-recommendation. You're welcome. 

Rant to me! What's the worst novel you've ever read?