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Moll Flanders book summary

Moll Flanders book summary

Moll Flanders book summary – Daniel Defoe | Characters List

Moll Flanders was written by Daniel Defoe. İt’s classic’s book. Moll Flanders book summary, it’s character list, it’s theme and more… İn the this subject…

Moll Flanders book summary

The full title of Moll Flanders gives an apt summary of the plot: “The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.”

Moll Flanders is born to a mother who has been convicted of a felony and who is transported to America soon after her birth. As an infant, Moll lives on public charity, under the care of a kind widow who teaches her manners and needlework. She grows into a beautiful teenager and is seduced at an early age. Abandoned by her first lover, she is compelled to marry his younger brother. He dies after a few years, and she marries a draper who soon flees the country as a fugitive from the law. She marries yet again and moves to America, only to find out that her husband is actually her half-brother. She leaves him in disgust and returns to England, where she becomes the mistress of a man whose wife has gone insane. He renounces his affair with Moll after a religious experience.

Moll’s next marriage offer is from a banker whose wife has been cheating on him. Moll agrees to marry him if he can obtain a divorce, and meanwhile she travels to the country and marries a rich gentleman in Lancashire. This man turns out to be a fraud–he is as poor as she is–and they part ways to seek their fortunes separately. Moll returns to marry the banker, who by this time has succeeded in divorcing his wife. He dies soon after, however, and Moll is thrown back upon her own resources once again. She lives in poverty for several years and then begins stealing. She is quite talented at this new “trade” and soon becomes an expert thief and a local legend. Eventually she is caught, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. In prison at Newgate, she reunites with her Lancashire husband, who has also been arrested. They both manage to have their sentences reduced, and they are transported to the colonies, where they begin a new life as plantation owners. In America, Moll rediscovers her brother and her son and claims the inheritance her mother has left her. Prosperous and repentant, she returns with her husband to England at the age of seventy.


Moll Flanders – The narrator and protagonist of the novel, who actually goes by a number of names during the course of her lifetime. Born an orphan, she lives a varied and exciting life, moving through an astonishing number of marriages and affairs and becoming a highly successful professional criminal before her eventual retirement and repentance. “Moll Flanders” is the alias she adopts, or rather is given by the criminal public, during her years as an expert thief.

Moll’s Mother – A convicted felon, Moll’s mother was transported to the American colonies soon after her daughter was born. She reappears as Moll’s mother-in-law midway through the novel, when Moll travels to Virginia with the husband who turns out to be her half-brother. She leaves her daughter a sizable inheritance when she dies, which Moll reclaims in America at the end of the novel.

The Nurse – A widow in Colchester who takes care of the child Moll from the age of three through her teenage years. The sudden death of this nurse precipitates Moll’s placement with a local wealthy family.
The Elder Brother – One of the two brothers in the family with which Moll spends her teenage years, he falls in love with her. She becomes the mistress of this older brother, under the mistaken understanding that he intends to marry her when he comes into his inheritance.

Robert – The younger of the two brothers who fall in love with Moll. He eventually marries her, in spite of his family’s disapproval, but dies after five years.

The Draper – Moll’s second husband, a tradesman with the manners of a gentleman. His financial indiscretions sink them into poverty, and he eventually escapes to France as a fugitive from the law.
The Plantation Owner – A man who marries Moll under the deception that she has a great fortune. Together they move to Virginia, where he has his plantations. There, Moll learns that he is actually her half-brother and leaves him to return to England.

The Gentleman

A well-to-do man who befriends Moll and eventually makes her his mistress. His wife is mad, but he keeps Moll for six years before an illness and religious experience prompt him to break off the affair.
The Banker – A prosperous man whom Moll agrees to marry if he will divorce his unfaithful wife. They live happily for several years, but he then dies.
Jemy – Also called James and “my Lancashire husband,” he is the only man that Moll has any real affection for. They marry under a mutual deception and then part ways. Eventually they are reunited in prison and begin a new life together in America.
“My Governess” – Moll’s landlady and midwife, later her friend and confederate in crime. She helps Moll manage an inconvenient pregnancy and initiates her into the criminal underworld.
Humphrey – Moll’s son by the husband who was also her brother. She meets him with an overwhelming affection on her return to America, and he very generously helps her get established there.


The major recurrent theme in the novel is that of greed — a greed which leads Moll to prostitution, thievery, and moral disintegration. Moll sees people as commodities — her relationships with them as business transactions. Although she is in love with the eldest brother, she has few qualms about taking money from him. She then accepts a bribe from him to marry his brother Robin. She easily consigns her children to the care of their grandparents and considers herself lucky. “My two children were, indeed, taken happily off of my hands by my husband’s father and mother, . . .” She chooses husbands on the basis of their affluence or social class. When the first one dies she muses, “I had preserved the elder brother’s bonds to me to pay me £500, which he offered me for my consent to marry his brother; and this, with what I saved of the money he formerly gave me and about as much more by my husband, left me a widow with about £1200 in my pocket.” She takes money for prostitution. She steals from children and from people in distress. And only when she is too old to do otherwise does she repent.
It appears that Defoe consciously manipulates the reader to view Moll as a covetous individual. The terms he uses in the novel are very often economic, with direct recordings of Moll’s business and criminal transactions. In journalistic fashion, Defoe itemizes the booty of Moll’s first criminal venture: ” . . . I found there was a suit of childbed-linen in it, very good and almost new, the lace very fine; there was a silvery porringer of a pint, a small silver mug and six spoons, with some other linen, a good smock, and three silk handkerchiefs, and in the mug, in a paper, 18s.6d, in money.”

In fact, at nearly any point in the book, the reader is able to approximate what is Moll’s economic standing. Unfortunately, our knowledge of her inner life suffers. Kenneth Rexroth notes, “Moll Flanders has no interior life at all, and the material facts with which her character is constructed do not increase her individuality. They are chosen as facets of her typicality.”

Defoe, in the Preface, insists that he is writing the book as a moral lesson to “give the history of a moral life repented….” But Moll seems to flourish in her life of crime and actually the lesson we learn is that to survive one must fight with the weapons one has. Defoe was writing in a new, capitalistically oriented England. To have played the genteel lady would have meant a life of poverty for Moll. This was a decision which the social environment of the day forced on many people; Moll Flanders can be considered a good example of the criminal of that time who is forced into a life of crime by social conditions which leave few other alternatives. We cannot, thus, consider them too harshly for they are protagonists in the constant battle for survival which society imposes on the poor.


An important theme of Moll Flanders is that vanity is the force that prevails over virtue. It is vanity that determines Moll’s behavior in the first part of the book. Moll’s vanity facilitates her seduction by the elder brother. It is also a strong motif which runs through Moll’s five marriages and numerous lovers. It is a factor which precipitates her decision to steal rather than remain poor and exist only by the honest labor of her needle. In fact all her actions are in some way linked to her vanity.
The theme of repentance is a recurring one in Moll Flanders. She constantly entertains the desire to repent. Lacking true moral persuasion these repentances are, until the end, half-hearted and insincere. She lacks moral strength; her moral fiber is quickly overcome on several occasions by the slightest pressures or inducements. Her will at times seems to be completely enslaved.

Her first repentance comes when Robin asks her to marry him: “I was now in a dreadful condition indeed, and now I repented heartily my easiness with the eldest brother; not from any reflection of conscience, for I was a stranger to those things, but I could not think of being a whore to one brother and a wife to the other.”
Actually, Moll’s repentance seems more like regret for having underestimated her chances for a better arrangement.
It is evident as the book unfolds that Moll has not been “led astray.” She has very shrewdly calculated the course of her life. Throughout the story Moll considers or reflects on the path her life is taking. The occasion of Robin’s marriage proposal causes Moll to say to the elder brother, “Upon serious consideration, for indeed now I began to consider things very seriously, and never till now I resolved to tell him of it.” Again Moll considers what to do when she realizes she is not as bad as the people living in the Mint. She says, “I was not wicked enough for such fellows as these yet. On the contrary, I began to consider here very seriously what I had to do; how things stood with me, and what course I ought to take.”

When the gentleman at Bath rejects any further contact with Moll, she reports “I cast about innumerable ways for my future state of life, and began to consider very seriously what I should do, but nothing offered.”
After her Lancashire husband leaves and Moll is back in London alone she says that “here being perfectly alone, I had leisure to sit down and reflect seriously upon the last seven months’ ramble I had made, . . .” After she is delivered of another baby and receives a letter from her London bank clerk saying he wants to see her again Moll is “exceedingly surprised at the news, and began now seriously to reflect on my present circumstances, . . .” She appears to reproach herself just before she marries him: “Then it occurred to me, ‘What an abominable creature am I! and how is this innocent gentleman going to be abused by me!’ How little does he think, that having divorced a whore, he is throwing himself into the arms of another!”

Nevertheless, she marries him and after his death begins her criminal career. As can be noted, many of her partial repentances dissipate into further scheming. Ironically Moll’s energies are too consumed in maneuvering herself out of a bad situation to worry seriously about saving her soul.
When Moll is first committed to Newgate she makes the following statement: “Then I repented heartily of all my life past, but that repentance yielded me no satisfaction, no peace, no, not in the least, because, as I said to myself, it was repenting after the power of further sinning was taken away. I seemed not to mourn that I had committed such crimes, and for the fact, as it was an offense against God and my neighbour, but that I was to be punished for it. I was penitent, as I thought, not that I had sinned, but that I was to suffer and this took away all the comforts of my repentance in my own thoughts.”

This passage clearly shows another shallow repentance by Moll. She fears not for her spiritual state but for her physical being.
Even during her stay in Newgate, Moll does not appear to really repent until quite some time after her talk with the pastor. And perhaps even then Moll is really worried about being hanged. The very fact that she insists on securing her inheritance shows how the possession of earthly goods has much deeper meaning for Moll than does the acquisition of spiritual well-being. In fact, we see a meaningful contrast between Moll’s character and that of the governess, a former crook who seemingly has truly repented.
Note that the tears Moll weeps from time to time are merely an emotional release rather than a sign of true repentance, for even after the shedding her heart quickly hardens against her victims and she continues their victimization. This is shown, for example, when she steals the bundle from the burning house. Whatever regret Moll has is weak indeed: “with all my sense of its being cruel and inhuman, I could never find in my heart to make any restitution.”


The question as to whether Moll ever really becomes a hardened criminal is an interesting one. We have seen that, motivated by greed, she has been able to commit the crassest of criminal acts. But Defoe still reveals to us sentimental aspects of Moll’s personality that we cannot ignore. To say that she is a thief with a soul is to credit her with more depth than Defoe really shows us. We never really see Moll’s inner life that completely. Yet it is evident that Defoe meant us to sympathize with Moll; and we are able to sympathize with her because he portrays her as a very likeable woman, who, despite her thieving and prostitution, is well-liked by her contemporaries, and seems to like them as well.

Defoe uses irony ingeniously in the passages telling us of Moll’s thoughts during her various crimes. He often portrays her as moralistic; for example, when she steals the necklace from the child in Aldersgate Street, she feels she is actually doing the child a favor: “The thought of this booty put out all the thoughts of the first, and the reflections I had made wore quickly off; poverty, as I have said, hardened my heart, and my own necessities made me regardless of anything. The last affair left no great concern upon me, for as I did the poor child no harm, I only said to myself, I had given the parents a reproof for their negligence in leaving the poor little lamb to come home by itself, and it would teach them to take more care of it another time.” Defoe didn’t want us to condone the action and condemn the parents. Through ironic humor he gives us insight into Moll’s attempts to rationalize her felonies.

Frequently Moll feels remorse — but it is a hollow remorse, for it neither leads her to curtail the particular crime she is bemoaning, nor does it prompt her to offer restitution. This is shown in her robbery of a woman whose house is on fire: “This was the greatest and the worst prize that ever I was concerned in; for indeed, though, as I have said above, I was hardened now beyond the power of all reflection in other cases, yet it really touched me to the very soul when I looked into this treasure, to think of the poor disconsolate gentlewoman who had lost so much by the fire. . . .”
Moll is shown as most compassionate in her relationships with her various lovers and husbands. She seems to truly love the elder brother. And when she marries his brother Robin, poor Robin never learns of the affair. Her second spouse is a rake, but she treats him well and helps him escape from his creditors. She nurses her men when they are sick and loves them when they are well. Her relationship with Jemmy seems to be full of love and compassion. Moll is in Newgate, under sentence of death, but when she learns Jemmy is there too her remorse and sense of guilt are genuine. “I was overwhelmed with grief for him; my own case gave me no disturbance compared to this, and I loaded myself with reproaches on his account.” Moll is an ambivalent character. She is a criminal — but a sympathetic one. Her life of crime is constantly colored by her good humor, compassion and sense of loyalty.

Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded (Samuel Richardson)

Pamela Andrews is a lively, clever, pretty, and virtuous servant-girl, age 15, in the county of Bedfordshire in England. For the past three years, she has served as waiting-maid to the kindly Lady B., who unfortunately has just died. Lady B.’s son, the twenty-something Squire B., becomes Master of the country household. After a period of mourning in which he decorously restrains himself from making any advances on his late mother’s favorite, Mr. B. begins flirting with Pamela incessantly. In letters to her parents, who are destitute through no fault of their own, Pamela reports her Master’s attempts and vows that she will suffer any injury or social penalty rather than sacrifice her chastity. Her parents encourage this devotion to her virtue and advise her to leave Mr. B.’s employment and return to home and poverty if ever Mr. B. makes a physical attempt on her.

The attempt comes, sooner rather than later, and Pamela resists it vigorously. Disconcerted but only temporarily deterred, Mr. B. tries to bribe Pamela to keep quiet about the incident; she relates it, however, to her parents and to the motherly housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis. Mr. B. begins to make noise about Pamela’s gossiping about him in her letters home, prompting Pamela to suspect him of stealing her mail. Further offenses ensue, including an incident in which Mr. B., hiding in a closet, spies on Pamela as she undresses at night and then rushes out to have his way with her. Pamela, however, displays a marked tendency to fall into a swoon whenever her Master approaches her with lewd intentions, and this peculiarity has the convenient effect of diminishing the Squire’s libido.

In spite of Mr. B.’s continued harassment, Pamela does not manage to make the departure that she so frequently threatens. Various impediments, among them her obligation to finish embroidering one of Mr. B.’s waistcoats, prevent her return to her parents. Finally, she resolves to go and, having resisted a final effort of Mr. B. to tempt her with money for her parents and marriage to a clergyman, packs her bags to leave. Unfortunately, her driver is the coachman from Mr. B.’s estate in Lincolnshire, and her destination turns out not to be the one she intended.
Mr. B., who has intercepted and read all of the correspondence between Pamela and her parents, writes to Mr. and Mrs. Andrews with a consoling but phony explanation for her failing to appear in their village as planned. Mr. Andrews sees through the ruse and approaches the Bedfordshire estate, bewailing the disappearance of his daughter, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Pamela has arrived in Lincolnshire, where the crude and malignant housekeeper Mrs. Jewkeswatches her every move.

Pamela continues writing letters while in captivity, but as she does not know when she will be able to send them, she dispenses with salutations and signatures, so that they run together into one continuous journal. She begins plotting her escape immediately, and she soon settles on the clergyman Mr. Williams as her only likely ally. Mr. Williams does indeed turn out to be a willing helper, though his competence remains in question. They arrange a system of secret correspondence whereby they will hide their notes to each other beside a sunflower in the garden.
Mr. Williams tries and fails to enlist support for Pamela among the local gentry, who all suspect his and Pamela’s motives. The clergyman eventually suggests that he and Pamela get married, whereupon the Squire would no longer have any authority to detain her. Pamela declines this offer, only to find soon after that Mr. B. has written to the clergyman making the same suggestion. Pamela again rejects the idea.

When a group of thieves attacks Mr. Williams on the road and searches his pockets for papers, Pamela becomes concerned that Mr. B. sent them to steal her letters, which the clergyman was carrying. The incident prompts her to make her first escape attempt, but her own nerves prevent her even from making it across the garden. Soon a further impediment appears in the person of Monsieur Colbrand, a hideous Swiss man whom Mr. B. has sent to guard Pamela.

Mr. B., suspecting Mr. Williams of colluding with Pamela, sends him to prison for debt. Pamela concludes that she has run out of options and makes a desperate escape attempt in the middle of the night. The attempt fails when a crumbling wall causes injury to her head and legs. Despairing, Pamela considers drowning herself in the garden pond, but a sudden renewal of her commitment to life and virtue, which she credits to a divine intervention, saves her. In the morning, the other servants find her lying wounded in an outhouse, and her captivity continues as before.
A few days later Mr. B. arrives in Lincolnshire. He serves Pamela with a set of terms on which he proposes to make her his mistress, but she refuses them scornfully. Changing his strategy, Mr. B. gets close to Pamela at night by impersonating a drunken maidservant. Pamela’s swooning fits come to her aid again, and after this episode, Mr. B. shows signs of being genuinely chastened. He again attempts to woo her but does not employ force. Then, in a heart-to-heart, he explains to her that he has come to admire her character and in fact deeply loves her, but his aversion to marriage prevents making an honest proposal. Pamela feels moved by this confession and hopes fervently that it is sincere.

Mr. B. leaves the Lincolnshire estate for a few days, during which interval Pamela receives from a gypsy fortune-teller a note warning her of Mr. B.’s plans for entrapping her in a sham-marriage. This note causes Pamela to react strongly against Mr. B. and against her own softening feelings for him. When he returns from his trip he receives from Mrs. Jewkes a set of Pamela’s recent writings; inferring that her “scribbling” has proceeded unabated in Lincolnshire, he demands to see the rest of her literary output, which Pamela reluctantly hands over. His reading of these papers only increases his admiration of her character and virtue. He tells her how deeply the writings have moved him and expresses his regret over his rough usage of her, promising to make amends. When Pamela, still fearing the sham-marriage, nevertheless repeats her request to return to her parents, Mr. B. is hurt and finally, in anger, allows her to leave.

Pamela departs the Lincolnshire estate, though not in so happy a mood as she had expected. During a stopover at a country inn, she receives another letter from Mr. B. in which he avows that further reading in her papers prompts him to request her return to Lincolnshire. Pamela, having reconsidering, decides to trust him and complies. Upon her return, they discuss the likely social fallout from a marriage between a squire and a serving-maid; undeterred, they enter on their engagement. Pamela then tells Mr. B. the story of the gypsy fortune-teller, and he admits to having considered perpetrating a sham-marriage but says that he thought the better of it.
The neighboring gentry, who once refused to aid Pamela’s escape, now come to dinner and inspect Mr. B.’s betrothed. Pamela impresses everyone with her beauty and comparative refinement. On the same day, Mr. Andrews arrives, expecting from a letter he received that he would find his daughter a fully corrupted mistress of the Squire. An ecstatic reunion ensues, of which all the dinner guests are eager witnesses. Over the next few days, there are a series of chariot rides, several arguments over the wedding date, and reconciliation between Mr. B. and Mr. Williams, whom he has liberated from debtors’ prison.

On a Thursday, two weeks after the start of the engagement, Pamela and Mr. B. are married in the family chapel. Mr. Williams presides over the ceremony and Mrs. Jewkes attends the bride. The newlyweds originally plan to keep their marriage a secret from the neighbors for the time being, but after several days Mrs. Jewkes lets the news slip “accidentally” while serving drinks before a dinner.

That same evening, Mr. B. goes to attend a dying acquaintance. By the next morning, he has not returned, so Pamela is alone when his sister, Lady Davers, arrives to browbeat the Squire and his beloved, whom she does not know to be married. Lady Davers badgers and insults Pamela at some length, detaining her against her will with the help of a nephew and a waiting-maid. Finally, Pamela escapes through a window and, with the help of her new allies Mrs. Jewkes and Monsieur Colbrand, makes it to the home of Sir Simon Darnford, where Mr. B. and the neighbors are expecting her. There she regales the company with the tale of her experience with Lady Davers.

The next morning, Lady Davers intrudes on the newlyweds in their bedroom, and a conflict ensues between the brother and sister, where the sister refers to a duel that Mr. B. fought in Italy. Lady Davers walks off in a huff, but a tentative reconciliation occurs over dinner. After dinner, however, Lady Davers refers to a woman named Sally Godfrey, prompting Mr. B. to explain a few things to Pamela. He gives the extenuating back-story on the Italian duel and confesses to a liaison with Sally, a young woman he met during his college years. He is furious at having been forced into these confessions before he was ready to make them, and Lady Davers suddenly regrets having antagonized him so far. She and Pamela join forces to calm the Squire and effect a reconciliation, to which he eventually agrees. Later, reflecting on his fit of temper, Mr. B. explains to Pamela all about the upper-class temperament and marital dynamics, delivering a lecture from which she derives, rather sardonically, a set of rules for married life.

The next morning, Pamela visits Lady Davers in her room, and they chat amicably about Mr. B.’s character. Pamela promises to grant her new sister-in-law’s request to see all her writings.
A few days later, Pamela and Mr. B. return to the Bedfordshire estate, where they receive a rapturous welcome from the servants. Mr. B. arranges to set up Pamela’s father as the manager of his estate in Kent. Later they go shopping for clothes and entertain the local gentry, who are uniformly impressed with Pamela.
Eventually Mr. B. takes Pamela to meet Miss Goodwin, a little girl at a local boarding school, who Pamela rightly concludes is his daughter by Sally Godfrey. Pamela is delighted with the child and requests, though in vain, to take her in as part of the Bedfordshire household. Mr. B. fills out the story of Sally Godfrey, detailing the circumstances of their affair and her eventual flight to Jamaica, where she is now happily married.

On their second Sunday in Bedfordshire, Pamela and Mr. B. attend church twice, with Pamela appearing in a spectacular white-and-gold dress. All the neighbors are appropriately stunned, and the local poor gather to receive alms from the new Lady Bountiful. A few days later, Pamela and Mr. B. walk together in the garden, are caught in a shower, and shelter in the summerhouse. There he explains the provisions he has recently made for her in his will. Near the end of the week, the newlyweds host another dinner for the neighbors; it is an occasion for Pamela to reflect piously on the goodness of providence and to plan for future good works.
In a conclusion, the “Editor” of Pamela’s letters reveals that Pamela’s later life continues to be a happy one: she receives semiannual visits from her parents and bears several children. She remains popular among the local gentry and nobility, and even Lady Davers continues on good terms with the Squire and his wife. Pamela succeeds in establishing the moral character of Miss Goodwin, who does not repeat her mother’s mistakes.

Character List

A lively, pretty, and courageous maid-servant, age 15, who is subject to the sexual advances of her new Master, Mr. B., following the death of his mother, Lady B. She is a devoted daughter to her impoverished parents, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, to whom she writes a prodigious number of letters and whom she credits with the moral formation that prompts her to defend her purity at all costs. Pamela resists Mr. B. through the long weeks of his aggression toward her, capitulating neither to his assaults nor to his later tenderness. Though it takes a while for her to admit it, Pamela is attracted to Mr. B. from the first, and gradually she comes to love him. They marry about halfway through the novel, and afterward Pamela’s sweetness and equipoise aid her in securing the goodwill of her new husband’s highborn friends.

Mr. B.

A country squire, 25 or 26 years of age, with properties in Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Kent, and London. He is Pamela’s employer, pursuer, and eventual husband. Richardson has censored Mr. B.’s name in order to protect the pretense of non-fiction, but scholars have conjectured based on manuscripts that the novelist had “Brandon” in mind. Mr. B. has rakish tendencies, and he attempts to compel Pamela’s reciprocation of his sexual attentions, even to the point of imprisoning her in his Lincolnshire estate. His fundamental decency prevents him from consummating any of his assaults on her, however, and under her influence he reforms in the middle of the novel.

Lady Davers

The married elder sister of Mr. B. to whom the Squire’s Bedfordshire servants apply when trying to enlist some aid for Pamela. She objects strenuously to the union of her brother with their mother’s waiting-maid, subjecting Pamela to a harrowing afternoon of insults and bullying, but eventually comes to accept and value her new sister-in-law. She once cleaned up after her brother’s affair with Sally Godfrey. Lady Davers is subject to drastic changes in mood, given to alternate between imperious and abject humors, but she is, like her brother, basically decent.

Lady B.

Pamela’s original employer, the mother of Mr. B. and Lady Davers. Lady B. was morally upright and kind to Pamela, educating her and contributing to the formation of her virtuous character. On her deathbed, she told her son to look after all the Bedfordshire servants, especially Pamela.

Mrs. Jewkes

The housekeeper at Mr. B.’s Lincolnshire estate and Pamela’s primary warder during the period of her captivity. Pamela represents her as a brazen villain, physically hideous and sexually ambiguous, though the hyperbolic attributions of depravity may be Pamela’s way of deflecting blame from Mr. B., about whom her feelings are more conflicted. Mrs. Jewkes is devoted to her Master, to a fault: she is as ready to commit a wrong in his service, not excluding assisting in an attempted rape of Pamela, as she is to wait loyally on that same Pamela once Mr. B. has decided to elevate and marry her.

Mrs. Jervis

The elderly housekeeper of Mr. B.’s Bedfordshire estate, one of the virtuous servants who applies to Lady Davers on behalf of Pamela. She has a genteel background and is an able manager, presumably the linchpin of the well-ordered Bedfordshire household. Despite her good nature and her motherly concern for Pamela, however, she is nearly useless in defending her young friend from their Master’s lecherous advances.

Mr. John Andrews

Pamela’s father and her chief correspondent. He is virtuous and literate like his daughter, formerly the master of a school, though his fortunes have since declined and he is now an agricultural laborer. He had two sons, now dead, who pauperized him before dying. Pamela credits both her parents with forming her character by educating her in virtue and giving her an example of honest, cheerful poverty.

Mrs. Elizabeth Andrews

Pamela’s mother, who has no independent presence in the novel.

Mr. Williams
The curate (junior pastor) of Mr. B.’s parish in Lincolnshire. Pamela engages his assistance in her efforts to escape her captivity, and she finds him dutiful but ineffectual; he makes an unsuccessful bid to become Pamela’s husband, and his efforts on her behalf come decisively to naught when Mr. B. sends him to debtor’s prison. Overall, he is meritorious but scarcely appealing, and he suffers from his position as the suitor whom no one takes seriously. Mr. B.’s drawn-out preoccupation with his “rival” Williams only serves to keep the latter’s risibility in view.

Monsieur Colbrand

The monstrous Swiss man whom Mr. B. sends to Lincolnshire to keep watch over Pamela. Like Mrs. Jewkes, he becomes Pamela’s ally after the Squire’s reformation.

Lady Davers’s nephew, who accompanies her to Mr. B.’s estate in Lincolnshire and aids her in browbeating Pamela. He exemplifies what Richardson sees as the aristocratic impulse toward sexual exploitation of social inferiors, though he is quicker than his aunt in perceiving Pamela’s innate respectability.

Beck Worden
Lady Davers’s waiting-maid, who attends her at Mr. B.’s estate in Lincolnshire and aids in the persecution of the newly married Pamela.

John Arnold
A footman at the Bedfordshire estate. In the early stages of the novel he delivers Pamela’s letters to and from her parents, and Pamela appreciates his cheerfulness is performing this service. After her abduction, however, he sends her a note confessing that he has allowed Mr. B. to read all of the correspondence between Pamela and her parents. He has been torn between his duty to Mr. B. and the promptings of his conscience, and the result is that he comes into conflict with both Pamela and Mr. B. The Squire dismisses him, but after the marriage, Pamela has him reinstated.

Mr. Longman
The steward at the Bedfordshire estate, one of the virtuous servants who applies to Lady Davers on behalf of Pamela. He admires Pamela and supplies her with the abundant writing materials that allow her to continue her journal during her captivity in Lincolnshire.

Mr. Jonathan

The butler at the Bedfordshire estate, one of the virtuous servants who applies to Lady Davers on behalf of Pamela.
Nan (or Ann)
A servant-girl at the Lincolnshire estate. Mrs. Jewkes gets her drunk and Mr. B. impersonates her on the night of his last attempt on Pamela’s virtue.


The Nature of Virtue
Richardson’s novel has often given the impression of defining “virtue” too narrowly and negatively, as the physical condition of virginity before marriage. The novel’s conception of virtue is actually more capacious than its detractors have allowed, however. To begin with, Pamela makes a sensible distinction between losing her virginity involuntarily and acquiescing in a seduction. Only the latter would be a transgression against sexual virtue. Moreover, almost the entire second half of the novel is taken up with the explication and praise of Pamela’s positive qualities of generosity and benevolence. Mr. B. values these qualities, and they have brought him to propose marriage: reading her journal, he has discovered her genuine goodwill toward him, particularly in her rejoicing over his escape from death by drowning. As a result, Pamela’s active goodness merits the “reward” of a happy marriage as much as her defense of her virginity.

The Integrity of the Individual

Richardson’s fiction commonly portrays individuals struggling to balance incompatible demands on their integrity: Pamela, for instance, must either compromise her own sense of right or offend her Master, who deserves her obedience except insofar as he makes illicit demands on her. This highly conscientious servant and Christian must work scrupulously to defy her Master’s will only to the degree that it is necessary to preserve her virtue; to do any less would be irreligious, while to do any more would be contumacious, and the successful balance of these conflicting claims represents the greatest expression of Pamela’s personal integrity. Meanwhile, those modern readers who dismiss Pamela’s defense of her virtue as fatally old-fashioned might consider the issue from the standpoint of the individual’s right to self-determination. Pamela has a right to stand on her own principles, whatever they are, so that as so often in English literature, physical virginity stands in for individual morality and belief: no one, Squire or King, has the right to expect another person to violate the standards of her own conscience.

Class Politics

One of the great social facts of Richardson’s day was the intermingling of the aspirant middle class with the gentry and aristocracy. The eighteenth century was a golden age of social climbing and thereby of satire (primarily in poetry), but Richardson was the first novelist to turn his serious regard on class difference and class tension. Pamela’s class status is ambiguous at the start of the novel. She is on good terms with the other Bedfordshire servants, and the pleasure she takes in their respect for her shows that she does not consider herself above them; her position as a lady’s maid, however, has led to her acquiring refinements of education and manner that unfit her for the work of common servants: when she attempts to scour a plate, her soft hand develops a blister. Moreover, Richardson does some fudging with respect to her origins when he specifies that her father is an educated man who was not always a peasant but once ran a school.

If this hedging suggests latent class snobbery on Richardson’s part, however, the novelist does not fail to insist that those who receive privileges under the system bear responsibilities also, and correspondingly those on the lower rungs of the ladder are entitled to claim rights of their superiors. Thus, in the early part of the novel, Pamela emphasizes that Mr. B., in harassing her, violates his duty to protect the social inferiors under his care; after his reformation in the middle of the novel, she repeatedly lauds the “Godlike Power” of doing good that is the special pleasure and burden of the wealthy. Whether Richardson’s stress on the reciprocal obligations that characterize the harmonious social order expresses genuine concern for the working class, or whether it is simply an insidious justification of an inequitable power structure, is a matter for individual readers to decide.

Sexual Politics

Sexual inequality was a common theme of eighteenth-century social commentators and political philosophers: certain religious groups were agitating for universal suffrage, John Locke argued for universal education, and the feminist Mary Astell decried the inequities of the marital state. Though Richardson’s decision to have Pamela fall in love with her would-be rapist has rankled many advocates of women’s rights in recent years, he remains in some senses a feminist writer due to his sympathetic interest in the hopes and concerns of women. He allows Pamela to comment acerbically on the hoary theme of the sexual double standard: “those Things don’t disgrace Men, that ruin poor Women, as the World goes.” In addition, Sally Godfreydemonstrates the truth of this remark by going to great lengths (and a long distance) to avoid ruination after her connection with Mr. B., who comes through the episode comparatively unscathed.

Not only as regards extramarital activities but also as regards marriage itself, eighteenth-century society stacked the deck against women: a wife had no legal existence apart from her husband, and as Jocelyn Harris notes, Pamela in marrying Mr. B. commits herself irrevocably to a man whom she hardly knows and who has not been notable for either his placid temper or his steadfast monogamy; Pamela’s private sarcasms after her marriage, then, register subtly Richardson’s appropriate misgivings about matrimony as a reward for virtue. Perhaps above all, however, Richardson’s sympathy for the feminine view of things emerges in his presentation of certain contrasts between the feminine and masculine psyches. Pamela’s psychological subtlety counters Mr. B.’s simplicity, her emotional refinement counters his crudity, and her perceptiveness defeats his callousness, with the result that Mr. B. must give up his masculine, aggressive persona and embrace instead the civilizing feminine values of his new wife.

Psychology and the Self

In composing Pamela, Richardson wanted to explore human psychology in ways that no other writer had. His innovative narrative method, in which Pamela records her thoughts as they occur to her and soon after the events that have inspired them, he called “writing to the moment”; his goal was to convey “those lively and delicate Impressions, which Things Present are known to make upon the Minds of those affected by them,” on the theory that “in the Study of human Nature the Knowledge of those Apprehensions leads us farther into the Recesses of the human Mind, than the colder and more general Reflections suited to a continued . . . Narrative.” The most profound psychological portrait, then, arises from the depiction, in the heat of the moment, of spontaneous and unfiltered thoughts. Nevertheless, Richardson’s eagerness to illuminate the “Recesses of the human Mind” is balanced by a sense of these mental recesses as private spaces that outsiders should not enter without permission.

Although the overt plot of the novel addresses Mr. B.’s efforts to invade the recesses of Pamela’s physical person, the secondary plot in which she must defend the secrecy of her writings shows the Squire equally keen to intrude upon her inmost psyche. Beginning with the incident in Letter I when she reacts to Mr. B.’s sudden appearance by concealing her letter in her bosom, Pamela instinctively resists her Master’s attempts to expose her private thoughts; as she says, “what one writes to one’s Father and Mother, is not for every body.” It is not until Mr. B. learns to respect both Pamela’s body and her writings, relinquishing access to them except when she voluntarily offers it, that he becomes worthy of either physical or psychological intimacy with her.

Hypocrisy and Self-Knowledge

Since the initial publication of Pamela in 1740, critics of Richardson’s moralistic novel have accused its heroine of hypocrisy, charging that her ostensible virtue is simply a reverse-psychological ploy for attracting Mr. B. This criticism has a certain merit, in that Pamela does indeed turn out to be more positively disposed toward her Master than she has let on; in her defense, however, her misrepresentation of her feelings has not been deliberate, as she is quite the last person to figure out what her “treacherous, treacherous Heart” has felt. Pamela’s difficulty in coming to know her own heart raises larger questions of the possibility of accurate disclosure: if Pamela cannot even tell herself the truth, then what chance is there that interpersonal communication will be any more transparent?

The issue crystallizes when, during her captivity in Lincolnshire, Pamela becomes of necessity almost compulsively suspicious of appearances. This understandable defense mechanism develops into a character flaw when it combines with her natural tendency toward pride and aloofness to prevent her reposing trust in Mr. B. when, finally, he deserves it. The lovers thus remain at cross-purposes when they should be coming together, and only Mr. B.’s persistence secures the union that Pamela’s suspicions have jeopardized. While the novel, then, evinces skepticism toward the possibility of coming to know oneself or another fully, it balances that skepticism with an emphasis on the necessity of trusting to what cannot be fully known, lest all opportunities of fulfilling human relationships be lost.

Realism and Country Life

Eighteenth-century literature tended to idealize the life of rustic simplicity that Pamela typifies. Dramatists were fond of rendering the tale of the licentious squire and the chaste maiden in a high romantic strain, and Margaret Anne Doody points out that Mr. B., when he displays Pamela to the neighbors as “my pretty Rustick,” implicitly calls on the traditional identification of country lasses with natural beauty and pastoral innocence. Richardson, however, disappoints these idyllic expectations by having Pamela tell her story in the “low” style that is realistically appropriate to her class, as well as through his generous incorporation of naturalistic details.

Far from idealizing the countryside, Richardson recurs to the dirt in which Pamela conceals her writings and plants her horse beans. In selecting his imagery, Richardson favors not the wood nymphs and sentimental willows of pastoral romance but such homely items as Pamela’s flannel, Mr. B.’s boiled chicken, the carp in the pond, the grass in the garden, the mould, a cake, and the shoes that Mrs. Jewkes periodically confiscates from Pamela. By refusing to compromise on the lowliness of his heroine and her surroundings, Richardson makes a statement that is both socially progressive and aesthetically radical. To discover dramatic significance, Richardson does not look to the great cities and the exemplars of public greatness who reside there; he maintains, rather, that much of equal or greater significance inheres in the private actions and passions of common people.


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