The Horrors of Historic Habitual Servitude
Female servitude was, sadly, common in historic society, which Pamela highlights
The epistolary novel Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson is one that tells the tale of harsh servitude and violation. It tells the tale of a young female servant, Pamela, living in a large English estate, under the power of her detrimental master, Mr. B. The novel is told from Pamela’s perspective, and through it we get a sense of how miserable her life truly is as a servant.
Pamela’s life as a servant is the epitome of one of the novel’s primary themes, and that is the highlighting of the corrupt nature of the old English class system, but specifically in the relationship between the masters and servants, and portrayed through Pamela’s coping mechanisms.
Throughout the novel, we as the reader gain insight into how awful Pamela’s life as a servant is, and how she is treated. The primary way the reader gains this insight is through the perspective of Pamela, as the novel is told from her perspective. However, a specific way this information is relayed is through Pamela’s single coping mechanism, and that is her writing.
Pamela feels that her only way to cope with being Mr. B’s servant is through expressing her feelings through writing. Through her writings, and the other characters’ responses to these writings, we get a sense of how truly corrupt Mr. B and the entire servant/master class system is.
Pamela’s letters to both her parents (which she is never sure they will arrive to them, so she keeps them private) as well as to Mr. B often express her frustrations with her life as a servant. In one of her letters to Mr. B, she begs for mercy, feeling no escape and no way out, writing:
“Why, sir, must I be a close watched, a wretched prisoner!”
Indicated here is that Mr. B’s treatment of Pamela as a servant is as bad as a prisoner, with her having no rights or freedoms. Pamela uses her gift of writing to express her frustrations, and through these the reader becomes further related to her perspective. This serves as a coping mechanism for her, as she feels the only freedom she has, and the only way for her to express her feelings, is through writing. She may also feel that the only way out, the only way to temporarily escape from the horror that is her life, is to write about it.
On top of the writings themselves, the corrupt nature of the master/servant system and Pamela’s life as a servant is also displayed through Pamela’s constant fear of her letters being discovered by others, particularly Mr. B and Mrs. Jewkes, and her private feelings revealed to them. This is indicated in a letter from Mr. B to Pamela where Mr. B reveals that he, in fact, read her private letter, writing:
“After you were gone, I ventured to look into your journal.”
The fact that Mr. B read her private letter is indicative of Pamela’s lack of freedom as a servant, and it begs the question as to why society functioned this way: Pamela, a young female, is forced into being a servant and given no freedom, somatically or psychologically, with her being forced into servitude and physical punishment by Mr. B, a violation of her somatic rights, and her letters being read by others, a violation of her psychological rights.
The novel Pamela makes it clear that servants, especially young female ones, during this time were not given proper rights and often severely violated and treated like prisoners, as Pamela herself puts it. Mr. B, the rich adult male, is put atop the pedestal and granted complete freedom over everyone, while Pamela is essentially “owned” by Mr. B and granted no rights.
This highlights the corrupt nature of the old English class system, and to an extent a large variety of patriarchal societies which still exist today in certain parts of the world, with all the power being put at the top, often towards the males, and no power being left for the lower peoples, often female servants.
Through both Pamela’s letters and writings themselves, the writings of other characters in response to Pamela, and the other characters’ actions relating to these writings (such as them finding and reading them without Pamela’s consent), the corrupt nature of this old class system, specifically in the relationship between the masters and servants, is truly realized.
Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Medium to be informed of new articles.