Poor in Everything But Will: Richardson’s Pamela

  • Marea Mitchell
  • Dianne Osland


Writing to Sophia Westcomb in 1746, Samuel Richardson observed that ‘the Pen is almost the only Means a very modest and diffident Lady (who in Company will not attempt to glare) has to shew herself, and that she has a Mind. … By this means she can assert and vindicate her Claim to Sense and Meaning’.1 The heroine of Richardson’s Pamela, a young maidservant whose letters detailing her ordeals at the hands of her rapacious master constitute the substance of the novel, is able not only ‘to shew herself, and that she has a Mind’, but also to show herself through her mind, exercising a level of control over her experience that amounts to a surrogate agency — no substitute, to be sure, for the power to act on an autonomous will, but sufficient, it proves, for a servant to keep what is rightfully hers (including, though not confined to, her virginity) until she chooses, on proper terms, to surrender it. From the time it was first published, Richardson’s novel was celebrated for its probing of the ‘inmost Recesses’ of Pamela’s mind,2 but the letters also allow Richardson’s heroine to assert a proprietary interest beyond her body and to contest the space of representation.


Romantic Love Strategic Manoeuvring Great Reverence Romance Convention True Love 
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© Marea Mitchell and Dianne Osland 2005

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  • Marea Mitchell
  • Dianne Osland

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