Seeing through Pamela’s Clothes

  • Jennie Batchelor


Dress and sartorial metaphors saturate Pamela (1740) and the appropriately named Pamela vogue.1 Not only is the heroine’s progress signalled by her changing garb, but Richardson’s work also transformed sentiment and the sentimental novel into fashionable commodities. Contestations of the novel’s meaning were and are frequently located in the variously perceived analogy or disjunction between the heroine’s physical gentility and her inner self. In these competing narratives, Pamela’s appearance, first in the garb of her deceased mistress and subsequently in her homespun gown and petticoat, is symbolic either of her nobility of sentiment or of her desire to manipulate others. The heroine’s body and her analogous body of letters are read as powerful signifiers of selfhood of which B. must divest Pamela before he can fully possess her. Readers of the novel have persistently repeated B.’s trials of the heroine by engaging in what James Grantham Turner has described as an apparently ‘endless circle of enclosing and displaying, divesting and investing, an imaginary body’.2 The art of reading Pamela and judging the efficacy of its moral project, it seems, lies in correctly reading Pamela’s clothes and their relationship to her inner character.


Fairy Tale Moral Worth Moral Legibility Moral Project Fine Clothes 
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  1. 1.
    Reference to the phenomenon as a ‘vogue’ has been common since Alan McKillop’s Samuel Richardson, Printer and Novelist (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1936), p. 45, although this is only one of many terms used by McKillop to describe the events following the novel’s publication.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    James Grantham Turner, ‘Novel Panic: Picture and Performance in the Reception of Richardson’s Pamela’, Representations, 48 (1994), p. 92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Tassie Gwilliam, Samuel Richardson’s Fictions of Gender (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 15.Google Scholar
  4. Other studies which devote attention to dress in the novel include Carey McIntosh, ‘Pamela’s Clothes’, ELH, 35 (1968) 75–83;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Caryn Chaden, ‘Pamela’s Identity Sewn in Clothes’, in Eighteenth-Century Women and the Arts, ed. Frederick M. Keener and Susan E. Lorsch (New York, West Point, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1988), pp. 110–18;Google Scholar
  6. and Patricia Brückmann, ‘Clothes of Pamela’s Own: Shopping at B-Hall’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 25: 2 (2001) 201–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 4.
    Robert W. Jones, Gender and The Formation of Taste in Eighteenth-Century Britain: The Analysis of Beauty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). See particularly pp. 206–10.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    William B. Warner, Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684–1750 (Berkeley, LA and London: University of California Press, 1998), p. 176.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel, 1660–1740 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 224. McKeon uses the phrase in a discussion of the sixteenth-century text Jack of Newbery (1597) to describe a draper who has fallen on hard times, but who increases his wealth and eventually becomes sheriff after receiving the charitable gift of a suit of new clothes from the hero, Jack.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Samuel Richardson, Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded, ed. Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 3. All quotations are taken from this edition (a reprint of the two-volume first edition) unless otherwise stated. Subsequent references will be given, parenthetically, in the text.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Aileen Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1715–1789 (London: B. T. Batsford, 1984), p. 61.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Samuel Richardson, Clarissa or the History of a Young Lady, ed. Angus Ross (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), p. 966.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Diana De Marly, Working Dress: A History of Occupational Clothing (London: B. T. Batsford, 1986), p. 47.Google Scholar
  14. See also Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class [1899] (New York: Dover Publications, 1994), in which Veblen argues that the demonstration of conspicuous leisure, evident in the impracticability of garments to the rigours of labouring-class life, was an imperative in nineteenth-century fashion.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    The importance of servants in potentially securing the future of the English textile industries in the face of the influx of comparatively cheap and fashionable imported cottons and silks was an important political issue in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In 1689 a Bill demanding that servants should wear felt hats of English manufacture was only narrowly defeated. For a full account of the hostility towards imported fabrics, see Beverly Lemire, Fashion’s Favourite: The Cotton Trade and the Consumer in Britain, 1660–1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 3–42.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
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  17. 18.
    J. C. Flügel, The Psychology of Clothes, 2nd edn (London: Hogarth Press, 1940),Google Scholar
  18. see particularly pp. 15–24; and Georg Simmel, ‘Fashion, Adornment and Style’, Simmel on Culture, ed. David Firsby and Mike Featherstone (London and New Delhi: Sage, 1997).Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Samuel Richardson, The Apprentice’s Vade Mecum (California: University of California, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1975), p. v.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    Phillis Cunnington, Costume of Household Servants from the Middle Ages to 1900 (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1974), p. 148.Google Scholar
  21. 29.
    Eliza Haywood, A Present for a Servant-Maid, reprinted in Selected Works ofEliza Haywood, ed. Alexander Petit (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2000), I, p. 241.Google Scholar
  22. 35.
    For a discussion of the hierarchical implications of needlework, see Rozsika Parker, The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine (London: The Women’s Press, 1996). The social implications of needlework are discussed further in Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  23. 36.
    Sheila C. Conboy, ‘Fabric and Fabrication in Richardson’s Pamela’, ELH, 54: 1 (1987), p. 84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 38.
    Samuel Richardson, Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded, 4 vols (London: Printed for S. Richardson, 1742), IV, pp. 114–19. The ‘walking double entendre’ that is Pamela at the masquerade is explored by Terry Castle in ‘The Recamivalisation of Pamela: Richardson’s “Pamela”, Part 2’, Masquerade and Civilisation, pp. 130–76.Google Scholar
  25. 39.
    For the history of Quaker dress, see Joan Kendall, ‘The Development of a Distinctive Form of Quaker Dress’, Costume, 19 (1985), pp. 58–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 45.
    Henry Fielding, An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, reprinted in The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr Abraham Adams, ed. Douglas Brooks (London, New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 344.Google Scholar
  27. 47.
    Robert Markley, ‘Sentimentality as Performance: Shaftesbury, Sterne, and the Theatrics of Virtue’, in The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, ed. Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown (London and New York: Methuen, 1987), p. 220. Chaden in ‘Pamela’s Identity Sewn in Clothes’, likewise argues that Pamela’s ‘complex … class affiliation’ (p. 110), as symbolised by her various garments, undermines the novel’s ‘moral resonance’ (p. 116).Google Scholar
  28. 48.
    Ann Louise Kibbie, ‘Sentimental Properties: Pamela and Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure’, ELH, 58: 3 (1991), p. 561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 53.
    Fred Davis, Fashion, Culture and Identity (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 5.Google Scholar
  30. 55.
    The possible connection between Pamela and Griselda is noted by Margaret Anne Doody in A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 64.Google Scholar
  31. 64.
    Samuel Richardson, Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded, ed. Peter Sabor (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), p. 229. This edition is based on the 1801 edition.Google Scholar
  32. 65.
    Works focusing on the engravings and their troubling performativity include Marcia Allentuck, ‘Narration and Illustration: The Problem of Richardson’s Pamela’, Philological Quarterly, 51 (1972) 874–86;Google Scholar
  33. and, more recently, James Grantham Turner, ‘Novel Panic’ and Stephen Raynie, ‘Hayman and Gravelot’s Anti-Pamela Designs for Richardson’s Octavo Edition of Pamela’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 23:3 (1999) 77–93.Google Scholar
  34. 69.
    Eaves and Kimpel have argued that Anti-Pamela was an effort to ‘capitalise on Pamela’s popularity [but] had little connection beyond the title’ (Samuel Richardson, p. 130). Mary Anne Schofield divorces Anti-Pamela from Richardson’s novel entirely, by placing it in a discussion of prostitution in Haywood’s romance fiction. Mary Anne Schofield, ‘“Descending Angels”: Salubrious Sluts and Pretty Prostitutes in Haywood’s Fiction’, in Fetter’d or Free?: British Women Novelists, 1670–1815, ed. Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski (Athens and London: Ohio University Press, 1987), pp. 186–200.Google Scholar
  35. A recent exception to this dominant account is given by Catherine Ingrassia, in Authorship, Commerce, and Gender in Early Eighteenth-Century England: A Culture of Paper Credit (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), in which Ingrassia reclaims Haywood’s work as one which seeks to question the didactic and generic conventions Richardson’s novel established. See pp. 111–16.Google Scholar
  36. 70.
    Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. Ian Campbell Ross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 59.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jennie Batchelor 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennie Batchelor
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EnglishUniversity of KentUK

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