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Primary Source of the Month
“The Story of Pamela,” plate 9, engraved by L. Truchy after a painting by Joseph Highmore, London, England, 1745. From the collections of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
“The Story of Pamela” is a series of twelve prints engraved by L. Truchy based on paintings by Joseph Highmore. The prints illustrate the story presented in Pamela or, Virtue Rewarded, a 1740 novel by Samuel Richardson. In plate 9 (shown above), Pamela and her master are married in a private ceremony.
Often regarded as the first true novel in English, Pamela created a sensation when first published, and became the bestselling novel of its time. The story follows the life of Pamela, a virtuous servant girl in England who valiantly resists the advances of her mistress’s son, “Mr. B.” Pamela is sixteen and though better educated than many other girls in her social class, seems woefully overmatched in her battle to defend her honor. She manages, however, to successfully fends off her master’s advances until he proposes marriage and she accepts. Much of the story unfolds through Pamela’s letters to her parents, and the details reveal the complex relationships between the lower and gentry classes and social power in the eighteenth century.
While the Pamela story of a servant girl and her gentry class suitor presents a narrow picture of male/female relationships in the 1700s, it does offer a historically accurate account of a woman’s position during courtship and in marriage. Even though Mr. B’s constant advances make the courtship mostly one-sided, Pamela is the one ultimately in control during the courtship, accepting only marriage in exchange for yielding to him.
This article was written by Greg Timmons, freelance writer and education consultant, Missoula, Montana.