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The Pamela Controversy

ENGL 345.401
instructor(s):
R 1:30-4:30

In 1740, Samuel Richardson published what turned out to be one of the most influential and controversial novels ever written, Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded. It tells the story of a servant girl who repeatedly resists the sexual overtures of her powerful "master," Mr. B., and of the supposedly happy ending that her virtuous behavior eventually earns. The questions about power, class, gender, virtue, and meaning that Pamela made visible sparked an enormous amount of writing in its day and ever since. Was Pamela really virtuous, or did she manipulate Mr. B's desire for her in order to gain wealth and social position? Who is the agent of the seduction in Pamela, and who its object? What is the nature of Pamela's "virtue," and what is the quality of her "reward?" Is women's virtue different from men's? Is marriage necessarily a form of economic exchange, even of prostitution for women? These are some of the questions that Pamela raised for readers of the eighteenth century, and that continue to this day to be debated in writing surrounding this controversial work.

In this advanced seminar, we will examine the universe of writings that have emerged since 1740 in response to Pamela. Starting with the novel itself and with Richardson's own defenses of it, we'll look at the multitude of "anti-Pamelas" that crowded 18th-century publication lists, and the critical voices that have sounded since, either to praise or to attack the novel. Emphasis will be placed on independent library research and on the recovery and interpretation of eighteenth-century texts. Students will learn to use sophisticated research tools -- electronic databases, microfilm collections, and rare book libraries, for example - efficiently and critically.