Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

The Pamela Craze

ENGL 245.401
also offered as: GSWS 245
MW 2:00-3:30

In 1740, a successful London printer named 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 – marriage to a wealthy man – 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, with emphasis on works by Richardson's contemporaries in the mid-eighteenth century. Starting with the novel itself and with Richardson’s defenses of it, we’ll look at the multitude of “anti-Pamelas” that crowded eighteenth-century publication lists, and at voices that have sounded since to praise or attack the novel, or to engage in other kinds of responses.


Course meetings will be held in the Rare Books and Manuscripts department (6th floor) of Van Pelt Library. 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 efficiently and critically (e.g., electronic databases; rare book libraries at Penn and elsewhere). With mentoring from Digital Humanities specialists at Van Pelt and with access to data currently being created in the Early Novel Database, students will be introduced to aspects of computationally-assisted literary study (i.e., “Digital Humanities”). No previous experience is required for the DH exercises we will carry out.  Requirements include in-class presentations, a paper abstract, and a final research paper of about 12 pages. Students from disciplines other than English are welcome.


fulfills requirements