Archive | June, 2014

Innocent Until Proven Guilty…

24 Jun





Innocent Until Proven Guilty: The Wanton Disregard for Political Correctness in the Novel of the Eighteenth Century



All novels to some degree are reflections of the period in which they were written; hour glasses filled with the social norms and oriented using the moral compass of the day. Time capsules, which when read, reveal more about the life of the authors than in some instances the characters in the novels themselves. The beauty of the novel is that they allow one to connect with and even briefly coexist, whilst experiencing what it was to be alive – in this particular instance – the 18th century. When one turns the pages, one clasps the hands of the author and sees the world through their eyes, hence the importance of studying literature and evaluating its context. The novel unlike government stylized, common-core suggested reading, is an unadulterated, non-politicized, cornucopia of human experience. Therefore they invariably open a window on social, political and religious views which aren’t necessarily those of are so-called enlightened society.

               The classic case in point would be the Jewish question in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Modern critics are too eager to ascribe anti-Semitism to a piece that was written in the late 16th century when, due to their banishment by Edward 1 in 1290 and until their return until 1657, relatively few Jews resided in England. Stephen Greenblatt summarizes this succinctly when he writes, “it is not the hatred of the Jew, but the idea of the Jew that is paramount.”(P.326) Just as young English children are told tales of wolves to frighten them into obeisance, wolves haven’t existed in the British Isles for thousands of years. By using the Jew as a social pariah or grotesque the same point is made. Consequently the views of those whom we read are not representative of modern thinking and so we should not judge them according to contemporary morality.

               The novels “Robinson Crusoe” and “Pamela” both contain attitudes which aren’t necessarily typical of modern thinking, but which offer valuable insight into 18th century mindset. Just because their values are not representative of our own, does not make them immoral nor wanting of our modern condemnation. By comparing and contrasting their historical perspective it’s possible to separate modern sensibilities and analyze the archaic values that help us to appreciate and understand what it was to be alive in the 18th century.

               Defoe throughout his novel addresses slavery in a matter of fact manner that doesn’t suggest a personal abhorrence to his contemporary readership. Slavery during the 18th century was an integral part of the Triangular Trade, adopted by Britain throughout its colonies and therefore a key concept in the practice of Mercantilism. Through this system, a nation is able to dictate and control its own resources by obfuscating the balance of trade and creating immense wealth: hence the growth of the British Empire and the acceptance of slavery. Crusoe early in the novel is aware of this system and ships out to Africa to exchange glass beads and trinkets with African natives who through ignorance, will exchange gold and jewels for items of little worth. Crusoe sees nothing wrong in this and understands that the rape of nations is simply the way of the world; the way things are done. He describes in detail his dealings with the natives and after making a huge profit determines to go again. His second voyage however, isn’t as successful and he finds himself enslaved. This, Defoe, clearly finds abhorrent – a White, Christian, Englishman in the hands of fiendish Moors! One can only imagine the sharp intake of breath and the horror of an 18th century reader upon discovering this. This suggests, and quite rightly so from the historical perspective, that it’s acceptable for the English to enslave, but not vice-versa. As acceptable as slavery was during this period, Defoe offers his readership a moral dilemma. How can it be correct to enslave certain peoples but not others; a lesson in economics perhaps, and an example of the imbalance of human trade?

               Richardson plays on a similar theme and describes the gulf between those born to serve and those destined to languish. Rather than the traditional epithets of color, religion or nationality Richardson uses the class system to determine who is to be enslaved and who isn’t. Given the accepted practice of indentured servitude, one can understand why Defoe would’ve held such ambivalent attitudes towards human subjugation, common as it was in his own country. There is an allusion here to a natural order that determines where one is placed, both in society and the world at large: the unwritten laws of class distinction to which populations adhere without complaint. Pamela herself is an attractive, uneducated female, taken from an impoverished agricultural family, to serve in a country pile. No longer forced to survive, she’s suffered to live amongst the gentry, and although enjoying some of the benefits of their environs, can never hope to be part of them. Pamela knows her place and despite the manner in which she’s treated is grateful for her position; similar to the gratitude of Friday on Crusoe’s island. Despite long hours, poor, if any pay and the wandering hands of her rapacious master, she puts her faith in her own homespun values and endures knowing her own worth despite her low birth,my Soul is of equal Importance with the Soul of a Princess; though my Quality is inferior to that of the meanest Slave.”(p.158)Instead of chains, her incarceration is enforced through the reality of starvation and abject poverty. Forced to work long hours, sleep in communal beds and to be fed on the scraps from her master’s table, hers is a life of permanent drudgery. Compelled to endure her fate, she readily accepts her rank in the social pecking order.

               Distinctions between races are frequently voiced by Crusoe and human worth is a persistent theme throughout Defoe’s novel. After Crusoe’s escape from the Moor, with the help of his Black comrade Xury, he’s eventually rescued and taken to Brazil where he becomes a plantation owner. Having only the goods carried with him in the row boat in which he escaped, he sells these to the provident ship’s captain in order to garner capital. Defoe lists the chattel, knowing as he does the worth of everything and the value of nothing, and includes Crusoe’s fellow escapee. Despite having endured a difficult voyage together and suffered at the hands of their slave master, Defoe is not an author who succumbs to a sea-change. The boy in the boat is simply regarded as an object of trade and is immediately sold back into slavery. Crusoe has few qualms about this and quite happily exchanges Xury for a sum of gold.“He offer’d me also 60 Pieces of Eight more for my Boy Xury, which I was loath to take, not that I was not willing to let the Captain have him, but I was very loath to sell the poor Boy’s Liberty, who had assisted me so faithfully in procuring my own.”(p.30) Not only does he profit from the transaction, but is pleased with himself at having met such a generous and affable man as the captain. One has to ponder the young boy’s fate, who’s promised his freedom after a period of ten years servitude but only if he amends his heathen ways and turns to God. Crusoe quickly forgets his heinous act and counts himself quite fortunate in having had, “so much worth about him,” (p.32) despite his desperate financial situation. Once safely arrived in Brazil and embarked upon a planter’s life, Crusoe soon realizes, or rather Defoe does, that in order to advance his wealth he must have help. Consequently a Negro slave is purchased as well as a European servant to assist in Crusoe’s enrichment, “… in the Advancement of my Plantation; for the first thing I did, I bought me a Negro Slave, and a European Servant also.”(p.33) The distinction is plain, the worth of each individual obvious by the language used to describe them. To imagine this from a historical viewpoint as reprehensible is difficult, as Defoe is simply using common parlance and describing the nature of quotidian business. There is clearly a distinction, and Defoe has no qualms when depicting the difference.

               Richardson also understands the worth of humanity and plays on this in his characterization of Pamela. Being but a poor servant girl, her virtue is worthless and to ruin her wouldn’t be the end of her world, nor considered a crime as she herself knows only too well, “O how can wicked men seem so steady and untouched with such black hearts, while poor innocents stand like malefactors before them!” (p.147) Rape is as fluid in the text of Richardson, as slavery is in Defoe’s. Pamela is her master’s property, both in body and spirit. Should he choose to have her against her will – according to his prerogative and social position – Pamela should quietly acquiesce and be eternally grateful for the attention showered upon her. After all, doesn’t the master tell her that he will enrich and house her if only she will play along? By allowing Pamela to assume the morality of her betters, he adds sexual tension to his novel. In Richardson’s gentrified world, a ruined lady of substance would be a scandal, where as a sexual relationship outside of marriage for a servant girl nothing more than a fling. Pamela knows her own worth, because Richardson ascribes it to her. Subjected to the continued harassment and unsolicited attentions of her betters, Pamela has no recourse. She can’t appeal for justice as these positions are held by men of a similar nature to her master and cannot possibly dream of defaming her master for fear of imprisonment. Unlike Xury, who’s offered freedom through religious transformation, Pamela’s only escape is to surrender to her master’s desires. Pamela endures physical torment, kidnapping, incarceration and sexual humiliation and yet Richardson, similar to Defoe, describes her troubles as though they were the most natural thing in the world. He offers a sympathetic protagonist but only after allowing her – in the vein of “a willing suspension of disbelief” – gentrified manners. Pamela’s worth is considered – just as the value of Crusoe’s future plantation workers were defined in Defoe’s language – when she’s subjected to the slave market inspection by the ladies of the house. Keen to admire and view her beauty they paw and appraise her and ultimately, despite her status, condescend to her obvious beauty with proviso, “Be sure don’t let people’s telling you, you are pretty, puff you up; for you did not make yourself, and so can have no praise due to you for it.” (p.32) Coming from nothing as she does, Pamela simply knows her place. Richardson is in no way apologetic for his portrayal of Pamela and intimately understands the nature of the world and simply reverses reality to create his story. There’s no condemnation, only a matter-of-fact narrative that expects the reader to recognize the Juxtaposition of his characters.

               Rational subjugation by Defoe is evidenced through Crusoe’s’ experience of the natives on his island. There is an immediate, although correct assumption that the island populations consists of cannibals and war like peoples. Without ever having met them, Crusoe knows that he must defend himself and kill them if he can. Crusoe fears the native canoes and yet welcomes the European ship. His assumptions are congruous with modern attitudes and so not surprisingly Defoe plays on the fear of Western ignorance. After meeting Friday and taking up his White man’s burden, Crusoe prepares to divest his captive of his culture, and subjugate him to his own. Crusoe is duty bound to introduce him to Christ and even to teach him God’s language – English! Unsurprisingly Crusoe’s didacticism indicates the thoughts of his author. Natural selection has predetermined that Crusoe should be defined as Master and Friday as his slave,“I likewise taught him to say Master, and then let him know, that was to be my Name.”(p.174) In Defoe’s eyes how could it possibly be otherwise? Although a bond grows between the men, Friday is never seen as his equal and the hierarchical definitions of master and servant endure throughout the novel.

               Richardson similarly portrays this trait in the attitudes of the servants towards their master. No matter his crimes they refuse to see him as a bad person and even defend him despite his heinous quest to deflower Pamela. When asked point blank to defend her honor against the master, Mrs. Jewkes denies her and chooses Mr. B’s side, not only as a matter of professional survival, but through deference to her own social position. When Pamela is kidnapped and carried away in the carriage to be incarcerated against her will, it’s a fellow servant that performs the task, not the master. Even the poor tenant farmers will not recognize their master’s fault and refuse to help her despite her pleas. Most disturbingly of all when the master tries to rape her, it’s her fellow servant who holds her down whilst he attempts to mount her. As Pamela – think Richardson – remarks, “…for my master, bad as I have thought him, is not half so bad as this woman.–To be sure she must be an atheist!”(p.176) In each instance it’s her own class that thwarts her not the gentry, knowing as they do – as Richardson does- the natural order of things.

               Even in the modern era it’s difficult to envision a radically different society to the one we are accustomed, and so typically in order to depict advanced civilizations we’re offered upgrades of own easily recognizable state–of–art technology. It’s hard to “look into the seeds of time, and say which grain
will grow and which will not…” (Macbeth 1.3.60) and therefore one must elaborate on that which one already knows. The crafting of a story has to be believable and so by adding contemporary sensibilities, one always contaminates with a germ of modernity. Sherlock Holmes bases his brilliance on Victorian technology. Star Wars epics fight their battles using lasers. The present is inescapable and therefore the attitudes of the day are always endemic to the writing process.         The novels “Robinson Crusoe” and “Pamela” both contain attitudes which aren’t necessarily typical of modern thinking, but which offer valuable insight into 18th century mindset. Eighteenth century novelists wrote what they knew and crafted their stories according to their own world view. Just because their values are not representative of our own, does not make them immoral nor wanting of our modern condemnation.

William Blake – Hell’s Printing Press

17 Jun


William Blake

    There is a dichotomy associated with the “Printing Press of Hell” that suggests both cause and effect with regards to the acceptance of proscribed religious belief. In the first reading we’re offered an image of the minds of men being formed and filed into libraries; iterations of humanity molded by generations past, who’ve simple accepted that which they’ve been told with unquestioning obeisance. This concept of universal subservience and the image of “mind forged manacles” is extremely potent, and Blake appears to deride the insidious nature of accepted doctrine. Therefore one could understand the Press as a generic branding of the human species in order to insure conformity, the suppression of personal energy, and the prevention of discovery of the true self.

           It is this idea upon which he expounds in a “Marriage between Heaven and Hell”: the restrained desires of the supplicant, as oppose to the boundless energy of the free self. The Church of Blake’s day required passive subservience and so, by submitting to the will of God there was a repression of the internal self. Blake’s caverns are reminiscent of Plato’s analogy, that those shackled within the cave were only aware of shadows, and did not understand the true nature of the world outside of their limited experience. One can recognize this in Blake’s description of hierarchical, diabolical creation, an allusion perhaps to another Eden? To understand his simile one has to look no further than the reintroduction of the Catholic Church by Napoleon after the French revolution, to perceive the controlling nature of public worship – “the opiate of the masses” – and the benefits of organized faith in maintaining the status quo.

               The printing press may also be a personal reference to himself and to those like him. He parodies himself as a devil sweating over a flat rock, an allusion to him, sweating over his copper etchings. Blake is the Satan, the adversary or obstructer of the message. His writings conflict with those of the Church. He understands that as enlightened beings, we fail to recognize our true gifts due to the coercive nature of endemic religion. Blake was a committed opponent to the Church’s dogmatic approach to religion – “the enslavement of the vulgar” – and wrote in order that we might free ourselves, by thinking for ourselves. His writings are clearly radical in their anti-disestablishment prose style and – no doubt – had he truly been recognized in his own lifetime, would have ruffled more feathers than he did. It is only in retrospect that we come to understand Blake’s enlightened view, which may be seen as synonymous with many of the ancient Eastern religions, and even in the pantheistic poetry of the Romantics who followed him.

               Consequently “The Printing Press of Hell” can be regarded from two different aspects. The first, as an allegory for ignorance and an example of unenlightened acceptance, the second, as a forge of dynamic reason and human energy, where one is able free the spirit and escape dogmatic oppression. Although Blake sees himself as a Satan, his books aren’t to be found in Hell, but rather stacked on the shelves on the other side of the “doors of perception.”








11 Jun





  Although renowned as the first Gothic novel “The castle of Otranto” may also account for the first situational comedy or perhaps even soap drama.  Concussed with a myriad of extreme scenarios, absent family members, long lost fathers, would be rapists, giants, ghosts and counts masquerading as priests the reader is led on a rolling coaster of ups and downs. A Gothic family feud that blends horror with inadvertent humor, in a home the Adam’s Family would be proud to own. To call Walpole’s work naïve would be unfair, as it’s only from the promontory of experience that one can espouse to review his work as such. Having no contemporary comparison in this particular genre, we have to review the novel as an original work and Walpole himself as the God Father of Goth. That being said the spirit that haunts this particular feast is that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

               Walpole without doubt has taken Shakespeare’s work and adapted it to his own use. In the classic sense of good writers steal and poor writers borrow – not unlike the playwright himself – he molds what is ostensibly a play into the modern medium of the novel. The author overwrites the play with his own ideas and succeeds in creating an original work based on a more familiar foundation. Through closer examination of Walpole’s novel one can draw direct relationships between his story structure and that of “Hamlet,” and see that rather than plagiarize, Walpole has cleverly adapted. Given the popularity of his novel and the reviews it received at its publishing it’s unlikely that his audience saw fault in what he did. In the traditions of both Chaucer and Shakespeare, Walpole draws from established pedigree, and through the use of allusion and trope, embellishes accordingly to create a successful story.

               The most obvious “Hamlet” allusion is the visitation of the spirit. Manfred, whilst berating Isabella and trying to convince her to marry him after his son’s death – to guarantee lineage – a ghost suddenly appears. A specter mysteriously drops down from a painting, “quit its panel, and descend[ed] on the floor with a grave and melancholy air,” (p.24) walks across the floor, turns and then beckons for Manfred to follow him. Manfred does so saying, “Lead on I will follow thee to the gulf of perdition,” (p.25) only for the ghost to disappear into a locked room. The scene is without doubt taken from the battlements of Elsinore where Hamletmeets his dead father. After being warned of the ghost’s presence Hamletdecides to hold the watch and see for himself that which his guards have experienced. The ghost of his father is a mighty, forbidding figure, dressed in armor – allusions perhaps to the massive helmet in the courtyard and the Giant seen by the servants within the house. Walpole’s ghost clumsily initiates foreshadowing for his own novel, just as the watchmen on Elsinore’s battlements regard the specter as a warning of impending doom for Denmark.

               The confused, comic scene in the crypt when Manfred confronts his servants who’ve seen something, “a site, your highness would not believe your eyes,” (p.31) but can’t bring themselves to talk of it, are direct allusions to Shakespeare’s watchman. Having witnessed what they believe to be Hamlet’s father resurrected they remain unsure of what to do, and so invite Horatio to the battlements to attest to their sighting. This is an enduring and almost nonsensical episode in Walpole’s novel when, after trying to recapture uncooperative Isabella, the footsteps of his servants are heard running down the hall way with an urgent message. They’ve seen something terrible, “A giant…clad in armor [and]… his foot [and] leg… are as large as the helmet in the courtyard,” (p.33) in the great hall and can hardly bring themselves to speak of it. Again, one is reminded of Hamlet’s ghost supposed appearance, and the need to verify. Manfred isn’t convinced, thinks his servants fools, and decides to check for himself. In what is almost comic relief we are led to an empty hall where there’s no sign – even after checking behind the paintings – of the giant: the only marks of his passing are the unreliable witness statements and of course the unforgettable, gigantic helmet in the courtyard.

               The Incest question is also reminiscent of “Hamlet”. His father having been murdered, his mother quickly remarries his brother. Hamlet sees this as an incestuous relationship, an allusion that Shakespeare himself probably took this from the dramatic divorce of Henry VIII from his dead brother’s wife, Catherine of Aragon. Manfred uses the fact that Hippolita is a distant cousin to try to persuade the Father/Count that he is incestuously married and therefore the legitimacy of his divorce is righteous.

               The list goes on and on, and Walpole’s novel is a compendium of Hamlet’s own action packed adventures that include sword fights, death of Ophelia/ Matilda, reappearance of the ghost to Frederic/ Hamlet, poison, bumbling servants, questions of legitimacy, ownership, lineage, family feud, death and even Fortinbras’s arrival at the castle gates in the shape of Frederic, Isabella’s father. Despite that Walpole has taken so much from Shakespeare it doesn’t alter the fact that the novel reads well, is entertaining, and if nothing else memorable, and so one can almost forgive him for wholesale theft. His descriptive quality and ability to create imagery is outstanding, and the tale of Hamlet, a familiarity that simply adds a recognition factor. As the reader is led into the unfamiliar there is a sense of having heard the story somewhere before, a vague memory of having visited Otranto in the distant past. There’s no doubt that Walpole although the initiate of the Gothic genre – just as we all do – needed a little help from his friends. There is however, a lingering taint and one could almost suggest that something is rotten in “The Castle of Otranto.”

Goth-Cred and The Castle of Otranto

9 Jun

images VVVVV              

Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto – 17th century imagery and the birth of the Novel.

There is an epiphany that quite clearly occurs in the historical development of the novel that the “Castle of Otranto” embodies. Not only does it herald a specific genre, the necessary stock figures and applicable theme-specific scenarios, it also introduces the reader to something far more exciting. Rather than a two dimensional didactic, or even the repetitious monotone of an epistolary – where one is forced to endure and experience at second hand, the episodic adventures of another’s life – it is instead, a catalyst for imagination.

               Otranto through imagery engenders pure escapism, allowing the reader on a subjective level to visualize and experience the imagination of its author. Walpole creates a first-person-shooter account that puts the reader in the fore-front of the action; a feast for the mind that interprets Walpole’s written word into a spectrum of colorful form. Although one could dwell on Walpole’s innovative choice of subject, plot development and characterization one would miss that which makes it such a seminal work. It is the development of atmosphere that metamorphoses this from a simple work of fiction into an entertaining cerebral experience. The reader is no longer just an end-user but rather an amenable participant, whose ability to dispense with reality makes for such an enduring and enjoyable experience.

                Walpole’s novel although published in 1764 is still available in print and being enjoyed by contemporary audiences. Instead of reading under sufferance the novel engenders one to turn the page, whilst willing the characters to succeed or fail. It’s the participation of readers themselves that transforms a printed page into a story, and the imagery and atmosphere within the pages that turns the printed characters into a memorable experience. There is a dimension to Otranto that goes beyond the printed word that is 4th dimensional, allowing one to submit to what Coleridge would have termed “the wiling suspension of disbelief,” but which Walpole more succinctly terms “…the air of the miraculous.” (p.6) Just as designer Brook Stevens put the art into everyday items such as steam-irons and Robert Mapplethorpe turned the advertising genre of commercial photography into high art, Walpole does the same with the novel. There is an immersion quality to his work that allows one to soak into his thought process and actually experience that which he’s trying to describe. It evokes Cinema- Scope realism that wasn’t apparent in Richardson’s writing and a believability that was glaringly absent from Defoe’s. Rather than watching the unfolding action, the reader is placed in a position alongside his characters. One doesn’t just read Walpole, one participates.

               The Castle of Otranto – although apparently fictitious – is an immured stone-edifice, filled with circular staircases, hidden grottos and studded oak doorways. It’s a, “between branchy…,” creeper clad, “…rook racked, and river rounded,” – to quote Manley-Hopkins – seat of incestuous aristocracy, filled with the ghosts and secrets of an ancient family. It’s the intensity of imagery that Walpole creates that makes his story so enduring. Although he teeters between comedy, horror, the ridiculous, and even a retelling of “Hamlet,” it’s his solid descriptive voice that makes the novel memorable. One is literally led through the castle as though the author is describing perhaps a place once visited, and to which he returns throughout: a castle created for the mind of the reader in which to contain his story. Although his characters are a tad underdeveloped, it’s the environs and the experience they have whilst in them, that brings the story to life. One can literally hear the slam of doors, the steps on descending stairwells and hear the wind rattle through the casements. One can sense the gloom and feel the damp oozing up through the walls as one creeps through the gloom to assist in the escape of Isabella or to catch a glimpse of the Giant. Walpole, through vivid description, takes us by the hand and leads us through the streets of his creation.

               The escape of Isabella from the unsolicited advances of Manfred is a keen example of this. Her flight to the bottom of the “principal staircase” in preference to the “guarded locked gates”, in an attempt to access  the “subterraneous passage” she recollects, that will afford escape from the vaults of the castle to the church of Saint Nicholas – that runs contiguous apparently –in order to gain sanctuary at its alter.(p.26) Seizing a lamp hung at the bottom of the stairs to light her way through the gloom – we imagine the crash of shoes on stone and the hiss of flame – as she hastens to the lower realms of the castle, “hollowed out into several intricate cloisters.”(p.26) Subjected to awful silences, door shaking blasts of wind  and grating rusty hinges, that can be heard throughout the subterranean gloom, we stand with Isabella, our breast heaving, as we attempt to ascertain the pursuit of the dreaded Manfred.(p.26)

               Although one must assume that Walpole doesn’t have experience with the spirit world, former Counts masquerading as priests, or even perhaps itinerant Giants, he does have a plan. In the lucid explication of the route taken by the fleeing Isabella he takes us to a location where he has undoubtedly visited. His memory of the castle and its environs lends credence to his tale, and complimented with his dynamic prose adheres to the old adage of writing what you know. Because of Walpole’s crafted narration “The Castle of Otranto,” although a fantastical tale, is made almost believable. His rich descriptions, vivid imagery and sense of timing, create what might be considered a modern novel. It was the development of the descriptive scenario coupled with ornamented language that undoubtedly turned the epistolary and picaresque novels of Walpole’s day, into the modern codices we now enjoy on our bookshelves.


Lights-Camera -Action – PAMELA / RICHARDSON

7 Jun


 The origins of the Adventure genre found in the eighteenth century novel “Pamela” by Samuel Richardson 

   The modern action adventure story owes much to Richardson’s “Pamela.” With a plot that shocks and entertains, and with rip-roaring action throughout, “Pamela” is a riot of lust, suspicion, and double dealing. Every facet of modern literary intrigue can be found within its pages, and it’s likely that contemporary novels all owe a degree of provenance to it.  “The Riddle of the Sands”, an early twentieth century novel by Erskine Childers, is often acclaimed as the first espionage novel of modern times and yet, many of the stories twists and turns can be traced to “Pamela.” Incidents of secret meetings, hidden messages, near misses, daring escapes, and mysterious comings and goings are all imagined by Richardson, who proves through his novel to be a patriarch of the genre. Pamela although not the first female action-adventure-hero of eighteenth century literature, is definitely one of its finest. A young woman, she must guard her chastity and endure impossible – if not improbable – situations despite seemingly insurmountable odds, using only common sense, guile, and home spun morality. Pamela beseeches the Almighty to save her in her moment of need, “… Angels and saints and all the hosts of heaven defend me,” (p.63) but her bootless cries fall on a deaf heaven, and so is forced to fend for herself.

               Richardson recognized that a novel should encourage the reader to read further; what today we would call a page-turner. Rather than a didactic epistolary he chooses to suspend the reader’s sense of disbelief to the extent that the line between credulity and incredulity is continuously crossed. Just when one imagines that the story has been told and that the book is finished, a short, sharp, shift, in gear takes one deeper into a fresh sub-plot. According to Graemme Shimmin author of “A kill in the Morning” – an espionage novel of some renown – “in order to be memorable, an intrigue novel must contain the following six sub-genres.”(Shimmin)

1. Stunning opening

2. Dynamic protagonist

3. Realism

4. Action

5. Cliff hanger scenarios

6. Startling twists.


               Whether or not Shimmin is aware of Richardson’s work is unclear however, he describes “Pamela” to a tee. Richardson’s novel embodies each of these categories, demanding as it does the reader’s attention at every line.

               The novel opens with a young, beautiful, serving girl at the death bed of her mistress. Her world is about to crash about her ears, as without her lady’s patronage she must leave the luxury of a substantial country-pile and return to her impoverished parents and the misery of a country hovel. Although accustomed to mixing with her betters and trained by her mistress in the arts of high-society, she’s doomed to endure a world of rural mediocrity. Fortunately there’s a reprieve. Upon her death bed the Lady of the house insists upon her continued service under the protection of her son, whom she asks to take care of her. The foreshadowing of a new benefactor after the death of an original is enough to alert the seasoned reader. Pamela, as we can guess, is about to go from a happy ordered existence into one of intrigue and danger. The naivety of the girl plays a huge role as unbeknownst to her Mr. B, unlike his dying mother, does not have her best interests at heart. After giving her a sum of money he tells her to be a, “… a good girl, faithful and diligent,” and that, “… he would be a friend to [her] for [his] mother’s sake.”(p.43)

               Pamela is a dynamic protagonist whose natural beauty and purity of mind are her fatal flaws. Determined to defend her chastity at all costs, she outwits myriad intrigues and manages dexterously to extricate herself from desperate scenarios despite, in some instances, over whelming odds. She’s a character with moxy, who’s unafraid to speak her mind despite her lowly station, and who’ll defend to the very best of her Christian sensibilities that to which she clings so dearly. Her ability to think clearly under pressure, hiding her correspondence and managing to escape the machinations of a master with a penchant for hiding in closets is worthy of “007” himself. When overcome by impossible odds, or just when we think she is about to succumb, Pamela relies on her innate female ability to faint at will. A necessary skill she’s honed to perfection.

               Pamela, having to extricate herself from the wretched advances of the lascivious Mr.B, is an exceptionally believable character. Given the plight of eighteenth century women, the disparate societal gap – both educationally and financially – between the upper and lower classes, is well documented. Countless novels have been written about indentured servitude and consequently Richardson doesn’t take us into a realm of disbelief, but rather offers us a quotidian drama that we can readily accept. A young woman pestered by a man of higher status is conceivable. Pamela is an every-woman who crosses the boundaries between the lives of the rich and poor, and who gives us insight into both. She’s our eyes and ears as she introduces us to the inequalities of hierarchical society, where everybody, except Pamela and the insatiable Mr. B, knows their place and acts accordingly.

               The action is nonstop as Pamela crashes from one crisis to the next. Richardson cracks a thundering pace, and it’s only through Pamela’s correspondence that we’re provided pause to the wickedness she experiences. The subterfuge of her fellow servants allows Pamela no respite, and just when she thinks she’s safe, she’s always closest to danger. We see this in both Mrs. Jervis and Mrs. Jewkes who assist in her attempted rape. Mrs. Jervis by allowing Mr. B. to hide in the closet so that he can jump out when Pamela least expects and ravish her, and Mrs. Jewkes who actually pinions Pamela whilst the master attempts to mount her. With drunken, complicit maids and a cross dressing member of the gentry, this is undoubtedly the most disturbing scene of the entire novel.

               Pamela’s daring escape through the window, and the horror we experience as readers when we realize she’s unable to extricate herself from the garden is masterly. Her incredible luck when she just happens to “recollect” a ladder, only to be foiled by poor masonry that nearly kills her when the brickwork of the wall comes crashing down about her.  We know that she’ll be discovered in the wood shed, despite her pretense of drowning, and yet hold our breath in false hope as the clock strikes twelve, and she , “hied away to the pond…[on a] dark and misty night, … of which [she isn’t] sensible,”(p.210) until she’s ultimately discovered. All this along with Gypsies, skulking strangers, sham marriages, foreign gentlemen, a mysterious incestuous neighborhood where nobody is prepared to help her, a jailed priest, hidden correspondence, hateful sister-in-laws, disapproving neighbors, false friends, midnight carriage rides and imprisonment: the list goes on and on. Pamela is nothing but action from beginning to end, leaving one quite breathless and unprepared for what’s to follow!

               Solely dependent on her “scribbling” to affect her liberty we’re offered several cliff- hanger moments where the discovery of her correspondence is all but inevitable. The awful moment when the master decides he’s going to strip her, to discover whether or not she’s secreting letters about her person, “I will now begin to strip my pretty Pamela, and hope I will not go far before finding them.”(p.271) Fortunately her tears of protest force him to relent although, as we learn later, her letters are hidden in her skirts the whole time. The terrifying scene when Pamela is about to be raped; naked and vulnerable, she’s held down by the wicked Mrs.J whilst the master straddles her. In a last minute reprieve, in a fit of conscience, Mr.B recovers himself and lets her go. Breath-taking, heart-stopping seat-of-the-pants action, that Richardson skillfully weaves into his novel.

               The masterful twists offered by Richardson are totally unexpected, although in retrospect, exactly what one would expect of an adventure novel of the quality of “Pamela.” The love, hate, relationship that exists between Pamela and her antagonist who, despite the gut-wrenching fear he incites in his determination to bed her, unexpectedly turns into a love match! Pamela surprisingly suddenly sees him as an honorable gentleman, “…he is a handsome, fine gentleman,”(p.235) and when requested by Mr. B to return to the place of her former imprisonment immediately acquiesces, “Away with my fears,” says she, “… and with all my apprehensions…I will return. I will obey him!”(p.288) Despite earlier enmity and the pressure of public opinion, they marry and later have children. This twist is so dramatic that it divides the novel in two. Rather than suffer the rapacious efforts of Mr. B, Pamela must endure the consequences of her choice and the alienation of an unappreciative privileged class. 

               Although one may at first mistakenly dismiss the idea that “Pamela” is nothing more than a collection of letters from a lovelorn serving girl, one has to remember the period in which it was written and the genesis of the novel itself. The novel was a new format, and the potential for this new literary vehicle appears to have been poorly understood by the first initiates of the craft. Suffering an embarrassment of riches many early authors dumped as much material as possible into their novels with no real thought to construction or even sequel. This is why we have for example, the ridiculous wolf scenes in Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe.” Had this been eliminated from the original text, it could possibly have been the spark for a follow up, and would certainly have shortened a somewhat verbose masterpiece by at least fifty pages.

               “Pamela” embodies a similar theme, and it’s clear that Richardson doesn’t know when to stop, or how far he should carry his novel. His decision to include two novels in one demonstrates, I suggest, his immaturity and lack of finesses as a novel writer. Richardson could very easily have created a second novel, but instead decided to bind together what reads more as epic literature rather than genre fiction. Richardson had grasped the blockbuster theme, but as with most original concepts – think early science fiction novels – doesn’t quite know what to do with it. That being said “Pamela” personifies the advent of adventure fiction by offering larger than life depictions and a heightened sense of reality. Pamela is a fully fleshed character that one can get behind, and for whom the edge of one’s seat is more than sufficient to experience her trials and tribulations.



Works cited

Shimmin, Graeme; Writing spy fiction with an unputdownable plot;; web.

DDAY * 6-6-44 *

5 Jun






90 year old veteran reported missing from care home. Turns out they’d said no to him going to Normandy to celebrate D-Day: but he went anyway.

An 89-year-old WW2 veteran disappeared from his nursing home without saying where he was going and went to France for the D-Day commemorations.

The former mayor of Hove, Bernard Jordan, left the home at 10:30 BST on Thursday, and was reported missing to Sussex Police that evening.

Staff later discovered he had joined other veterans in France and was safe and well at a hotel in Ouistreham.

Earlier, it was believed care home staff stopped him going to the events.

Brighton and Hove police had tweeted: “90 year old veteran reported missing from care home. Turns out they’d said no to him going to #DDay70 but he went anyway #fightingspirit”

Hundreds of veterans have been marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France, with events on the beaches of Normandy.

War medals

The landings were the first stage of the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Mr Jordan, who was mayor of Hove from 1995-96, is a resident of The Pines nursing home in Hove.

The pensioner had gone out wearing a grey raincoat and a jacket underneath with his war medals on, the police force said.

A spokesman said: “We have spoken to the veteran who called the home today and are satisfied that the pensioner is fine and that his friends are going to ensure he gets back to Hove safely over the next couple of days after the D-Day celebrations finish.

“Once the pensioner is home we will go and have a chat with him to check he is OK.”


4 Jun


O’er hill and dale, past moss covered dry stone walls and creeper-caught bridges. Following the ancient roads hacked by Caesar’s legions through soft English chalk and the coastal trails blazed by retreating Saxons. Twixt green bowers of gnarled spreading forests and across the wastes of stark deserted moorland – the grind of iron shod wheels squawked on greased axle trees.

Undeterred by wind and weather, the same ancient routes crossed and re-crossed in order to reach the forgotten familiarity of distant villages and time-worn market towns. The clip-clop of plodding diligence to fresh faces and familiar vistas.

A whale-oil lamp swung above his hooded head, tapping its wooden tattoo on the side of the hooped caravan. The familiar clink of glass with every hoof fall; the slosh of liquids medicinal and the clatter of necessary instruments. Smell of horse was strong in his nostrils, the tang of pestled powder bitter on his tongue, the stain of dark paste upon his fingers.

He always broke camp at night, stealing away from candle-lit curiosity and the press of eager crowds. There was no point prolonging contact, garnering associations or establishing friendships. The exchange of hard won silver for bottled miracles and manufactured tablets was oft regretted the morning of the night before. Dubious cures for infestations and arthritis; promised miracles to ease the burden of daily life only a palm-pressed sixpence away.

His time-keeping was meticulous. Never out stay a welcome and never frequent a settlement more than once every few years. Acquaintances were soon kindled and soon burnt; it was best to stay one step ahead. Familiarity bred contempt as did the fact that his potions were worthless. Snake oil and powdered Egyptian mummy, dried toad and unicorn horn infused the heady concoctions and broken promises that persuaded village folk to dig eagerly into leather purses.

Of an evening when the crowds were gone and the camp fire blazed he would sit quietly, his hand coursing over velum – ink splashing in the fire light . The only sounds were of curb chained horses cropping grass – the gleam of flame lit brass. Recording the events of the day; penning for posterity the stories learned and experiences shared. New tales to relate to future customers – to expound upon, to embellish.

The art of potions wasn’t the mixture nor was it the voluminous recipes laid down by generations past. Secrets divulged by father to son, mother to daughter. Forgotten knowledge retained by travelling folk and distributed frugally among those outside the inner circle. Although an initiate of the ancient rite of healers, he knew that it took more than colored glass and powdered opiate to heal the body and excite the imagination.

His audience sought beyond the physical plane, thronging to his caravan in eager anticipation for both cure and enlightenment.

Stories of adventure – tales of distant lands, dragon slaying knights, daring deeds done by daring men. Engaged in enigmatic conversation it wasn’t long before his product was crossing the counter to be scooped up by needy souls, weak in body and bereft of worldly contact.

Although tutored in the ways of healing, it was a story-teller’s heart that he possessed.