Delariviere Manley, in the preface to The Secret History, of Queen Zarah, and the Zarazians (1705), suggests that British “histories” of the 18th century, which “are much more agreeable to the Brisk and Impetuous Humor of the English,” should follow a somewhat rigid set of guidelines so as to be most appeasing to the desired audience.
These “little Pieces” should have fewer characters, Manley says. Make them relatable, and develop them well. Give them easier names. Don’t be fantastical — be believable and rationalize improbabilities within the story. Spread virtue and expose vice, and for God’s sake, give the darn story a moral.
For the most part, Richardson’s Pamela appears to follow the vast majority of these rules. Though he breaks two that, frankly, make the book both more appealing and more repulsive.
“He that Writes either a True or False History, ought immediately to take Notice of the Time and Sense where those Accidents happen’d, that the Reader may not remain long in Suspence.”
From the beginning of the novel until nearly halfway through, Pamela is essentially trying to escape disgrace and ruin at the hands of her would-be rapist master. She is assaulted and lives in fear, which is evident in her “letters” to her parents. Then, just when all seems to be turning around for the poor thing, she is kidnapped and held hostage against her will. It never stops, and one cannot help but root for her throughout the suspense, even if she does have a bad habit of singing her own praises… which brings me to the next way in which Richardson eschew’s Manley’s recipe for the perfect novel.
Manley suggests that the 18th Century English novelist “ought also in few Words describe the Person who bears the most Considerable Part in his Story to engage the Reader”:
“‘Tis a Thing that little conduces to the raising the Merit of a Heroe, to Praise him by the Beauty of his Face; this is a mean and trivial Detail, that discourages Persons of good Taste; ’tis the Qualities of the Soul which ought to render him acceptable; … ’tis not by Extravagant Expressions, nor Repeated Praises, that the Reader’s Esteem is acquired to the Character of the Heroe’s, their Actions ought to plead for them; ’tis by that they are made known, and describe themselves.”
Meanwhile, Richardson heaps praise upon praise upon Pamela. She is innocent, virtuous, honest, and pretty. She writes so well, and she is a whiz with a needle and thread. Lather, rinse, repeat. It takes less than two pages before she starts relaying the praises that others have bestowed unto her:
“And then he said, Why, Pamela, you write a very pretty Hand, and spell tolerably too” (13-14).
Turning to random pages now:
“Good Mrs. Jervis lifted up her Hands, and had her Eyes full of Tears: God bless you, my dear Love, said she; you are my Admiration and Delight!” (41).
“For the last letter was to my Father, in Answer to his Letter; and so I will now write to you; tho’ I have nothing to say but what will make me look more like a vain Hussy, than any thing else: Yet I hope I shan’t be so proud as to forget myself. Yet there is a secret Pleasure one has to hear one’s self prais’d. … [Lady Davers] told me I was a very pretty Wench, and that every body gae me a very good Character, and lov’d me” (Pamela’s letter to her mother, 14-15).
“I most heartily wish it may be in my Power to serve and save so much Innocence, Beauty and Merit” (Arthur Williams’ letter to Pamela, 128).
Indeed, the only person not consistently singing Pamela’s praises is her master, who prefers to insult her when she will not give in to his desires. Richardson could have easily painted Pamela as the virtuous young woman she is without nauseatingly repeating her many desirable qualities. Perhaps this was done to emphasize her purity, but perhaps Manley was onto something when he suggested that authors need to let their characters’ actions speak for themselves.