I encountered Samuel Richardson's Pamela many years ago as part of my History of the Novel module at university. I was introduced to some great worksI encountered Samuel Richardson's Pamela many years ago as part of my History of the Novel module at university. I was introduced to some great works through that course, and there are two reasons I am grateful for being introduced to this; mostly, because it was the first year the class had read Pamela rather than Clarissa (which is more than twice the length), but also because it made it clear to us that even in an academic environment there are books which are considered as classics because of their place in history that it is perfectly acceptable to hate. And almost the whole class really, really hated this book.
Most of the defence of this book is that 'morals and social mores were different then', which is undoubtedly true, but for me misses the point entirely as well as being poor reasoning. Richardson was writing with the explicit intent of creating moral instruction manuals - and tracts rarely make good literature. Pamela, an attractive servant girl, is kidnapped by the dastardly squire and spends five hundred pages defending her honour, until - shock, horror! - the dastard is won over and offers to make her his wife. Cue several hundred more pages of fluttering eyelashes and betrothals of eternal love.
Lots has been written about this book defining the novel and illustrating the changing the changing master/servant relationships of the time. What? The novel had been around for more than a century and was already popular and in rude health. And there were far better writers working at the time, such as Henry Fielding who mercilessly lambasted this work with his parody Shamela. And as for throwing light on the master/servant relationship, this book bears no more relationship to reality than the reams of romantic Mills and Boon literature it has inspired. Let's not forget, this book was published twenty years after Moll Flanders, a book which has so much more to say about the possibilities of a woman's place in 18th Century England, as well as being far better written and still more relevant today - as I'm sure it was then - and more realistic (okay, in a different stratum of society, and realistic in the challenges Moll faces rather than her survival of them, but my point still stands).
Yes, it took books years to circulate, but Richardson was a publisher in London. He was aware of Moll Flanders and books inspired by it, and deliberately set out to write books that were 'conduct letters' on how a young lady should behave (he was also a publisher of some wealth and standing, and it is debatable that his books would have been the success they were had he not had the power to print and market them). He wasn't saying that virtue and a good marriage were the most a woman could expect from life, he was saying that ought to be the most she can expect from life. There are no grey areas. Pamela resists the squire's advances and her virtue is rewarded. I understand Clarissa does have much more depth (perhaps Richardson was truly stung by Fielding's riposte), but he still sticks with the horribly clunky epistolary style.
I would certainly recommend reading it, as I did, as part of a sequence showing how the English novel developed (Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Fanny Burney, etc - although I also wish this had included some European literature which of course had a huge influence on Britain - remember most educated people read French, Latin and possibly Italian - and almost all forms and styles were imported from the continent)....more
Phew. That's going to take some processing. Review to follow, along with thinking about whether my disagreements with the philosophy affect the ratingPhew. That's going to take some processing. Review to follow, along with thinking about whether my disagreements with the philosophy affect the rating. Definitely brilliant, regardless....more
One of the books that first introduced me to SF, Aldiss' tale of a distant future Earth where humanity - a much changed, reduced species - lives a preOne of the books that first introduced me to SF, Aldiss' tale of a distant future Earth where humanity - a much changed, reduced species - lives a precarious life in the high branches of the continent-spanning banyan tree, until a member of one of the tiny tribes in which they live is infested with morel, an intelligent parasitic fungus. Gren and his tribe find their way to a new home, battling dangers, mostly of a mobile, predatory vegetable nature, which has become the dominant form under the bloated red sun. It suffers a little from the aging of the language used (it was first published in 1961) and a somewhat hallucinatory feeling to some of the descriptions and action - again, possibly to do with the era in which it was written - but is a classic of SF....more