Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: Pamela

Pamela is a deeply disturbing book, though you’d never think it to look at it. I picked it up without the faintest idea of what it was about, and found a tale of Stockholm Syndrome, sexual harassment, abuse both physical and emotional, and a horrifying ending that the narrator tries very hard to convince us is happy. This book singlehandedly justifies feminism.

Pamela is the title character-- a sixteen-year-old maid that spends every second striving to be pure, humble, and virtuous. This is not the horrible part. While Pamela doesn’t seem like a lot of fun, she is anxious to please and is agreeable enough. The woman she serves dies, and Pamela is now employed by the Manor’s son, known only as Master or Squire throughout the story. He sees how beautiful Pamela is and wants to have sex with her. He kisses her and fondles her chest, which she rejects in no uncertain terms. Pamela’s virtue is the only thing that she truly prizes, as she has a Puritan attitude towards all worldly possessions and anything that resembles pride or haughtiness.

After the Master is repulsed, Pamela tells the housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis, of his inappropriate advances. Mrs. Jervis agrees that this is wrong, at least, while the Master is not around. When he comes around to talk to Pamela again, I was shocked to recognize the arguments that he uses trying to justify his forcing sexual contact on a girl who doesn’t want it. They are alive and well today, though this book was published in 1740, almost three hundred years ago. “You were asking for it.” “It is my right to have you satisfy me.” “You aren’t going to do better.” At this point in the book he starts referring to her as a slut. Let me remind you: the reason he is angry with her is because she REFUSED to sleep with him. Somehow this makes her a slut. Logic! 

So Master (you have no idea how uncomfortable calling him that makes me) continues to assault her off and on, even though she always tells him no and usually cries or runs away. Then he tells her that she can go home. She is thrilled about this. But the carriage he puts her in actually takes her to his other estate, somewhere else in England. This is what we call being abducted. 

Once he has Pamela prisoner in this new manor, she is guarded constantly by a vicious old woman, kept behind bars, and beaten occasionally. She is required to let the Master read her private diary once he discovers that she keeps one. Oh, and the Master hides her in closet to watch her undress, then tries to rape her. What a classy guy. The only reason he doesn’t rape her is that she faints, and the maid intervenes.
Several escape plans are attempted, but all are foiled. Then, quite out of the blue, the Master gets angry at Pamela when she refuses to marry him (again), puts her in a carriage, and tells the driver to take her home. They go along, Pamela filled with mixed emotions. A rider catches up with them that night, telling them that he has a letter for Pamela. It is from the Master basically begging her to come back because of how much he loves her. 

He uses that word a lot. I don’t think it means what he thinks it means.

By this point in the story, the effects of Stockholm Syndrome are very evident. Pamela thanks the Master for every little thing-- for not beating her, for not raping her, for not doing things that HE SHOULD NOT EVER DO ANYWAY. When he almost drowns, she is concerned. She thinks he’s a great guy, he just can’t control himself sexually. It’s not his fault. He’s a man, and she’s denying him what she wants. She starts referring to herself as a slut and a hussy. And then she gets this letter from him and she goes back. She goes back! Up until this point I had really enjoyed the book. But as soon as Pamela WENT BACK to this predatory, abusive rapist and claimed that she loved him….each page became a struggle to complete.

The Master never asks forgiveness, or even apologizes, in case you were wondering. In fact, by the end of the book Pamela is thanking him for abducting her. And all his sexual advances are dismissed as “naughtiness.” I associate naughtiness with snitching an extra cookie. Pamela apparently considers her body and her rights as trifles, but this comes as no surprise, as she has the lowest self-esteem of any narrator I’ve ever read. She thinks it’s humility, but it isn’t. It’s destructive.

Anyway, the Master and Pamela start making out a lot and then secretly get married. She spends every paragraph talking about how ecstatically happy she is and how grateful she is to God for letting her have this wonderful husband and she will never be worthy. Every page is full of that nonsense. And everyone around her is thrilled too. She gets to be rich! Huzzah! Many people were eager to make sure that she didn’t have premarital sex, but as long as she’s married, it doesn’t matter what kind of man her husband is. Her own father comes to thank the Master, and he’s been reading the whole story in the letters Pamela writes to him! (The whole novel is in letter form.) Let me repeat that: Pamela’s father THANKS the man who kidnapped and sexually assaulted his daughter. Apparently no one was worried about Pamela, they were just worried that she would lose her virginity. As long as there’s a ring on her finger than who the heck cares what he does behind closed doors.
Pamela (the book and the character) is OBSESSED with class, staying in place, never stepping out of a place, knowing who is above her and who is below her. It is unnerving to say the least that she is worried about marrying the Master not because he tried to rape her, but because he has a title and she doesn’t. She is grateful to him for stooping low enough to marry her. Grateful! She literally never stops thanking this arrogant scumbag, and thanking God for him. It’s about every other sentence, I’m not even exaggerating.
I cannot begin to tell you how repulsive the views Pamela writes are to me. She continues to call her husband “Master” after they get married, and is still basically his servant with better clothes. Oh, he calls her “dear heart” and “life of my life” and endearments like that all the time, but he orders her around and demands complete obedience and basically is a man of the 18th century. Now that Pamela has given him what he wants (namely, her) he showers her with money and presents and paragraphs of sickening tripe that would be really romantic if it was coming from someone else under other circumstances. He’s just giving lip service to it. She adores him, and it’s easy to dote on someone that sees you seriously only a step below God.

To hear the sexist views of the time from someone living in them is very jarring. It’s revealed that the Master has an illegitimate child from six or seven years ago, and Pamela doesn’t even bat an eye. The girl that he slept with, of course, had to leave the country out of shame. I just can’t get over this, even though times haven’t changed that much. How is it that when TWO people have sex and create a child only ONE of them is guilty? One of them can forget it ever happened, the other gets branded with the scarlet letter. One of them is just acting on his instincts, the other clearly didn’t treasure her virginity enough, so she’ll probably burn in hell. 

This book was truly bizarre. I kept thinking, “This isn’t real. SOMEBODY has to say something like, ‘Pamela, you’re not really in love with this slimy excuse for a human being. You’re sixteen and you’ve never had any kind of social life, because you’ve been a servant. Now you’ve been locked up for five or six months and you have started to mistake lack of cruelty for kindness. Wake up!’” But they didn’t. Everyone was thrilled to pieces at the “happy” ending. I’m still trying to shake the feeling that anyone thinks or ever thought this was okay.

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