Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, Calico Purity and Underclothes Excitement, Purelity and Mr B’s Supposed Reform

clarissaSamuel Richardson’s reputation, for so long as bad as it could be among critics, has in recent decades had something of a revival. This is generally among literary scholars, as the length of his works is enough to put off all but the most geekish or courageous of readers (count me among the said geeks). These days, the subtlety of his characterisation, and the complex significance of his use of incident, are now discussed as avidly as once were the scorn and disgust aroused in readers by his self serving Puritanical morality.

Typically awkward, I think this is a loss, because I fully agree with Coleridge’s conclusion about Richardson’s work:

‘I confess it has cost, and still costs, my philosophy some exertion not to be vexed that I must admire, aye, greatly admire, Richardson. His mind is so very vile, a mind so oozy, so hypocritical, praise mad, canting, envious, concupiscent.’

5pamelaRichardson writing has a compulsion which one feels has got little to do with literary value, or the creation of sympathetic characters, believable situations, or strong writing.

In fact, after ploughing through ‘Pamela’ ‘Clarissa’ and part of ‘The History of Sir Charles Grandison’ I can safely state that Richardson is devoted to purple prose.

Unfortunately, this may be why – with his favourite theme being that of female virtue besieged – in an age discovering ‘sensibility’, so many of his inner circle of toadying admirers and literary advisers were women. They wished to explore the ‘female sphere’ of the emotive that this male writer was prepared to take seriously in his writing and in their enthusiasm for this they seem to have blinded themselves both to the inadequacies of his verbose, florid style and the dismal limitations of the sort of respect for women offered by his attitude towards them.

thIt is intriguing that in their discussions, they often employed much the same arguments that are used today in defences on the literary value of the romance novel. In fact, current writers on the value of the romance novel such as Pamela (!) Regis take a stand against the ‘anti-Pamela-ists’ precisely because they define ‘Pamela’ as the first romantic novel.

Richardson wrote two hundred years before Freud’s discoveries of sexuality and the unconscious laid bare the source of his appeal, already hinted at by Henry Fielding and Eliza Heywood. In D H Lawrence’s words, he offered voyeuristic ‘Calico purity and underclothes excitement…Boccacio at his hottest seems to me less pornographic than ‘Pamela’ or ‘Clarissa’.

If this seems wonderfully biting, then the critic V S Pritchard in ‘The Living Novel’ goes further:

th‘Prurient, and obsessed by sex, the prim Richardson creeps on tiptoe nearer and nearer, inch by inch…he beckons us on, pausing to make every sort of pious protestation, and then nearer and nearer he creeps again…’

This is hilarious, and very apt.

Another critic, Frank Bradbrook in his essay on Richardson ‘The Pelican Guide to English Literature’ remarks trenchantly, ‘Pamela is sentimental and obscene; its obscenity is a direct result of its sentimentality.’

I have to agree with these criticisms, which makes me into an ‘anti Pamela-ist’. But I am even more of an ‘Anti Mr B-ist’ I don’t think Richardson’s heroine is alone in a hypocrite. Mr B is even more of one than Pamela.

Regarding Pamela’s hypocrisy, as soon as her master offers to marry her, he ceases to be a villain in her eyes, and she never asks for an explanation or apology for his abusive treatment of her. In elevating her to his own status, Squire B has put his late mother’s lady’s maid under such a sense of obligation that he can only be her ‘beloved Master’ even if he did attempt to rape her at least once, and sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions.

pamelaAs for M B’s hypocrisy, apart from his absurd earlier outrage that she has dared to defy him and write accounts of his attempts on her, there is his later astounding self complacency. He is supposed to have undergone a moral metamorphesis triggered by reading her journal. One might think that this would have made him a little confused and diffident about himself, and the value of his opinions. Far from it. As soon as he gives up his attempts on her and decides to marry her, he suddenly shows an incongruous tendency to express pompous views about marriage and a wife’s duty.

Here he is clearly Richardson’s mouthpiece. Still, the contrast between this new persona, and his former behaviour as a self confessed rake, are frankly ludicrous.

Clearly, he enjoys traipsing about with her giving the neighbours tedious moral lectures more than in jumping out at her from closets and thrusting his hand down her bosom.

The revival of Richardson’s reputation seems to have been partly promoted by the writings of the US academic Mark Kinkead Weekes, and in particular his 1973 book ‘Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist’.

I recently read this, having ploughed through ‘Pamela’ (read and detested in 1991; re-read and detested even more recently); ‘Pamela in Her Exalted Condition’ (hooted over in 1993; skim read again recently) and
‘Clarissa’ (ploughed through, and to some extent, grudgingly admired, two years ago).

pamela-faintinI found Kinkead Weekes’ book intriguing, though I disagree with his conclusions, while I found the parts which defend both heroine and the anti hero Mr B in ‘Pamela’, not only unconvincing but downright offensive to women readers.

It has to be said in Kinkead Weekes’ defence, that this book was written in 1973, when the views about the depiction of sexual violence against women in novels was very different.

It is an intriguing thing that Kinkead Weekes considers the scheming unrepentant Lovelace – the rapist anti-hero of ‘Clarissa’ – to be a very evil man. But Mr B, by dint of his facile reform is another case altogether.

200px-Pamela-1742In ‘Pamela in her Exalted Condition’ Richardson was later to have Mr B deny that his first seeming attempt on Pamela, where he leaps out of a closet, climbs into bed with her and the housekeeper,and thrusts a hand down her bosom was an atempted rape, and indeed, it is hard to see how he would have contemplated carrying one out in front of Mrs Jervis. However, that piece of punishment through sexual assault is ugly enough, and later in the novel, he does carry out a genuine rape attempt.

Kinkead Weekes goes on to say of Mr B’s second attempt (also made in the presence of another woman, this time the wicked housekeeper Mrs Jewkers: she holds Pamela down, as do the prostitutes in ‘Clarissa’; Richardson did seem to have a rather odd thing about exhibitionist rapes): –

‘The final attempt does begin with the intention of rape, though for revenge and subjugation, not desire- but it continues in stubborn pride, unwilling to give in to fear of wrongdoing, and trying hopelessly to salvage something. …It is the last kick of B’s pride, brought remorselessly to face its consequences in the ‘death’ (Pamela has a fit)
of the girl he loves. The result is tenderness, and there is no need for B’s subsequent change to seem surprising.’

IX: Pamela is Married 1743-4 Joseph Highmore 1692-1780 Purchased 1921
IX: Pamela is Married 1743-4 Joseph Highmore 1692-1780 Purchased 1921

I see; readers have been told that they are not ‘reading carefully’ if they find his subsequent reformation abrupt and unconvincing. We are also told repeatedly that Pamela is not a hypocrite for accepting such a man when he changes to making ‘respectable’ offers of marriage.

‘It is open to the critic to say that it is immoral to love a man who has behaved like B, even if he seems to have made a break with his past, and that it is immoral to be able to blot out that past in a forgiveness excessive enough to rank repentant sinners ‘in the rank of the most virtuous’. Only, if that is what we want to say, let us say it clearly, in awareness of what saying it implies. Let us not, on the other hand, talk too much about the jewel market.’

I see.  Kinkaed Weekes may dislike talking about ‘the jewel market’ ie, Pamela’s determination to keep her value as an untouched piece of goods on the market, as degrading, but that gives him no right to insist that others don’t, just because it weakens his arguments in favour of Pamela’s supposed integrity. What I would say in response to his implication that critics of her acceptance of Mr B are being uncharitable, is that of course, Pamela should have forgiven such a man as Mr B. But that she should not have married him.

Strangely enough, Kinkaed Weekes thoroughly endorses Clarissa’s combining forgiveness of Lovelace with an absolute refusal to marry him. While it might be argued that this is because Lovelace never really repents, he says he does. He is willing to marry Clarissa, believing that will put matters right.pamela

I see very little moral difference between the two rapist anti heroes, save that the first is less of a compulsive schemer, and more of a hypocrite, who decides he will obtain more pleasure in joining Pamela in ‘innocent pleasures’ with her as his servile worshipper, and in go about the country giving tedious moral lectures to the neighbours  than in jumping out of closets to thrust his hand down her bosom.

Tastes change, I suppose…

Those Dreaded Discrepancies: A Writer’s Bane

1001004005712376Firstly, I want to apologise to Susan Hill by mentioning her work in the same post as that late Victorian and Edwardian writer of best selling twaddle, Charles Garvice…

Mari Biella’s recent intriguing recent post on anachronisms
set me thinking recently about general discrepancies in stories. Then, in a fine piece of synchrnonicity, I came across at least two when reading George Elliot’s ‘Adam Bede’.

This in turn brought to mind several I’ve come across in recent years, from a whole spectrum of writers, from the brilliant Susan Hill to that churner out of Victorian best selling romantic melodrama Charles Garvice.

That so polished a writer as Susan Hill could make a mistake of this type is guaranteed to make any writer wonder, with a shudder, if there is something she has overlooked in turn in her own stories; some howler, which makes the plot impossible, or at least, in need of revision.

Or –nearly as bad – but, our egotism being what it is, not quite so bad – have we let down the friends for whom we have done Beta reads, and left one in? Maybe an anachronism of the sort mentioned by Mari Biella, for instance, potato stew served in the UK of the Middle Ages.

On anachronisms –  in true geek fashion – I want to say something irrelevant here.  I was dismayed to learn that people who write children’s novels set in the Middle Ages are often advised to fudge the issue that for approximately three hundred years after the Norman Conquest, the upper class spoke Norman French, while the ordinary people spoke Anglo Saxon. Talk about re-writing history!

All writers surely go in dread of such mishaps as publishing a book with discrepancies. They are so easy to do, particularly in historical novels. It is so easy to get those wretched travelling times wrong, through a lack of information about which roads there were; so easy to make the post more efficient than it was, so that a letter arrives too early.

The Susan Hill discrepancy – and I hasten to add, this is the only one I have ever come across in all her books, all of which I greatly admire – is to do with the decade in which the otherwise brilliant (and terrifying) story ‘The Man in the Picture’ is set.

It seems to originate in a few sentences overlooked in the editing, which possibly relate to an earlier version (and don’t we all have so many earlier versions of our stories, where we hadn’t developed this or that theme).

The story begins with a man visiting his old friend, an academic at  Cambridge, where ‘there were still real fires in those days, the coals brought up by the servant in huge brass scuttles.’ Some years later, again in Cambridge, the porter has ‘a fire in the grate’ and there is ‘a solitary policeman on his beat’. This policeman is seen ‘trying the doors of the shops to see that they were secure’.

All this seems redolent of the 1930’s. Yet, only a few months pass, and suddenly, we are in the age of mobile phones, the narrator marries a female barrister and they fly to Venice for their honeymoon.

This inconsistency, by the way, didn’t at all detract from my pleasure in the story, and so far as I know, only a couple of reviewers have picked up on it; so good is the tale, with the  atmosphere so wonderfully done, that it’s hard to put down, and is nearly as good a sinister read as ‘The Woman in Black’.

The discrepancies in George Elliot’s ‘Adam Bede’ come much later in the story, and revolve around the fact that while the fact that while Adam guesses who fathered Hetty Sorrel’s poor baby, and confides in the vicar Mr Irwine, these two, who wish to talk of the matter as little as possible, are the only ones who do know the details. Despite this, shortly afterwards, by some strange process of clairvoyance, all the servants in the hall know that it is Arthur , and this detracts from their enthusiasm when they welcome him home as the new master.

A smaller error concerns a minor character, Bessy, who is described as married to Wiry Ben in the beginning, with two children. At the fete where he dances, they suddenly both become single again, the children disappear, and he hints that he wants to marry her. A time warp has clearly been in operation…

Thackeray went one better. Dobbin, his dull hero in that ‘novel without a hero’ ‘Vanity Fair’, appears in England when the reader has been told that he is serving in the army in India; a clear case of teleportation, and typically, his astral self does nothing but the sort of dull but worthy stuff he always does. Apart from Amelia’s mother changing her name from Betsy to Mary, though, mistakes in a very long novel which I believe was first published in serial format are very few.

Elizabeth Gaskell rarely edited her works, so that the standard of writing is all the more impressive; still, in ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’, as Graham Handley has pointed out, the timing doesn’t make sense if the reader accepts the action as starting in 1795, the date she gives; the timetable is out of kilter unless the action starts in 1793.

There are other discrepancies; Philip Hepburn’s age, and Charley Kinraid’s financial position are but two, but overall, the degree of consistency in the plot in a writer who rarely re-read her work is quite astonishing.

220px-Charles_Garvice_-_The_MarquisFinally, to Charles Garvice. I am sure the modern readers of ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’ can be counted on one hand, so almost certainly nobody will have any idea what I am talking about here. But what I have to say is instructive, because it shows, if nothing else, how sloppily his editor performed.

Because this novel is so bad, I have remained fascinated with it (perhaps I would have been equally fascinated by whichever Charles Garvice novel I first  read, as Laura Sewell Mater was intrigued by ‘Verdict of the Heart’ , the first Garvice novel she sampled, for more or less the same reasons). Therefore, I’ll give some background to it.

220px-Charles_Garvice_-_Lord_of_HimselfThe hero of that melodrama, Lord Fayne, is a bad man who turns into a good man because an innocent young girl tells him he should (he also goes busking in the country among the ‘simple country folk’, and that finished the process). He’s a viscount, but goes round dressed as a coster monger, and getting into fights in music halls. He does this primarily to annoy his relatives, as his politics are anything but radical.

During one such fight in a music hall, he is hit on the head by a decanter and only comes to himself with a bleeding head some time towards dawn. No mention is made of a headache or such sissy symptoms of concussion as nausea.

Charles_Garvice_-_She_Loved_HimHe goes on to run into a homeless girl who just happens to have been seduced by the villain of the story, gives her his golden cuff links and buys her some food at a stall, giving over his watch as security. His friends are still drinking in his house when he arrives home at some time in the morning. Having shown some anti Semitism by threatening to throw a Jewish moneylender out of the window for requesting his bill, gives his friends a brilliant performance by singing and playing the piano and violin, and then kicks the lot of them out with his ‘air of indefinable command’ and falls asleep with his head among the dirty glasses.

When next we see him, he is asleep outside the gates of his parents mansion. The heroine mistakes him for a tramp and adjusts his cap over his injured head (this isn’t portrayed humorously, unfortunately). He tells her he has walked from London and goes on to sleep some more a bit further off, where he sees her pony bolting and through a desperate sprint, saves her from a terrible death in a disused copper mine.

He remains incognito throughout, but her father has read of the brawl in the music hall in his paper, and mentions that Lord Fayne appeared ‘in a police court’ and was fined £5.00 (a hefty fine in 1894).

There appear to be all sorts of weird discrepancies in the time frame here. When did Lord Fayne appear in court? How long did it take the papers to report it, and how come it only seems to take even the athletic Lord Fayne a day or so to walk from London to what appears, from the topography, to be Devonshire, particularly if he is suffering from concussion? Perhaps he (horrors!) lies to the heroine, and he took a train. Certainly, though, when she demands to see how much money he has in his pockets, he only has some silver.

But from someone who is concussed, he gives a sprint worthy of a gold medal. Presumably he has come to apologise to his parents, but after being conveniently by to save the heroine’s life, he seemingly wanders off again to menace the locals in a local tavern (the fresh country air doesn’t have a reforming affect on his character in this bit). When next we see him, it is in London, where he seems once more to be in funds…

Garvice’s novels are no doubt peppered with such contradictions, and it is only because of my interest in the history of the development of the romantic novel that I have have read this twice. I am sure almost nobody else could endure such entertainment twice over, and most people would say, and rightly, that such twaddle is unworthy of any analysis whatsoever, and Garvice only made the roughest attempts to provide some sort of basic coherence to his plots.

Still, he had, supposedly, an excellent secretary, and I am surprised she didn’t pick up on these contradictions; maybe it was more than her job was worth to pick holes in the novels her pipe puffing, complacent employer dictated. Perhaps his editor could not bear to read his stories through…

However that may be, such discrepancies as the ones above are one of the banes of a writer’s life.

Jane Austen: A Writer of Romances?

220px-Sense_and_Sensibility_Illustration_Chap_12snsbrockwc9In my last post on Jane Austen, I commented that: –

‘It is an irony that Jane Austen is seen as a writer of romances, when her own outlook on marriage, and the undesirability of marriage without a comfortable income, was highly practical and very much typical of the era, and the part of society from which she came. Mr Darcy without at least a competence should have been politely and regretfully dismissed by Elizabeth Bennett.’

Really, I should have expanded on this; the comment on it from Steph Rozitis sums up this view tersely: –

‘I think seeing Austen as a writer of “romance” genre is more than ironic- it’s inaccurate and does the writer a huge disservice. As you know she is one of the reputable writers trotted out by romance apologists. I don’t think her agenda is “boy meets girl” it’s more social critique and showing the places of (relatively privileged) women. Marriage is a huge part of that because those women have few options available to them but the interactions and character flaws are what makes the books readable and rereadable …’

Sadly, I have to concede that the writers on romance today who are eager to secure an intellectual and literary respectability for the romance genre by claiming that classic writers of the past were in fact, writers of ‘romance’  – Pamela Regis is one – are arguably mistaken in Jane Austen’s case (many would argue that they are wrong about Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’, Charlotte Bronte in ‘Jane Eyre’, and various others too; but that is irrelevant here).Robert_Lovelace_Preparing_to_Abduct_Clarissa_Harlowe

As the poster comments, in assuming that because Jane Austen wrote about women finding marriage partners in the late Georgian and Regency era she was committed to modern notions of ‘romance’ , many modern proponents of the Jane Austen as writer of romance argument are underestimating the circumstances in which this most astute of social commentators wrote.

In her era, women from the upper middle class were obliged not to work except, as a last resort, as a governess or a companion. For them to work outside the home was seen as a disgrace on the male members of their family, who should in all honour support them if they did not find a marriage partner. If these women were not sufficiently blasé about social disgrace to become a form of prostitute, therefore, their only other option generally was marriage as the only respectable way to achieve some status in a household of their own.sensens2

Jane Austen’s stories, therefore, are arguably not romantic novels, but ones which give a social critique through telling a story of a young woman adapting to her environment and the compromises which she must make to function smoothly in it, of which a marriage which will be happy is part of the comedic outcome.

The story of Marianne, for instance, is in fact as strong a criticism of taking ‘romantic’ notions into marriage as I can imagine. This is, of course, a criticism of ‘the romantic’ in the terms in which it was understood in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which included the free and frank expression of the dramatic and the emotional in art and literature.snsbrockwc14

‘Romantic love’ was a component of this approach, but only a part of it; the modern concept of ‘romance’ is then, unfortunately, a sentimentalised version of a whole approach to life.

Marianne’s infatuation with Willoughy is only partly sentimentalized sexuality in the manner of current definitions of ‘the romantic’. It is also a striving to find another free and fiercely honest spirit in a world where she considers that almost everybody, including her beloved sister, is addicted to compromise in order for polite society to operate smoothly.

I have mentioned before that I do not particularly enjoy Jane Austen’s solution to Marianne’s disillusion with romanticism and her acceptance of the need for compromise in personal and social relations; her taking the sedate Colonel Brandon for a life partner was to me a disappointing ending to the story.

As I have said elsewhere, I would rather that Marianne had married a repentant (and partially reformed) Willoughby, and became, as she must, slowly disillusioned with him, though no doubt remaining attached to him. That sort of conditional happy-ever-after suits me perfectly for a dose of realism.

Jane Austen, however, clearly considered that such a match would have led to more unhappiness for Marianne than she would have experienced in a rather passionless match with the excellent Colonel. How anyone can regard that outcome as in any way romantic puzzles me. I found it frankly disturbing, because – surely unintentionally – Marianne Dashwood comes across as Jane Austen’s most potentially sexual secondary heroine.

In that, then, Jane Austen designs her plot in a way quite contrary to those of the typical romantic novel.

Any regulars I might have might remember that this question also arises in ‘Mansfield Park’ where Jane Austen demonstrates Fanny Price obdurate against a charming and unprincipled Henry Crawford who finally disgraces himself, as does his sister, Mary, with whom Fanny’s true love and cousin is infatuated; Fanny then goes on to marry the steady rather than the beguiling man. And like Cassandra Austen, I was dissatisfied at the tameness of the particular happy ending that the writer chose.

Obviously, then, if these two examples are anything to go by, I am affected myself by current romantic notions in a way that Jane Austen clearly was not. However,  as above, I would go for the ‘qualified happy ending’ rather than the supremely happy one.

Even in ‘Pride and Predjudice’, generally seen as the most romantic of Jane Austen’s novels, with Mr Darcy extolled as the most desirable of tall, dark, dashing heroes, it might be noted that the narrator remarks that the development of Elizabeth Bennett’s feelings for him are not the ones associated with romantic infatuation: –

‘If gratitude and esteem are good foundations for affection, Elizabeth’s change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty. But otherwise, – if the regard springing from such sources is unreasonable and unnatural, in comparison of what is so often described as arising on a first interview with its object, and even before two words have been exchanged – nothing can be said in her defence, except that she had given somewhat of a trial to the latter method, in her partiality for Wickham, and that its ill success might, authorize her to seek the other less interesting mode of attachment’.

One of the many things that differentiates Jane Austen’s writing from the rigid requirements of romantic fiction is her interest in social relations; a good deal of the space in her works is taken up, not by dwelling on the developing passions of the main couple, but by engaging in satirical wit at the expense of snobs and fools. By contrast, sadly, when I last read the guidelines of Mills and Boon, it was emphasized that while a sub plot is permitted some space, the main emphasis must always be on the primary relationship between heroine and hero.

It is ironic that with so many opportunities open to women which were not remotely possible in Jane Austen’s day, the most popular form of fiction amongst women today is one that concentrates mainly on finding life partners.

The question is why; men also  – at least past a certain age – want life partners, but only a tiny minority of them are interested in reading novels about it.  What makes for this difference in favoured reading?