Pamela vs. Shamela

Samuel Richardson published Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded on this day in 1740. Often described as the first modern novel, the book proved so popular that there were soon Pamela displays in Vauxhall Gardens, a steady stream of Pamela products, and a deluge of literary or musical sequels, spin-offs and send-ups. The story is told in epistolary fashion; below, a representative excerpt from an early letter in which the ever-dutiful and still-unsuspecting heroine, a maidservant in a wealthy family, reports to her poor parents that Mr. B., her young master, continues to shower her with gifts:

Since my last, my master gave me more fine things. He called me up to my late lady’s closet, and, pulling out her drawers, he gave me two suits of fine Flanders laced headclothes, three pair of fine silk shoes, two hardly the worse, and just fit for me, (for my lady had a very little foot,) and the other with wrought silver buckles in them; and several ribands and top-knots of all colours; four pair of white fine cotton stockings, and three pair of fine silk ones; and two pair of rich stays.
I was quite astonished, and unable to speak for a while…. But still your kind fatherly cautions came into my head, and made all these gifts nothing near to me what they would have been. But yet, I hope, there is no reason; for what good could it do to him to harm such a simple maiden as me?

Many found Richardson’s heroine too good to believe, or enjoy. Among these was Henry Fielding, his Shamela now perhaps the most famous of many contemporary parodies (and one which Fielding so relished doing that he carried on in Joseph Andrews). In the following passage, also from an early letter home, the conniving “Sham” reports to her complicit mother a conversation with Mrs. Jervis, the housekeeper, which shows that they have the situation, and Squire Booby, well in hand:

And so, Mrs. Jervis, says I, you would have me yield myself to him, would you; you would have me be a second Time a Fool for nothing. Thank you for that, Mrs. Jervis. For nothing! marry forbid, says she, you know he hath large Sums of Money, besides abundance of fine Things; and do you think, when you have inflamed him, by giving his Hand a Liberty with that charming Person; and that you know he may easily think he obtains against your Will, he will not give any thing to come at all —. This will not do, Mrs. Jervis, answered I. I have heard my Mamma say, (and so you know, Madam, I have) that in her Youth, Fellows have often taken away in the Morning, what they gave over Night. No, Mrs. Jervis, nothing under a regular taking into Keeping, a settled Settlement, for me, and all my Heirs, all my whole Lifetime, shall do the Business — or else cross-legged, is the Word, faith, with Sham….

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at