The inseparability of letters and the body in Pamela

In volume 2 of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, there’s a clearer picture of the inseparability of Pamela’s letters and her own body— entities Mr. B wants to possess.

Writing letters involves the mind and of course emotions and therefore, there tends to be decision-making in the picture. So, when Pamela wrote to her parents about the hardships she had to endure after Mr. B’s continuous attempts to rape her, her struggle to go home or to send letters to Mr. Williams in volume one, she did not allow her employer to control her or rape her by not allowing him to possess her letters and tell her who to talk to or what to write or not to write at all. Instead, in volume 2, she stitched the letters to her clothes to say “no” to Mr. B’s intrusion of her thoughts and body. On page 234, Mr. B said, “I have searched every place above, and in your closet, for them, and cannot find them, so I will know where they are. Now, said he, it is my opinion they are about you; and I have never undrest a girl in my life; but I will not begin to strip my pretty Pamela; and I hope I shall not go far before I find them.” She responded, “I will not be used in this manner,” which tells readers that she will not allow him to achieve his desires without her permission. Also, Mr. B’s quote revealed the unity of her letters and body when he mentions undressing her to find the “letters” as if alluding to the fact that he cannot get to the body without getting to her mind and emotions first. And that’s true because the letters are stitched to her clothes. Mr. B’s quote on page 234 really brings to one’s attention the woman’s power when she says “no.” The epistolary novel genre is an instructive manual after all that in Pamela seems to be used to teach the woman her thoughts, emotions and body are her own to take charge of and if she doesn’t, it could lead to loss of virtue.

On page 238, Pamela gave the letters to Mr. B to avoid more issues and asked him not to break the “seal” as a favor and “great omen.” He “broke the seal instantly” (238). This may seem like simple analysis, but the seal is one that validates her virtue by protecting her letters. Once broken, he has access to her thoughts, emotions and then on, her body. But to further prove this point, notice how she told him not to break the seal as “a great omen,” so that meant that breaking it would lead to a bad omen— her rape. It did in a sense, since he married her at the end of the novel. Still, it wasn’t a bad omen to her though, but rather a good omen because it was true love. On page 246, Mr. B used her own talent against her, sending her a letter that makes her fall in love with him, leading to their union. “This letter… has affected me more than anything of that sort could have done…It look’d like love,” she told her parents (248).

One thought on “The inseparability of letters and the body in Pamela

  1. Isn’t it just infuriating that he can’t believe her without stealing and reading her letters — first without her knowledge and permission, and later with her (forced) permission? He cannot seem to trust that she will be truthful about anything, even when she proves she is as honest as they come. Only through her complete submission to Mr. B in everything, including acquiescing her privacy to him, can she “save” her virtue. Ugh.

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