Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For Credit (and Background): Pamela's Clothes UPDATED

Robin's post below makes reference to some of the passages where Pamela stashes her letters down her front; in class today some people also mentioned Pamela's candor in telling her parents about getting groped by Mr. B. Here's the relevant garment for all of these incidents:

You can find a more detailed depiction of these eighteenth-century stays (the precursor of the corset) here (historical re-enactors apparently find examples of pre-American-revolutionary stays hard to come by, so this set created quite a stir when it appeared on e-bay).

There are a few examples in museums around the world, but they tend to be more elaborate that what Pamela (and her counterparts in the colonies) would have worn. For example:

And you can find an interactive explanation of how the stays worked with the rest of Pamela's clothing here (an excellent site from Colonial Williamsburg.

As a couple of people mentioned in class today, we get a LOT of information about Pamela's clothing through her letters. Some people in discussion suggested that her preoccupation with clothes reflects Pamela's vanity and greed. Others, more charitably, thought it conveyed her immaturity. What do you think? Cite some text to support your claim.

UPDATE:  Those interested in the issues raised by Pamela's clothes should have a look at Taylor's secondary literature post above, which offers a possible interpretation of Pamela's three bundles of clothes.

Deadline: Thursday (9/15), start of class.


  1. I think that Pamela has become more vain because of her station in life. It is true that she is only a servant, but she is surrounded by a lavish lifestyle, and the lifestyle she leads is still an upgrade to the life she would have lead with her parents. Even describing her dress that she has designed for when she returns for her parents, on page 55, you can see that if she must look simple, she still has to look pretty at the same time. Judging by her description, she takes much pride in even how she looks as a simpleton.

  2. I think it's a bit of a mixture of both. While I do believe that Pamela has acquired some vanity in her years of servitude, she is still a young girl of fifteen. We can look at her in these two ways but I think dismissing her age as a factor is unfair. I think we also have to consider her social standing. She is a servant from a poor family, she has a kind and giving Lady that acts as a benefactor. More often than not, we see Pamela as appreciative of the gifts that have been showered upon her.

    Furthermore, Pamela is, again, a servant. Her fine clothes and her beauty are just about all she has to be proud of. We also get the sense that she never really did much around the house aside from some trivial needlework, so I guess we could say that clothing is her area of expertise or interest.

  3. I agree with Hannah that it is a mixture of both. Pamela is immature and vain. We are able to see her immaturity when she gets giddy and overly excited when Squire B grabs her hand, when he says she's a great writer and also when he compliments her beauty. "..and took me by the Hand; yes, he took me by the hand before them all" (11). However, Pamela is also vain and interested in clothing and status. I feel that she is this way because of her class and social status within society. Being a servant and having the opportunity to wear nice clothes and be associated with upper class is exciting for an immature young girl like Pamela. She is very superficial and we are able to see this even in her writing. "..and lessen the regard he used to have in the eyes of all his servants on my account.- But I am able to tell you of my new dress today" (55).She goes from talking about a very serious subject matter to changing it to clothing in a quick transition.

  4. I was a bit harsh and critical of Pamela during Tuesday's class. I still think she is incredibly vain as her shift in focus shoes on pg. 55: "--But I am to tell you of my new Dress to Day." She is supposedly extremely upset about the way Mr. B is treating her, yet she is able to switch her focus so quickly and talk about something so trivial as a new dress. She says she is concerned with her "virtue" and not materials, yet all she really gets excited about is her material goods. I think the "--" is a good show of her ability to switch thoughts from Mr. B's predation to materialism.

    I'm aware I'm still being critical.

  5. I'm in agreement with the previous posters that think her preoccupation with her appearance and more specifically her clothes speaks to a mixture of both Pamela's vanity and insecurity. However, I think said mixture is comprised much more heavily of her immaturity than vanity. Aside from the descriptions already offered, what we touched on in class concerning her constantly giggling and crying and scurrying away in the presence of Mr. B, would indicate to me that she simply doesn't know her place to this point, and is doing what she can (not a lot, so far) to assimilate and at the same time, mature. I think some vanity is to be expected of any girl her age, but the same can't necessarily be said for maturity, as some at that age are mature beyond their years. Pamela just doesn't happen to be one of them.

  6. Citing some of the examples we used in class Tuesday, I believe that Pamela has become much more vain than her upbringing would allow. The specific moment I think of comes in her letter to her parents when she sends them money. I believe that the letter was condescending, and bragging about things she did nothing of her own merit to obtain.