In his article “The Epistolary Monitor in Pamela,” Richard Hauer Costa discusses the use of epistolary and diary narrative and argues that the (primarily) epistolary form “has an efficacy in Pamela beyond the merits commonly ascribed to it” (39). He explains that writing in the form of letters was natural for Samuel Richardson, as Richardson himself wrote thousands of letters during his lifetime. However, the epistolary form of Pamela carries more significance than simply a young girl writing letters; the letters themselves imbue life into the novel and take on a life of their own.
Costa explains that “epistolary form is the dues ex machina for the novel,” that is, it is introduced in order to help make sense of any seeming improbabilities in the plot (40). Costa believes, and I agree with him, that in Pamela’s character, we see a duel nature: a woman who is desperately wants to give into the predatory man that is pursuing her while attempting to maintain appearances of chastity. Pamela writes in her letters that she is terribly afraid of her ‘Master’ and that she fears for her reputation, yet she lingers in his house, making only half-hearted attempts to find lodging elsewhere. What Costa means by the term dues ex machina, then, is that because Pamela is writing the letters, we are able to see this duality in her person. She is writing her personal feelings and creating a very intimate space on the page, but, simultaneously, she is aware that others will read her letters. It is, then, in the epistolary form that the ambiguity in her motives is seen.
Through the creation of this intimate diary space, the epistolary form takes on the role as an active agent within the story. Again, Pamela is creating a private sphere through documenting her private feelings, and she is furnishing this private domain to her own specifications. She is communicating feelings she attributes to herself, and writing personal feelings; however, these letters are also written with the purpose of being read by another party, which means that they are not an entirely private space like a diary would be. She continuously refers to Mr. B as a “Tempter,” yet she shows sadness when he manipulates her and shows “concern…to see such a Gentleman so demean himself, and lessen the Regard he used to have in the Eyes of all his Servants on my account.” She then immediately disregards the severity of the situation and what she has just said and turns her focus to superficiality by declaring, “But I am to tell you of my new Dress to Day” (55). The letters act as live agent in that Pamela’s true nature is revealed in all that she says/does not say and all that she does/does not do. She declares to be afraid of Mr. B, but then she immediately changes the topic to something trivial. She continually denies his advances but makes no attempt to remove herself from the situation. As I have not yet read the entire novel I cannot make a judgment regarding all her motives, but it does seem as though she enjoys Mr. B’s advances but wants to retain the appearances of chastity. Again, she is betrayed in her letters as the epistolary form takes on the role as an active agent in the story. As Costa mentions, The writing of the leters is only the beginning; they are copied, sent, received, showed about, discussed, answered, even perhaps hidden, intercepted, stolen, altered, or forged” (40). Beyond showing insight to Pamela’s dual nature and actions, the letters are literally active.
So, I ask…do you think Pamela is interested in Mr. B’s advances? Do you think that the epistolary form gives us any information or insight to Pamela? How does the epistolary form differ from the diary form; how are they similar; and what sort of secrets of ourselves are given away in each form?
Hauer Costa, Richard. "The Epistolary Monitor in Pamela." Modern Language Quarterly 31.1 (1970): 38-47. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Sept. 2011.