A. M. Kearney claims that “a highly original mode of writing in a new genre, deserves another kind of treatment” (28) and that Samuel Richardson’s critics – including Richardson’s peers, Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne - have abused and satirized Pamela with the narrowest approach due to their preoccupation with the heroine herself.
Kearney looked at Pamela as an artistic whole and gives his perspective on Richardson’s attempt to marry the internal and the external narrative viewpoint through the epistolary form in Pamela; he argues that Richardson presents the problems that arise from both constructive process in the art of fiction and from the narration and style of epistolary technique.
Richardson had the task of resolving the tension between being in the “subjective pulse of experience” (32) and sensationalizing the work with the uncensored contents of his mind and heading towards the objective voice as an author, not only in order to enlarge the his spectrum of readers but to show his realization in the readership that “without civilized recognition virtue is powerless in terms of influence”. This change from subjective perspective to an objective one in Part II also suggests Pamela’s changing function as a heroine who is moving from the low-class life to a high-class. Kearney notes that “The alliance between the “inflaming” and the “spiritual” in Pamela is perhaps an uneasy one, but certainly one reason for the reaching after the formal style in Pamela’s reflective letters is an awareness on Richardson’s part of its value as an intellectual counterweight” (31) as a didactic art.
Kearney suggests that as much as Richardson was successful with letting his character to create her own literature he also failed by “intruding as commentator regardless of dramatic context” (37). The ultimate disconnect that grows between Richardson and his readers stem from Richardson asking his readers to accept Pamela as both of those roles – as “both participant and commentator” (38). In the process of shifting to an objective voice, along with Pamela’s own voice, Richardson’s own authorial voice is expressed through Pamela. The double function of Pamela as both “character” and “author” creates two voices: one coming from spontaneous moments and experience, and the other coming from an observer’s point of view. The imbalance that Richardson tried to solve within the novel became a problem for the ultimate authorial voice and Kearney believes this is where the critical voices of both the past and modern readers enter to point out.
Kearney concludes by praising Richardson's struggle to establish and define the epistolary form itself and acknowledges his courageous attempt at creating a complex work of fiction that not only acquaint his readers with the real situation and moral landscape of the work but also intellectualizes it.
I respected Kearney's approach of not judging whether Richardson achieved a success or not and instead observing the struggle that Richardson experienced in the process and his own effort to fuse the separate voices in the epistolary form. His comparisons between Richardson and Henry Fielding was also interesting: “Like Fielding, Richardson is also aware of the value of style as dramatic function. Unlike Fielding, however, who utilized his stylistic excursions to point various comic incongruities, Richardson was mainly concerned with the literary style as an expression of moral being” (35). The essay helped me to take a look at Pamela again and see the struggle that Richardson must have experienced while establishing the narrative structure and Pamela's voice.
What do you think of the epistolary form? Do you think it is possible to successfully fuse the internal and external narrative viewpoint? How successful do you think Richardson was in his attempt?
For those of you who have read Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, do you think Richardson did a better job at engaging with the issues surrounding epistolary form in the narrative structure?
Kearney, A. M. “Richardson’s Pamela: the Aesthetic Case.” Samuel Richardson: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. John Carroll. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, INC. 1969. 28 – 38. Print.