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Popean echoes in 'Pamela': the Lady Davers scene.

In a key scene of Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740), the newly married heroine is confronted by her husband's implacable sister, come to determine whether Pamela is yet "whored." Lady Davers embodies and gives vehement voice to all the objections her class has against Pamela's ascendance through the ranks. Unaware that she already addresses a sister-in-law, Lady Davers slaps Pamela, offers a mocking exegesis of a letter from Mr. B., and labels the former servant "credulous harlot," "reptile," and "painted dirt." Eventually Pamela escapes out a window and flees across the lawn to her carriage (401-23). The Lady Davers scene is highly dramatic; moreover, it illumines both the heroine's character and the shape of Richardson's book. One humorous clue to its importance comes near the beginning of the scene, when Richardson's heroine loosely paraphrases a few lines from Alexander Pope's "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," a poem which proves to have a number of echoes in this scene and the novel as a whole.

The first hint of an allusion occurs when Pamela first spots Lady Davers's coach arriving. Trembling with fear, Pamela decides to slip away and leave Mrs. Jewkes to cover her absence. Jewkes protests: "|She expects to see you, madam. What answer shall I give her?'" Resourceful even in her panic, Pamela begs the housekeeper to

"Tell her I am sick in bed: tell her I am dying, and must not be disturbed: tell her I am gone out: tell her anything!" (403)

This catalogue of excuses sounds amusingly like Pope's famous plea for respite from the persecutions of the poetic horde:

Shut, shut the door, good John!, fatigu'd I said, Tye up the knocker, say I'm sick, I'm dead, The Dog-Star rages! nay 'tis past a doubt, All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out: Fire in each eye, and Papers in each hand, They rave, recite, and madden round the land. (lines 1-6)

Pamela, of course, is being persecuted not for fame but for presumed infamy, although there does seem to be a connection between her oft-discussed literary impulse and the role of Pope's beleaguered poet. While lady Davers's eyes are afire, and she surely raves, the paper in her hand is not poetry but Mr. B's letter to his new wife. Still, without forcing an analogy or claiming direct quotation, I would argue that more than mere coincidence governs the connections between Pope's self-congratulatory epistle and the first novel of a writer whose literary citations usually run more to the biblical than to the Augustan.

The meeting with Lady Davers marks a turning point in the heroine's progress. Pamela begins the scene doubly empowered, first by love and her recent elevation to the gentry, but still more by the vindication of her persistent self-respect. Lady Davers' insults are harsh enough to make Pamela weep, but they provide further vindication: Pamela believes she would have merited such insults had she not insisted steadily that her master respect her as she does herself (409). She can thus choose to ignore or respond calmly to Lady Davers's sneers. Confident in herself, Pamela lives up to what Mr. B. calls "your character, as my wife" (425); more importantly, she lives up to her own character as a servant girl who knows that her "soul is of equal importance with the soul of a princess" (197). Lady Davers makes all the cruel comments about class distinction that Mr. B. and his neighbors never quite express. By standing up to her, Pamela demonstrates her new confidence and her fitness for what will, as the sequel reveals, not be a completely easy life with Mr. B.

Richardson's echo of Pope is appropriate at this moment for several reasons. The humor of the lines assures us in advance that Pamela's final trial at the hands of the gentry will include comedy as well as fright. Pamela's amusing list of excuses suggests that even in her frantic state she possesses the enterprising spirit and quick wit that will get her through the encounter to come. Moreover, Pamela stands only to gain from an implicit comparison with the famed poet presented in the "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot." Herself a frequent satirist and on occasion a poet, the letter-writing Pamela is literary artist enough to have won her cause largely with language.

Most important to Richardson's purpose is the overall shape of Pope's poem and its relevance to Pamela's history. Pope begins the "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot" with a lively view of the persecutions inflicted on the famous poet by those who imagine they can use him for their own gain. The poem ends, however, on a more serious note. Not only a satire, the epistle presents an extended homage to Pope's parents, whose model the speaker of the poem hopes to follow. "Of gentle blood" and with no fortune but what they have earned, those parents sound remarkably like Pamela's idealized father and mother. The poet's father could be Goodman Andrews but for his lack of education and his famous son:

Born to no Pride, inheriting no Strife, Nor marrying Discord in a Noble Wife, Stranger to Civil and Religious Rage, The good Man walk'd innoxious thro' his Age. No Courts he saw, no Suits would ever try, Nor dar'd an Oath, nor hazarded a Lye: Un-learn'd, he knew no Schoolman's subtle Art, No Language, but the Language of the Heart. (392-99)

From an attack on those who lack virtue, Pope's poem moves to an impassioned tribute to those who best embody it. With like sensibility, Pamela's scene with lody Davers commends the humble and the good by juxtaposing them with the over-passionate and proud.

Richardson's personal opinion of Pope was mixed at best. No record exists of his attitude toward Pope before 1740, but we do know that in 1742 and 1743 he blamed Pope for "stooping to the Drudgery" of editing Shakespeare and for wasting his "Time, and his admirable Genius" in "exposing insects of a Day."(1) In later years Richardson's comments grew more harsh as he condemned the poet's penchant for lashing the individual rather than the vice (Carroll 24-25).(2) While it cannot be proven conclusively that Richardson read "An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," his letters show his familiarity with a range of Pope's work and his distaste for Pope's recurrent vein of "personal Satire."(3) Since the "Epistle to Arbuthnot" spends much time defending satire and specifically the lashing of particular fools, its appeal to Richardson presumably lay in the analogy it permits between Pamela and the preeminent poet of the age - an analogy that indirectly reflects credit on the creator of Pamela - and in the appropriateness of the poem's ending to Richardson's story.

The Lady Davers scene encapsulates much that Richardson's readers have seen in preceding pages: Pamela's preoccupation with her reputation, her invincible self-respect, the prejudices she has had to combat, the serious comedy of her long battle. The scene's Popean echoes assist Richardson in reviewing for us the complex person who is Pamela: writer, satirist, moralist, persecuted victim, and triumphant embodiment of the virtues catalogued and claimed by Pope near the end of the "Epistle to Arbuthnot":

Not Fortune's Worshipper, nor Fashion's Fool Not Lucre's Madman, nor Ambition's Tool, Not proud, nor servile, be one Poet's praise That, if he pleas'd, he pleas'd by manly ways; That Flatt'ry, ev'n to Kings, he held a shame, And thought a Lye in Verse or Prose the same: That not in Fancy's Maze he wander'd long, But stoop'd to Truth, and moraliz'd his song: That not for Fame, but Virtue's better end, He stood the furious Foe.... (334-43)

Never flattering, never seduced by fortune, and ever a partisan of virtue, Pamela in her encounter with lady Davers shows a presence and self-possession that assure us she is fully prepared for the challenges of her new life. As the scene begins, Richardson's echoes of Pope's epistle confirm the new status of his heroine.

(1) Letter to Hill, [April?] 1743, qtd. in McKillop 307; Richardson's extract from a letter to Dr. Cheyne, Jan. 21, 1742/43, qtd. in Carroll 21. (2) Both Richardson and his creation Clarissa seem to borrow this criticism from Jonathan Swift. In Clarissa's words, "The man, not the fault, is the subject of their satire" (letter 69, 280); in the words of Swifts verses on his own death, "Yet, malice never was his aim; / He lash'd the vice, but spar'd the name" (472). (3) Richardson to Aaron Hill, Jan. 19, 1743/44, qtd. in Carroll 23.

Works Cited

Carroll, John. "Richardson on Pope and Swift." University of Toronto Quarterly 33.1 (Oct. 1963): 19-29. McKillop, A.D. Samuel Richardson, Plinter and Novelist. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P 1936. Pope, Alexander. "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot." Imitations of Horace with An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot and the Epilogue to the Satires. Ed. John Butt. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 1953. Richardson, Samuel. Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded. Ed. Peter Sabor, with an introduction by Margaret Anne Doody. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1980. Richardson, Samuel. Clarissa; or the History of a Young Lady. Ed. Angus Ross. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1985. Swift, Jonathan. "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift." Gulliver's Travels and Other Writings. Ed. Louis A. Landa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960. 458-73.
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Title Annotation:Alexander Pope and Samuel Richardson's novel 'Pamela'
Author:McAllister, Marie E.
Publication:Papers on Language & Literature
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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