• Carmen Milligan

First English Novel??

I had a front-row seat at the online Ken Burns panel discussion on Benjamin Franklin and Writing. During the discussion, one of the panel members mentioned Samuel Richardson's novel "Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded", listing it as one of the first English novels printed in America.

Wait. WHAT?!

Published in England in 1740, this is believed to be the first English novel. However, others disagree, and it seems to come down to one's definition of "novel". In any event, I have never heard of it. I surely know about Murasaki Shikibu's "Tale of Genji" from 11th century Japan, as well as "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes published in the early 1600s. But, for this book to have slipped under the "Carmen is a Reader" radar ... well, EGAD!

The premise is interesting: a 15-year-old house servant (Pamela) becomes the romantic obsession of the master of the house, Mr. B. In an epistolary telling from Pamela's viewpoint, Mr. B tries to woo her, seduce her, and finally resorts to molesting and holding her captive in his country estate. Where, by the way, the housekeeper makes Pamela her "bedfellow". Finally, Mr. B proposes to Pamela, who realizes that she does love him, and the two marry. Mr. B's sister comes, calls the marriage a sham, Pamela's father comes and tries to stop the engagement because he finally read all of the letters sent by his daughter, and the villagers work in cahoots with Mr. B to do whatever he wants them to because they think very highly of him. In the end, though, evidently everyone comes to see that the two are a wonderful couple, Pamela is held in high regard by all, and the bickering siblings reconcile.

It was scandalous back in the day because of the disregard of class barriers. Really? THAT is what offends you? Wow.

Let me know if you've heard of this, and (of course!) if you've read it! At a whopping just-under-600 pages, it's quite the tome.

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