Ruminations of Mr. B: V

NOTE: This section includes the attempted rape of Pamela by Mr. B. For a modern audience, this scene makes the later romance between Pamela and Mr. B a near impossibility. However, our modern sensibilities are somewhat unfair to Richardson. Richardson wasn't interested in rape, per se; he was interested in the issue of integrity, i.e. whether female servants had the right to claim it (and many people, including Henry Fielding, thought they didn't: a female servant was automatically considered vulgar and sluttish). He was also, I think, interested in the issue of "fallen" women. He had to make the seduction of both Pamela and Clarissa as close to rape as possible (to make clear how totally innocent they were), but I do think seduction is what he was aiming for. This is one aspect of the BBC Clarissa that makes zero sense. I always thought Lovelace's triumph was that Clarissa succumbed--even if only for the time it took to do "the deed." After all, if he is just going to rape her, why doesn't he do it earlier?

In an effort to place the scene in context, I have added dialog below between Mr. B and the grad student.

Corresponding to the Onset of the 6th Week of Pamela's Bondage

I started on Friday; Lincolnshire is less than day's ride from Hertfordshire. I sent letters ahead that I would arrive Monday or Tuesday. On Monday, I lasted four hours in the carriage and then collapsed in a Cambridge Inn. I made it to the Lincolnshire estate the next evening.

I sat in a chair in the parlor while Mrs. Jewkes talked my ear off. She was full of Pamela's intransigence: How Pamela kept trying to escape, how Pamela had secrets, how Pamela called her names. I might as well have stayed in Hertfordshire.

"Get my supper ready," I said and went up to Pamela's bedroom.

She was kneeling on the floor when I came in, ready for a melodramatic scene, no doubt, and I was suddenly tired of all women. I wanted sleep except sleep brought dreams. I wanted rest from pain, but I didn't want to get drunk. Loss of control has never appealed to me.

"You should be ashamed," I told Pamela. "Come in, Mrs. Jewkes, and see this woman I once thought as innocent as an angel of light. I now have no patience with her."

Mrs. Jewkes bustled over to Pamela. "Come on," she said with brash good-humor. "Learn to know your best friend, confess your unworthy behavior, and beg his honor's forgiveness of all your faults."

I watched her patting Pamela and considered that perhaps John had been right, and Mrs. Jewkes was not precisely the right person to watch over Pamela.

Pamela finally looked up. "God forgive you, sir!" she said after a deep breath.

Forgive me? I almost smacked her. But I checked myself and tried to remember that Pamela was probably imagining herself as Lucretia. Or Cordelia. Or some other wronged lady from the theater.

"When she's finished acting," I said, "perhaps I will see her again," and I went downstairs.

The Lincolnshire house is shadowed and quiet. There are less servants that at the Bedfordshire estate, and the servants are less jolly. I sat in the parlor and had only my thoughts for company. Frankly, Pamela's over-acting was better than nothing.

"Tell Mrs. Jewkes to bring Pamela down to serve me," I told Monsieur Colbrand who I'd sent to the estate the week before. He would valet me in Lincolnshire.

She came down, head lowered, shoulders hunched. She served my wine and stood behind me. Mrs. Jewkes watched from the far end of the table, arms akimbo.

"Mrs. Jewkes," I said, "you tell me Pamela remains very sullen and eats nothing."

"Not so much as will keep life and soul together."

"I suppose she lives upon love," I said. "Her villainous plots with sweet Mr. Williams have kept her alive and well."

"That's right," Mrs. Jewkes said. "She's slippery as an eel."

And finally, Pamela spoke: "Have mercy and hear me concerning this wicked woman's usage—"

"I am satisfied she has done her duty," I said. "You, however, are a wicked girl to tempt the parson to undo himself."

I heard her sigh, then, "I have a strange tribunal to plead before. The poor sheep in the fable was tried before the vulture on the accusation of the wolf."

I was a little surprised that I wasn't cast as the wolf, but I tried to follow Pamela's line of reasoning: "So, Mrs. Jewkes," I said, "you are the wolf, I the vulture, and here is the poor innocent lamb."

"Oh," Mrs. Jewkes snorted. "That is nothing to what she has called me: Jezebel, a London prostitute—and now, you are a vulture—"

I grinned at my chicken as Pamela burst out, "I wasn't comparing—"

"Don't quibble, girl," I said, and Mrs. Jewkes agreed.

Pamela said, "There is a righteous Judge who knows the secrets of all hearts and to him I appeal."

Calling down the fire of heaven on us, in fact.

I finished dinner and turned to look at Pamela. She was crying, but she looked fit to strike something. If we ever did have children, I pitied them their tempers.

Even tearful, though, she looked beautiful if too thin. The direct glare was still there, the thin saucy quirk to the lips. I wondered what had led Williams to think he could handle Pamela in the first place. But then, she can be quite persuasive when she wants to be.

"It's no wonder the poor parson was infatuated," I said. "I blame him less than I do her."

And Pamela's expression changed, became bewildered, helpless. For the first time, I wondered if she hadn't encouraged Williams. Had she endowed him with Galahad scruples? Oh, Pamela.

She walked away from me and pressed her face against the wainscot.

"Come back here, hussy," I said. "We have a reckoning to make." When she didn't come, I went and slipped my arms around her shoulders. "How can I forgive you?" I said to her hair. She had caused disturbances in my households, brought discredit on me, corrupted my servants, conspired with Williams. I kissed her head and tried to stroke her.

She broke away then. "I would die before I would be used thus," she said and the rage was back.

"Consider where you are, Pamela," I said. "Don't be a fool."

She wouldn't meet my eyes, so I sent her upstairs with Mrs. Jewkes.

I collapsed then. Monsieur Colbrand heaved me into bed: "You have a fever, sir," he said, and I said, "I'll be better in the morning."

I didn't sleep, and the next morning, I was still warm, but I dressed without help. Sir Simon came to welcome me to the county. "Can I see the chippy?" he asked, and I said, "No" rather shortly. He obviously expected to dine, so while he strode in the garden, I pulled out my proposal to Pamela and sent it up to her by Mrs. Jewkes.

I'd be working on the proposal since before I packed Pamela off to Lincolnshire. Once Pamela became my mistress, I would give her the immediate gift of 500 guineas, the income from my property in Kent with her father as manager, a promise to care for any of her relations (I hoped there weren't many; she'd never suggested she came from a large family), four sets of clothes plus several pieces of high quality jewelry, and the right to command my servants. Lastly, I promised to marry her in a year. I doubted Pamela would care about the last provision once she had exposure to the rest. It was a generous settlement.

I suppose you are not surprised that Pamela refused. I no longer knew what to expect. I will say that her answer to my proposal was the most straightforward Pamela had been with me in many weeks.

"I will not trifle with you nor act like a person doubtful of her own mind," she wrote. She assured me she had not encouraged Williams. She disdained my offers of money, proclaiming that her "honest parents" would never agree to any proposal that involved the "prostitution of their poor daughter." I wondered if her parents would be so high-handed if approached directly, but, remembering Mr. Andrews, thought perhaps they would be. She continued in the same melodramatic vein, pronouncing that she had "greater pride in her poverty and meanness than in dress and finery," which is a lie. Pamela has never been proud of being poor. She ended by pointing out that if she did become my mistress for a year, at the end of it, she would hardly merit marriage with a gentleman.

There is, as I've mentioned previously, a great deal of the lawyer about Pamela.

There was one passage, however, that gave me pause. "I know not the man breathing I would wish to marry," Pamela had written, "except one and that is the gentleman who, above all others, seeks my everlasting dishonor."

She wanted me. Her refusal was foolhardy, pointless. God would hardly hold her accountable for merely trying to better herself. Her parents would hardly complain because their daughter put their comfort above her own misguided morality. I stomped around my study, my head throbbing.

"It's your own fault for being so tender," Mrs. Jewkes said, and I was beginning to think she was right. Pamela needed a fait accompli. The issue needed to be resolved. "I'll bed her tomorrow," I said and instructed Mrs. Jewkes to not let Pamela escape. She bustled out. I heard her and Pamela yelling at each other in Pamela's bedroom. Pamela wanted the keys to the room; Mrs. Jewkes wouldn't give them up.

I went to bed and didn't sleep.

Interruption

"You realize," the grad student said to Mr. B., "that your decision to rape--"

"Seduce," said the lanky man. "Rape is your parlance, not mine."

"So no one in the 18th century was raped?"

"Of course they were. But female servants--" Mr. B. shrugged. "Even Pamela was more concerned with her virginity than her rights."

"I don't think she saw a difference."

"But a modern woman would." Mr. B grinned faintly. "I did repent the decision. I'm no Lovelace. He was a cad."

"You came very close to being one yourself."

"And Pamela would have survived. She was no Clarissa." He twitched, straightening up and clasping his hands between his knees. "You are forcing me to justify an action I long ago regretted. Just remember, action and intent were not the same to us as they are to you moderns. I was no sociopath, not even particularly bad. Pamela was my servant, she was female, she had no prospects, and little protection. I was the god of my estates. Didn't Eros kidnap Psyche?"

"Psyche never regretted her seduction."

"I was convinced Pamela wouldn't either. Let us grant that I was wrong. But don't forget why I believed I was right."

Corresponding to the Middle of the 6th Week of Pamela's Bondage

I went to church the next morning with two texts sent to me by Pamela through Mrs. Jewkes. "The prayers of this congregation are earnestly desired for a gentleman of great worth and honor who labors under a temptation to exert his great power to ruin a poor, distressed, worthless maiden," read one. The second was not much different.

Typical Pamela and very clever, but I was tired of the game. "Tell her the reckoning is not far off," I said and left the house. As I got into the carriage, I saw Pamela's face at the window. She looked solemn.

Church was exasperating. Parson Peters was there to plead with me for Williams's release: Williams didn't realize he owed me money; he thought the sum I gave him was salary for three years and so on and so forth. "It was a bit much putting the fella in gaol," Sir Simon chimed in.

"I'll resolve the matter," I said and left them.

But I knew then how to arrange matters with Pamela. I sent the carriage home plus a letter to Mrs. Jewkes advising her that I'd gone to Stamford to deal with Williams. She was to tell Pamela the same. I then walked home, cutting across the pasture, so I could enter through the rear. I ran into Monsieur Colbrand and used him to send a second message to Mrs. Jewkes. I then rested on a seat outside the back door, watching the sky mellow and getting my breath back. The stage was set. By the same time the next day, Pamela's fate would be decided. Finally.

Towards evening, I went upstairs to my room to change and from there to Pamela's bedroom. She and Mrs. Jewkes were in the downstairs parlor. I sat in the elbow-chair in the darkest corner and covered my face with an apron and my legs with a petticoat. I was pretending to be the maid. I dozed off and on until I heard Mrs. Jewkes and Pamela come upstairs. Mrs. Jewkes was teasing Pamela about her writing. Pamela was complaining about me. She checked the closets--I smiled to myself--and finally went to bed, still talking rapidly, feverishly. Pamela is no fool. She knew something wasn't right.

They doused the light and after a few minutes, I got up and undressed. I sat down on the edge of the bed closest to Pamela. I slid under the covers.

"Are you alright?" she said, thinking I was the maid.

I suppose no red-blooded gentleman will believe me, but for a long moment, I just wanted to sleep--there, next to Pamela with my arm across her middle. Sleep away dreams, sleep away thoughts of drowning. I suppose I was already drowning, and Pamela was the only way out, the only way up. I slid closer until her arm was under my shoulders and clasped her around the waist.

I kissed her full-mouth before she could scream and then I came up for air, and she did scream. Mrs. Jewkes was somewhere on the periphery, shouting, "Don't dilly-dally, sir." And Pamela was still screaming, and I was trying to explain that this was it, she might as well accept my proposals, and then she went limp, completely limp, like something dead.

"She's had a fit," I said, getting up.

"Ah, she's faking, sir," Mrs. Jewkes said.

"No, she isn't," I said and lit a candle. Pamela lay on the bed, white and motionless. Mrs. Jewkes leaned over her.

"She's breathing, sir," she said while I pulled on my gown and slippers. I brought another candle to the bed and sat on the free side.

"Can you wake her?" I said.

Mrs. Jewkes, nonplussed, waved smelling-salts under Pamela's nose. Pamela jerked awake. She looked at me, and I knew that look, I read it from my own experience. She was terrified of drowning. She sat up, edging backward until she struck the headboard.

"Pamela," I said gently. "Pamela."

She watched me warily like something wild and injured. I leaned forward, speaking softly, and she put her hand on my mouth. We gazed at each other over her palm.

"Did I suffer any distress?"

"No," I said. "I promise you I did nothing."

"Well, you could now she's well," Mrs. Jewkes said stolidly.

Pamela's eyes rolled back in her head. She was pressed sideways against the bed's headboard and would have fallen to the floor if I hadn't caught her.

"Get out of here," I said to Mrs. Jewkes. "Send the maid in."

I laid Pamela flat on the bed; she was light, too light. She hadn't been eating as Mrs. Jewkes claimed. I touched her cheek, and it was cold. There was a scar along her hairline. I didn't remember it from Bedfordshire.

The maid showed up, blinking her eyes.

"What's your name?" I said.

"Nan, sir."

"Sit down there. You'll be sleeping here tonight."

Nan agreed, wide-eyed. I waited, holding Pamela's hand, watching her face. Nan waved the smelling salts, and Pamela came to slowly. Her eyes fixed on me.

"Nan will sleep here tonight," I said. "Mrs. Jewkes has been sent to sleep in her bed."

"Won't the same thing happen again? Only with Nan to encourage you?"

"No," I said. "I will not come in again tonight. Say you forgive me, Pamela," and I kissed her hand.

"God forgive you, sir," she said.

I had to be content with that.

She was still weak the next morning. She tensed under the bedclothes when I entered the room, and I stopped just inside the door.

"I don’t want Mrs. Jewkes," she said.

"She won't come near you today," I said, "if you promise to compose yourself," and Pamela nodded.

She was better the next morning and agreed to see me in the parlor. She was still careful and tense, not the Pamela I knew.

My fault.

"I will not attempt to force you again," I told her.

"Send me away."

I couldn't do it. I was sorry, I truly was. I never thought Pamela could be so frightened. But to send her away would leave me to the water and the dark, and I couldn’t do it.

I would coax her back to happiness and ease.

"Your confinement will get easier," I said.

"To what end? How long am I to stay? And to what purpose?"

"Give me a fortnight," I said, "and try to forgive Mrs. Jewkes," who'd been complaining vociferously for the last two days. "She was only being obedient to me."

Pamela's jaw set, and I saw the woman I knew again. "She is unwomanly and wicked and vile," she said fiercely, and I half-smiled. This seemed to calm her a little, and she knit her brows, thinking.

"I consent to anything you enjoin that I may do innocently."

"Good girl," I said and kissed her. She didn't struggle. She just watched me through half-lids. I wasn't sure I'd gained anything, but I called Mrs. Jewkes and abjured her and Pamela to be friends.

"Can I send a letter to my parents?" Pamela said.

"No," I said.

"You're too kind to her," Mrs. Jewkes said when Pamela left the room.

"I began wrong," I told her. "She may be thawed by kindness, melted by love rather than frozen by fear."

Mrs. Jewkes sniffed and went away, and I sat down to consider a better strategy than the ones I'd used so far. I was still feverish, but I put that down to Sunday's drama and its aftermath.

1 comment:

Eugene said...

I'm reminded of The Tale of Genji. As Wikipedia puts it: "Genji visits Kitayama, the northern rural hilly area of Kyoto, where he finds a beautiful ten-year-old girl. He is fascinated by this little girl (Murasaki) . . . kidnaps her, brings her to his own palace and educates her to be his ideal lady."

When she comes of age, he marries her (after sleeping with just about every other woman in Kyoto). What was once considered the height of romance can often strike the modern mind as remarkably creepy. Such as the criticism by Richardson's contemporaries that he was being too liberal.