How It Should Have Ended

AverageEverygirl013

This is the very first Average Everygirl comic I drew. In fact, it’s where her name originated. I had taken to doodling plot points that annoyed me, and really, what’s more annoying than the Wealthy Sociopath as a Love Interest scenario?

Sadly, this premise goes all the way back to the dawn of the English novel. In 1740, Samuel Richardson published Pamela. Its plot? A chamber maid evades her noble employer’s repeated sexual assaults by fleeing or fainting (or both); when he finds he cannot have his way with her as he pleases, he marries her instead.

My favorite part of the book is its subtitle: Virtue Rewarded.

“Congratulations, Pamela! You’ve successfully escaped several traumatic attacks on your person! Now you get to marry your would-be rapist! Hooray!”

It really is that bad. The guy paws and pursues her. He intercepts her letters to her parents. He yanks her onto his lap, kisses her against her will, rips her clothes, hides out in her bedroom closet, and gets into bed with her—once with a female accomplice holding her in place while he cozies up on the other side. Pamela’s faints and fits are the only things that save her, though the astute reader will discern that we don’t actually know what happens to her in those blackout periods. We only have her attacker’s assertion that he didn’t do anything, and he lies about that to other servants, so why would he tell the whole truth to Pamela?

Later in the story, after they’re married, it comes to light that he previously seduced another working girl, who then had his baby and is off living in another town with the child. So it wasn’t just Pamela ur so hott i need u now. It was I’m so rich I can do whatever I please with whomever I want and have no lasting consequences. What a gem.

In a perfect world, the novel would have consisted of one letter:

Dear Mom and Dad,

My employer tried to molest me, so I punched him in the face. Am packing my things and will be home shortly.

Your devoted daughter,
Pamela

Instead, we have two volumes of Pamela gushing about dozens of contrived situations. Mr. B, despite his repeated assaults, never gets charged with anything. He never even suffers from a tarnished reputation. He’s young and rich and hot, and all his “foibles” stem from his youth and wealth and hotness. He displays red flags like the feathers in a peacock’s tail, but his servants dismiss them because he’s their employer. Meanwhile, we are supposed to dismiss them because everything turns out “happy” in the end.

Haha… ha…

Yeah.

The public at the time ate the story up. It was preached from pulpits as an ideal of virtuous, womanly behavior. And while I can agree that, yes, we should run from our attackers, Pamela is hardly a role model. For one thing, she continues working for the squire despite his repeated, often violent attempts to seduce her. She also doesn’t reject his offer of marriage when it finally comes around. She hems and haws over whether he’s sincere or trying to trick her, but ultimately she gives in.

He’s reformed, you see. The right woman has that effect upon a man. It’s the Power of Romance™.

And it’s utterly, utterly false.

The great shame of Pamela, and of the many other novels of its ilk that have followed since, is that it neutralizes fundamentally repulsive behavior with something as shallow as money and a handsome face. Even worse, it sends the message that when a man inflicts violence upon a woman, she secretly wants it and she’ll eventually accept it if the conditions are right. In other words, she likes the repulsive behavior; she just doesn’t know it yet. The man and the audience both do, however, and we revel in her journey of enlightenment. Or at least, we’re expected to.

I don’t. Of all the subversively destructive literary tropes, this one really chaps my hide.

But Pamela at least has an excuse: it was written by a man. Richardson was a product of his era, when women were property and marrying well ensured them a comfortable life. He did break boundaries with a working-class heroine who entered the ranks of nobility, but the mess of a story undermines that message. In the end, the sole triumph of Pamela is that it spurred Henry Fielding to write Shamela and Joseph Andrews, both parodies of this literary atrocity.

A literary atrocity, I remind you, that reincarnates every time an impossibly rich, impeccably hot, implicitly abusive hero swaggers onto the page.

4 Responses to How It Should Have Ended
  1. W.R. Gingell says:

    First off, I have to say that I just LOVE Average’s Not Impressed look: more so when she wears it while macing the guy. This makes me very happy.

    Secondly: what the heck, Pamela??? I read an excerpt of it in a compilation and decided to read the whole book. Oh my. I got to the point where she has JUST GOT AWAY in the carriage. Mr B sends someone after her because he just can’t live without her. AND SHE GOES BACK. I couldn’t stomach it after that. The guy is a rapist. And the part where Pamela’s father comes to take her away and is sent off again weeping just made me feel physically sick. I know my dad wouldn’t do that. No way. Mr B would be dead, and I would be safely back at home (at least until the coppers of the day came to cart dad off to hang for killing nobility and chucked me into jail, but still…) Pamela is still sitting on my shelf, but will never be fully read.

    Also, don’t get me started on Fifty Shades Of Grey. Seriously. Just don’t. You don’t want to open that can of worms.

    BUUUUUUUUT.
    But.

    For an example of the billionaire love interest done so very, VERY right, see Joan Aiken’s ‘Butterfly Picnic’ (otherwise known as ‘A Cluster Of Separate Sparks’- a much better title). It’s an absolute delight.

    • kstradling says:

      Yes, Average is Having None Of It. I wish there were more heroines like her in that respect, but it makes for a pretty short story.

      I had to read Pamela for a class in college. (My prof had us read excerpts of Shamela to make up for it, haha.) My copy of the book is still on my shelf too. I pull it out from time to time when I need a train wreck to gawk at. Penguin’s back-cover blurb does a noble job of trying to frame it in a positive light, but its only redeeming quality really is that it inspired such vitriol in Fielding. As such, it is a Useful Book, not in reading so much as in playing the part of “No! Bad Writer! Don’t Do That!”

      No comment on Fifty Shades.

      And I think I might need you to start a “W.R.’s Reading Recommendations” list. Pretty please? I found a blurb for Butterfly Picnic on joanaiken.com but it is, of course, out of print. A Cluster of Separate Sparks was the US title, so that’s what I have to keep my eyes peeled for. (Or I could just cave and buy it from Amazon, but I don’t entirely trust those third-party booksellers. Hmm.)

    • W.R. Gingell says:

      Ha! That would make a great adjunct to my blog! W.R.’s Reading Recommendations (and the occasional movie)….I could do that 😀

      And I’m delighted to hear there’s a book called ‘Shamela’! I must read this! ( I found it cheap on kindle, so hooray!)

      I have to say, I’ve learned a heck of a lot from bad books- as you say, a lot of how NOT to do things. It’s been awfully useful 😀 Pamela taught me a lot at a rather important stage in my writing, so I have it to thank for that, at least.

      • kstradling says:

        *nods* Yup, yup. Bad books have their use.

        Insofar as good books are concerned, I’ll stay on the lookout for your reading recs. 😉

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