Eighteenth century England's social values irrevocably intertwined
woman's virtue and marriage, particularly for the upper class. This
intertwining arose from the fact that wealth was land, and in order to
make certain that the land passed down to a legitimate heir the
mother's virtue must be beyond doubt, ensuring that family honor
remain unblemished and wealth followed the proper line of succession.
As a result virtue, followed by pedigree, became the single most
important asset any girl could possess since its loss marked a girl as
ruined and precluded any chance of a successful marriage, the only
acceptable career open to a woman of upper class status. I propose
that this type of arranged marriage, where little or no consideration
is given to choice, permits little chance of happiness and also
renders the woman, who loses the minimal personal freedom and economic
control she might have, little more than a pawn to the social values
of the period that endorse virtue and body as a commodity. In a time
when being female means being powerless marriage becomes little more
than a breeding program designed to ensure the proper passage of land
as many of the books written about the period suggest.
Richardson's Pamela and Dafoe's Roxana provide us with two very
different, yet similar examples of how the social values of the time
work against women and force them into situations that they might not
choose if they were allowed the freedom and power to choose according
to their own wishes. For me the word "or" in the titles suggests
ambiguity and the presence of a subtle irony on the part of both
... middle of paper ...
...imately gained everything that Pamela has through accepted methods.
I would argue that Roxana has made the best bargain. She has sold her
virtue and gained freedom while Pamela has sold her virtue and still
remains a servant to the social values of the period if not her
Dafoe, Daniel. Roxana or The Fortunate Mistress. 1724, Ed. Mullen,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
"Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded" Literary Encyclopedia. 30 Oct. 2004.
Maurer, Shawn Lisa." "I wou'd be a Man-Woman": Roxana's Amazonian
to the ideology of Marriage." Texas Studies in Literature and Language.
46.3 (2004) 363-386.
Richardson, Samuel. Pamela or Virtue Rewarded. 1740, Ed. Eves, T. C.
and Kimpel Ben D. New York: Houghton Milton, 1971.
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