In November of 1740, Samuel Richardson anonymously published his epistolary novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which subsequently ignited a firestorm. Briefly summarized, the plot consists of a young servant named Pamela who resists her master’s repeated seduction attempts, protecting her “virtue” until he consents to marry her. Contemporary readers and critics hotly debated whether Pamela is truly virtuous, or only pretending to be virtuous in order to gain a wealthy husband and life of leisure. The debate fueled sales and Pamela quickly became a bestseller, running through numerous editions in its first year in print. Whether driven by a desire to publicize a personal opinion or, more practically, to capitalize on the high demand for Pamela-related material, the market was soon inundated with works that responded to Richardson’s famous (or infamous) servant girl. Referred to by scholars today as the “Pamela Vogue” or the “Pamela Controversy,” these productions included Pamela-themed poems, plays, continuations of the novel, and satirical rewrites, the most famous being Henry Fielding’s Shamela.
Special Collections is fortunate to own a first edition Pamela, a significant item included in the Rush Greenslade Library. One intriguing detail about first editions of this text is that while the novel was published by Rivington and Osborn in late 1740, the title page erroneously lists the year as 1741. Our edition consists of four volumes, which are bound in brown leather with a red band on the spine.