Wednesday 14 October 2020

Review: Anti-Pamela by Eliza Haywood

The Anti-Pamela; or, Feign'd Innocence Detected came out a year after Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded and a month after An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews and unlike the other two books, was not a debut novel but one by established novelist, Eliza Haywood. 

Unlike Shamela, it is not a direct parody but seems more a response, Haywood is trying to show how a proper novelist deals with the same films. As such, Anti-Pamela shows the flaws in Pamela by comparison, but inadvertently shows the strengths of Pamela when compared to Anti-Pamela. As such, the book is not in itself anti Pamela, but that the main character, Syrena is herself the opposite of Pamela.

Much like Pamela, Syrena is heavily influenced by her upbringing. Pamela’s parents are near saintly, but Syrena is raised by a mother who trains her beautiful daughter to find the best ‘deal’ with her beauty. For Pamela, being ‘ruined’ is losing her virginity but for Syrena, being ‘ruined’ is losing her virginity without a decent cash payoff. In many ways, the best relationship is between this mother, who wants the best for her daughter as she sees it and Syrena, who isn’t mature enough to put the mother’s lessons properly into practise.

Unlike Pamela, Anti-Pamela doesn’t focus on one situation in a claustrophobic house but moves from one ‘adventure’ (a word with sexual overtones in the eighteenth century) to another. In the first, Syrena, who has been bred up to ‘bag’ a rich man, is languishing as an apprentice in a small dressmakers. On a trip to buy lace, she meets a man in a brocaded hat who offers to buy her stockings and there’s sexual tension with the nature of the purchase. Falsehood being ingrained in her she, pretends to ‘seem coy, but such a coyness to give him room to fancy I might at last be won.” The man quickly seduces her, much to her mother’s dismay as he wasn’t sufficiently rich. She has to move back to her mother’s and has “an abortion to the great joy of mother and daughter.”

The second adventure is the closest to Pamela, as Syrena becomes the maid to an elderly lady and both the father and the son latch on her instantly. It’s clear that she is seen as sexually available to the men of the family and is her job to manipulate both men and decide which will give her the best deal, as the elder’s mistress or the younger’s wife. There’s a greater sense of the workings of the household and her place within it; all clearly shown by the geography in the house and the timetable of the servants. There was a wonderful sense of what is was like to be one of the higher servants in a house, especially how many of the higher servants are largely decorative and have little to do, which makes them easier to get alone. At one point, the younger man waits in the old lady’s cupboard for three hours waiting for her. The end of this adventure shows how Syrena and her mother have no compunction in ruining people’s lives. They set up a fake-rape and accuse the son of perpetrating it, he even goes to prison. The aim is to drop the charges in return for marriage, with Syrena having no worry about marrying a man who hates her in return for money. However, the discovery of the mother’s letters to Syrena undoes their plan and they have to go in hiding in Greenwich.

The book then goes through another series of adventures and each one works for a while but is ultimately unsuccessful which limits future pickings. Things get more desperate as Syrena’s total head-turning beauty has a very small window. She’s not even 17 by the end of the book. 

At one point, Syrena leaves her mum after argument in which Syrena wants to be more sexual in her advances as the coy-game is taking too long. She becomes the kept woman of a tradesman who almost bankrupts his family for her but also falls in love with a handsome man who uses her for money as she uses the tradesman. 

Finally, she falls in love with an elderly man and ‘lets’ him talk her into marriage. Syrena’s mother says that he’s their best bet as only an elderly man would choose to marry his maid. The wedding is almost prepared and the night before it, she is introduced to the old man’s son. To her horror, the son is the handsome man who had previously used her. Again, her plans are foiled by her own indiscretions and she is packed up to be isolated in Wales.

Although there were letters in the book, it was not out-and-out epistolary, with the adventures linked together and occasionally told by a narrator. This narrator means the book doesn’t keep circling the same ideas again and again and gets the story moving. As such, the biggest implied criticism Anti-Pamela makes of Pamela is that it is too stuck in one place, containing too little incident. However, the accumulation of incident does mean that we don’t live in the character’s minds to the same extent, while I may not be Pamela’s biggest fan, Anti-Pamela does show a new direction that novels could, and did take.

(On a little note about my copy, I had the Broadview edition edited by Catherine Ingressia, which also included Shamela. For the most part, I found it a brilliant edition but I was rather irritated by the footnotes. It had the American ‘thing’ of describing well-known London locations but it also explained very common phrases as if they were something strange and archaic. Do people really not understand what ‘fast and loose’ means?)

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