Complete Works of Samuel Richardson: Text, Summary, Motifs and Notes (Annotated)
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Richardson was 50 years old when he wrote Pamela, but of his first 50 years little is known. His ancestors were of yeoman stock. His father, also Samuel, and his mother’s father, Stephen Hall, became London tradesmen, and his father, after the death of his first wife, married Stephen’s daughter, Elizabeth, in 1682. A temporary move of the Richardsons to Derbyshire accounts for the fact that the novelist was born in Mackworth. They returned to London when Richardson was 10. He had at best what he called “only Common School-Learning.” The perceived inadequacy of his education was later to preoccupy him and some of his critics.
Richardson was bound apprentice to a London printer, John Wilde. Sometime after completing his apprenticeship he became associated with the Leakes, a printing family whose presses he eventually took over when he set up in business for himself in 1721 and married Martha Wilde, the daughter of his master. Elizabeth Leake, the sister of a prosperous bookseller of Bath, became his second wife in 1733, two years after Martha’s death. His domestic life was marked by tragedy. All six of the children from his first marriage died in infancy or childhood. By his second wife he had four daughters who survived him, but two other children died in infancy. These and other bereavements contributed to the nervous ailments of his later life.
In his professional life Richardson was hardworking and successful. With the growth in prominence of his press went his steady increase in prestige as a member, an officer, and later master, of the Stationers’ Company (the guild for those in the book trade). During the 1730s his press became known as one of the three best in London, and with prosperity he moved to a more spacious London house and leased the first of three country houses in which he entertained a circle of friends that included Dr. Johnson, the painter William Hogarth, the actors Colley Cibber and David Garrick, Edward Young, and Arthur Onslow, speaker of the House of Commons, whose influence in 1733 helped to secure for Richardson lucrative contracts for government printing that later included the journals of the House.
In this same decade he began writing in a modest way. At some point, he was commissioned to write a collection of letters that might serve as models for “country readers,” a volume that has become known as Familiar Letters on Important Occasions. Occasionally he hit upon continuing the same subject from one letter to another, and, after a letter from “a father to a daughter in service, on hearing of her master’s attempting her virtue,” he supplied the daughter’s answer. This was the germ of his novel Pamela. With a method supplied by the letter writer and a plot by a story that he remembered of an actual serving maid who preserved her virtue and was, ostensibly, rewarded by marriage, he began writing the work in November 1739 and published it as Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded a year later.
Most of the story is told by the heroine herself. On the death of Pamela’s mistress, her son, Mr. B, begins a series of stratagems designed to end in Pamela’s seduction.