Essay on Marriage in Pamela and Fanny Hill

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‘Marriage is the only available—and acceptable—option for the eighteenth century heroine’. Is this true? Class and gender chiefly governed British society in the eighteenth century and the opportunities for a woman to achieve social and financial security were scarce. In this society men of the upper class governed the female identity. This patriarchal climate stipulated that, “a respectable woman was nothing but the potential mother of children” (Blease 7). In the context of eighteenth century British society, this prescribed duty implied marriage first and was shortly followed by procreation and duties relating to family life. Although marriage and maternity provided the only socially acceptable path for women during this time, some…show more content…
Pamela equates being kept mistress to slavery and confides in her parents claiming that she “would rather be obliged to wear rags, and live upon rye-bread and water, as I used to do, than to be a harlot to the greatest man in the world” (Richardson). As a lower class servant-girl, becoming a mistress to a powerful aristocratic gentleman had the potential to “invite [Pamela’s] ruin” (Richardson). Thus, the only options available to Pamela that would not guarantee her ruin were to cling to her virtue or solidify her position through marriage. While Pamela’s upstanding virtue provides the model behaviour for young ladies of the time, Cleland’s heroine sustains herself through the socially unacceptable act of prostitution. Although Fanny Hill is a pornographic novel intended to arouse its male readership, Cleland’s text is essentially anti-Pamelist in its account of Fanny’s life. Richardson offers his heroine multiple opportunities to flee the unwelcome advances of Mr B from Mr William’s proposal of marriage to Mr B’s offer to take Pamela as his mistress, both of which she refuses. Fanny, on the other hand, is forced out of poverty into the line of sex work. She relinquishes her hold on virtue, telling the reader that

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