Essay on Marriage in Pamela and Roxana

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Marriage in Pamela and Roxana

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
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Roxana or The Fortunate Mistress raises the question of how Roxana can be fortunate since the very word mistress is indicative of a ruined woman. Although their behavior and values directly contrast with one another there are parallels in their situations that are interesting.

Richardson's Pamela is a sixteen-year old servant girl who exhibits a remarkable and persistent virtue that creates awe and disbelief. She is a paragon of thoughtfulness, kindness, honesty, forgiveness, intelligence and above all chastity. That she is cognizant of the value of that chastity and the consequences of surrendering it without marriage is made quite clear in a conversation with Mrs. Jervis when in speaking of Mr. B. she says, "He may condescend may-hap to think I may be good enough for his Harlot; and those things don't disgrace men, that ruin poor Women, as the World goes" (49). Pamela makes this declaration in reaction to Mr. B.'s attempts to take that precious chastity from her with or without her consent.

That she should choose to protect her chastity against all schemes to relive her of it rather than precariously advance her station in life by becoming Mr. B.'s mistress at the cost of the only thing she possesses of any worth is commendable and understandable given the value placed on sexual purity at the time. Mr. B. fails to
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