The narrative in both novels is based on the same idea; a virtuous girl meets a rich, vicious man who is trying to seduce her. In Pamela, a young servant, who values her virtue, is tempted by her master who hopes to make her his mistress. In Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia, a young student who is a virgin, meets an attractive and rich entrepreneur Christian with vicious interests who tries to convince her into entering in a BDSM relationship. While each story has its unique characteristic that is affected mainly by the setting of the novel, the problems that both are dealing with do not change. Even though the heroine, who in the eighteenth century was a young and beautiful servant, becomes a young student of English literature and the rich master becomes a rich entrepreneur most of the major themes that Pamela and Fifty Shades of Grey explore stay the same; the relationship, the money, the social unacceptance and the virtue.
The vast part of the story in Pamela and in Fifty Shades of Grey focuses on the relationship, which fits the definition of romance by Deborah Chappel: “the central conflict is always about the love relationship between the hero and heroine and the hero and heroine always end up together” (qtd. in Regis 22). The relationship between Pamela and Mr. B is similar to the relationship of Anastasia and Christian Grey mainly in the way it changes and evolves from an unbalanced and dramatic relation to harmonious union.
The beginning of this unbalanced relation is in both cases based on the same intention as is revealed at certain point in both novels; the attempt of Mr. B to “ruin” Pamela is comparable to Christian’s proposal of a BDSM relationship to Anastasia, since both reveal the true intentions of the heroes which is to make the heroines obedient in all circumstances. This is voiced by both male characters; at first, Mr. B advises Pamela: “Be faithful and diligent; and do as you should do, and I like you the better for this” (Richardson 10). The similar thing is said by Christian to Anastasia: “It means I want you to willingly surrender yourself to me, in all things . . . To please me” (James 100). This implies that Anastasia, despite being a modern heroine, is just as Pamela, a servant from 18th century, encouraged to listen to her master and do whatever he says in order to please him. This desired obedience of the heroines is what makes the relationship unbalanced in both novels and this becomes the main issue in the plot. However, what allows this process of the evolution and change of the relationship between the heroine and hero to happen is described by Simon Lesser: “a young girl hoping that seemingly insuperable obstacles can be overcome so that, legitimately and permanently, she can win the man she loves” (qtd. in Harmsel 104). Without the initial determination of the heroine and the hope for the good in the hero, the story in both novels would not develop into a conventional romance that it becomes in the end.
What reshapes the central love story in both Pamela and Fifty Shades of Grey is the obedience issue and the struggle to make the relationship balanced, since the whole evolution of the relationship develops from them. The heroes in these two novels are struggling to be in control of the heroines for most part of the story; while in Pamela Mr. B kidnaps the heroine in order to be in control, in Fifty Shades of Grey Christian does this through stalking Anastasia. This act is explained by the heroes with Mr. B claiming that: “The passion I have for you, and your obstinacy, have constrained me to act by you in a manner that I know will occasion you great trouble and fatigue . . . ” and Christian saying: “There’s something about you, though, and I’m finding it impossible to stay away” (Richardson 206; James 72). Hence, what connects the heroes is their desire or inability to keep from the heroines because of their feelings for them and the need to be in control of everything the heroines are doing.
However, this desire to control goes far beyond the need for constant presence. The need to get inside the heads of the heroines is essential for the creation of erotic relationship in both novels. Mr. B secretly reads Pamela’s private letters in order to own her and everything that is hers. This according to Jessica L. Leiman becomes “by far the most and perhaps the only genuinely erotic scene in the novel” which means that the erotic in Pamela is closely connected to getting into the head of the heroine, as Pamela’s letters represent her mind and her thoughts (qtd in Leiman 241). In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian expresses desire to know what Anastasia is thinking when he says: “I’d give anything to know what you’re thinking right at this moment” (James 156). Additionally, his wish for Anastasia to let “all those decisions” related to their sexual relationship to him supports the idea that the erotic in Fifty Shades of Grey is just as in Pamela related to getting into the head of the heroine (James 224). The heroes want to know and control the thoughts of the heroines and this absolute possession becomes important for the creation of a sexual relationship in both novels.
The issue of power and obedience is also demonstrated through the gifts that the heroines receive from the heroes and return the moment they decide to leave. Just as Pamela “separates her true property from the property that does not match her station when Mr. B begins to make sexual advances and she prepares to return home” so does Anastasia when she breaks up with Christian and asks for her old car (Roxburgh 415). However, as Natalie Roxburgh says, Pamela does so in order to “show that she owes him nothing” (415). On the other hand Anastasia says to Christian: “I don’t want anything that will remind me of you” (James 511). Although their motives are different, their act represents the same thing; they stop being under the power of the heroes when they return the gifts.
However, these gifts the heroines receive are not only the symbol of their resistance as they also represent wages for their obedience. This is demonstrated through the contracts that are proposed to the heroines by the heroes in both novels. In Pamela, the heroine receives the letter in which Mr. B offers to give her various presents, among them 500 guineas, house in Kent where she would live, clothes and diamond rings, in exchange for becoming, in Mr. B’s words: “mistress of my person and fortune, as much as if the foolish ceremony had passed” (Richardson 375). In Fifty Shades of Grey Christian offers to pay for Anastasia’s travel expenses, personal trainer, clothes and beauty treatments if she agrees to “willingly surrender” herself to him (James 100). These acts resemble the idea of barter system and that is why the gifts heroes offer in exchange for the obedience of the heroines can be considered as wages. The same thing is suggested by Pamela who denies taking the gifts from her master home to her parents: “if I would not do the good gentleman's work, why should I take his wages?” (Richardson 158) Additionally, the whole theme of employment is supported by Anastasia considering the clothes purchased by Christian a “uniform” (James 107).
The denial of the contract in both novels is another example of the resistance of the heroines. It is one of the acts which help them gain the equality and show the resemblance between these two novels and their central love stories. This resemblance is manifested through the way in which Pamela and Anastasia reply to the contract. According to Roxburgh, Pamela “declines each proposal with an explicit reason” (417). The same approach is taken by Anastasia when she replies to Christian’s contract and labels each of her remark with the number of the corresponding paragraph from the contract, and at the same time does not forget to comment on each of them. These refusals are the proof of the disobedience of Anastasia and Pamela, and they also show how the heroines resist the influence of the heroes.
This resistance, however, is not only visible in this particular situation as both heroines tirelessly argue for their equality throughout the story. Pamela does so in her letters to which Mr. B reacts negatively and considers Pamela’s advocacy a “correspondence, in which such liberties have been taken with me” (Richardson 186). Anastasia fights for her equality by refusing many of Christian’s appeals which makes him want to punish her in order to “discourage unacceptable conduct” (James 168). These reactions of Mr. B and Christian prove that the behaviour of the heroines is displeasing to both heroes the same way. On the other hand, both heroines show some indication of obedience; Pamela returns to her master immediately after he asks her to and “In numerous instances, Anastasia does succumb to” Christian’s “controlling ways” (van Reenen 228). This partial obedience suggests that despite their refusal to surrender themselves to the heroes, the heroines still cannot resist their power completely; both Anastasia and Pamela cannot hate the heroes although they mistreat them. This inability to resist and hate is common for both male and female characters in these two novels which also supports the similarity of the central plots and the evolution of the relationship.
Along with the gifts, the contracts and the conduct of the heroines emerges another proof of the obstinacy when Anastasia and Pamela try to free themselves from the power of the heroes. In Pamela, the heroine does this by running away from her master and in Fifty Shades of Grey Anastasia does the same thing by terminating her relationship with Christian. Again, the plot develops similarly in both novels and the resulting effect is also the same; all these acts eventually help the heroines gain their equality and power.
This victory is accurately described by van Reenen: “In Fifty Shades, the female does manage to tame her ‘bad boy’” and in her words, Anastasia “will also be his healer and lead him from a damaged past into happy, domestic hetero-normality” (228). The same description applies to Pamela who also heals Mr. B with her “generous concern” (Richardson 484). In the end, both heroines are rewarded by marriage proposal and their relationship changes from a somehow dramatic and controversial into harmonious and balanced as the heroines marry the heroes.
The second issue supporting the likeness of these two novels is the social unacceptance which is shared by both Pamela and Fifty Shades of Grey. However, while the unacceptable of the former lies in overcoming the differences between two distinct social classes, the unacceptable of the latter focuses on erotic eccentricity. The imprisonment of the servant from the 18th century is not condemned as much as the idea of this servant marrying her master and so achieving a higher social status. When Pamela appeals to the gentry and asks them to give her “shelter” their responses are refusing as Lady Jones “don’t care to make herself enemies” and Sir Simon claims that Mr. B “hurts no family by this” (Richardson 266). However, in her letter Lady Davers cautions her brother against the marriage with Pamela which she thinks inappropriate:
Consider, brother, that ours is no upstart family; but is as ancient as the best in the kingdom! and, for several hundreds of years, it has never been known, that the heirs of it have disgraced themselves by unequal matches: And you know you have been sought to by some of the best families in the nation, for your alliance. It might be well enough, if you were descended of a family of yesterday, or but a remove or two from the dirt you seem so fond of. But, let me tell you, that I, and all mine, will renounce you for ever, if you can descend so meanly; and I shall be ashamed to be called your sister. (Richardson 498)
Her appeals together with the reactions of the gentry represent the view of society on Pamela’s situation. What society judges as inappropriate and controversial is the fact that Pamela may eventually marry Mr. B and not the fact that a servant is imprisoned and abused by her master. Hence, what becomes socially unacceptable is the “unequal match.”
On the other hand, the social unacceptance in Fifty Shades of Grey is portrayed through the erotica and BDSM and just as in Pamela the voice of society is what defines it. However, while in the former novel the opinions of gentry are voiced, in Fifty Shades of Grey it is the silence which speaks. Christian’s effort to keep his sexual relations in private and the “nondisclosure agreement” he wants Ana to sign prove his disinclination to let the society know about this side of him. He also tells Anastasia: “Once you’re enlightened, you probably won’t want to see me again” (James 74). This behaviour of the hero and his effort to prevent his private life to be revealed to the society suggest that the kind of sexual relationship Christian has with women becomes the socially unacceptable in Fifty Shades of Grey.
The money is also an important motif which links these two novels. Considering that both heroes can be described as rich men who use their money in order to gain power over the heroines, and that the heroines in both novels do not posses any valuable property until they get married, it can be seen that the issue with money is the same in Pamela and in Fifty Shades of Grey; those who are in possession of money have the power. Both Mr. B and Christian use the money to gain the power over the heroines with the gifts and the wages they intend to give them for their obedience. However, these gifts and wages are dismissed by the heroines and only accepted once the relationship becomes balanced, which happens after the marriage. When Mr. B says to Pamela: “And when . . . I return with you to the other house, I will make you a suitable present, to buy you such ornaments as are fit for my beloved wife to appear in” (Richardson 679-80). She does not object because the gifts are given to her as a wife. Anastasia also accepts the presents from Christian when she believes that they are equal as Christian, in Fifty Shades Freed gives her a publishing company after their wedding which she then leads. Hence, the moment the power is evenly divided between the hero and the heroine, the money is evenly divided between them too.
The last major theme around which the plot revolves in both Pamela and Fifty Shades of Grey is the virtue. However, while in the former novel the heroine struggles to remain “honest” and would rather “die a thousand deaths” than to become a mistress of Mr. B, Anastasia renounces her virginity voluntarily without considering the consequences of her actions (Richardson 15). The virginity, which in the eighteenth century was everything, is no longer that important in Fifty Shades of Grey as it rather becomes “the situation” which is “rectified” (James 110). Despite this, the concept stays the same as both heroines remain virtuous until they truly fall in love, with Pamela waiting until she is married, and Anastasia waiting for the man whom she really would love. It is mainly the influence that society has on them that affects their decisions; while Pamela’s parents say “the loss of our dear child's virtue would be a grief that we could not bear” Anastasia’s friend Kate rather encourages Ana saying “I’ve been waiting for this day for nearly four years” when Anastasia tells her that she is no longer a virgin (Richardson 13; James 131). Nevertheless, both heroines are virtuous when they meet the heroes, and their virtuousness plays an important role in the plot as it helps them gain love of the heroes; in Mr. B’s case it is the reason of him letting Pamela go as he acknowledges “that her virtue is all her pride” and claims that “she deserves to go honest, and she shall go so!” (Richardson 472) In Christian’s the virtue of Anastasia causes him to “make an exception” as he decides to “make love” to her (James 110). Hence, the virtuousness of the heroines becomes the turning point in the plot as it changes the intentions of the heroes from sexual to emotional. It is also what makes both relationships unique for the heroines since it proves that they never experienced love before.
2.2 The Characters
The main characters in Fifty Shades of Grey in many ways resemble the main characters in Pamela. It is not only their interaction which evolves similarly but also the characteristics with which these characters are created that support the overall likeness of these two novels. The heroine in Fifty Shades of Grey inherits certain features of Pamela and the hero in this novel is also based on the same characteristics as Mr. B. Watt defines Pamela as “a new, fully developed, and immensely influential stereotype of the feminine role” (167). He says that “the model heroine must be very young, very inexperienced, and so delicate in physical and mental constitution that she faints at any sexual advance; essentially passive, she is devoid of any feelings towards her admirer until the marriage knot is tied” (167). Many of these characteristics are also adapted by James; Anastasia is a young, virginal student who also is delicate and passive as she avoids men until she meets Christian. Thus, the “immensely influential stereotype of the feminine role” that Richardson created survives even until today and is recreated into a modern version of which Anastasia is a good example.
Apart from being young and virtuous, one of the main features of the heroine also present in Fifty Shades of Grey is the modesty. What supports this modesty of the two heroines is the way they refuse the possibility of romantic relationship between them and the heroes. Similarly as Pamela denies the possibility of Mr. B having wicked intentions: “. . . and yet I hope I shall never find him to act unworthy of his character; for what could he get by ruining such a poor young creature as me?” (Richardson 15) Anastasia argues: “And from a very tiny, underused part of my brain . . . comes the thought: He’s here to see you. No way! I dismiss it immediately. Why would this beautiful, powerful, urbane man want to see me?” (James 26) This also shows that heroines themselves do not intend to fall in love with the heroes as they believe that such a relationship would be unequal and impossible.
Another feature that connects Pamela with Anastasia is their financial situation. Neither of them has any property and in comparison with the heroes they are disadvantaged. Despite that the heroines do not have interest in the money of the heroes; when Mr. B offers to give money to Pamela she says this: “Money, sir, is not my chief good” (Richardson 371). Similarly, when Christian offers to pay for Anastasia’s clothes she says: “It feels wrong” (James 107). The heroine in both novels is not interested in the money and even though her financial situation is complicated she does not see the hero as someone who might help or save her.
The disadvantage of the heroine can also be found in both novels and is not only connected to the complicated financial situation of the character. In Pamela, the fact that the heroine is a servant suggests the impossibility of her marriage with Mr. B which Pamela notices when she calls herself a “poor young creature” (Richardson 15). In Fifty Shades of Grey Anastasia also calls herself “uncoordinated” and “scruffy” and so confirms her disadvantage against the women Christian is surrounded by in his company (James 15). Neither Pamela nor Anastasia think themselves superior to other women, on the contrary, they consider themselves subordinate to them or the heroes.
The last feature shared by the character of Anastasia and that of Pamela is the fact that they both have their own voice. Even though the heroes try to make them obedient throughout the story, the heroines never really succumb without saying their own opinion. Additionally, despite their naivety which can be seen when Mr. B asks Pamela to return and when Christian promises Anastasia that he will “try” and the heroines believe their promises and stay with the heroes, the resistance and the desire to have their own voice is stronger (James 355). This can be seen in the responses that the heroines have to the proposed contracts, in Pamela the proof of the heroine’s obstinacy is also in her letters which she continues to write throughout the story, in Fifty Shades of Grey it can be seen in Anastasia rolling her eyes at Christian and not wanting to agree to everything Christian wants her to do. All these prove that the heroines have their own voice which they use in order to protect themselves from being under absolute control of the heroes.
The characters of the heroes in Pamela and in Fifty Shades of Grey also resemble each other in many aspects. The most important feature that they share is the fact that both can be described as a “villain-hero - a villain because his hateful assertion of aristocratic privileges makes him all that the heroine abhors; a hero because his good looks, wealth, and aristocracy make him all that she wants” (Harmsel 105). Mr. B and Christian both match this definition as they are both rich and intimidating, but also good looking. The desire to be in control and the bad intentions that these characters have, are what makes them villainous. On the other hand, their good looks, power and money make them irresistible.
The villainous side to the male characters is revealed by both female characters at certain point in both novels and until then the heroines do not think of the heroes badly. It is only after Mr. B attempts to “offer freedoms to his poor servant” and Christian Grey shows Anastasia his “playroom” that both heroines realize what is at stake (Richardson 33). These situations mark the moment when the heroes become the villains.
At the same time however, the heroes posses the money, the good looks and the power which become the positive characteristics that make them appealing to the heroines. This is obvious from the first encounter; when the heroine describes her master for the first time in Pamela, she talk about him being the “best of the gentlemen,” in Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia defines Christian as a “very attractive” man (Richardson 10 ; James 7). Thus, the positive side to the characters of the heroes is visible right from the beginning.
The last thing interesting in both stories is the age and experience of the heroes which contrasts with inexperience and youth of the heroines. Even though the relationships which evolve in these two stories are the first relationships for the heroines, the heroes already have certain experience in this area; Mr. B having a child of his own and Christian admitting to fifteen previous BDSM relationships. As to the age of the heroes, they are older than the heroines, however, they are still considered young with Pamela calling Mr. B her “young master” and Anastasia describing Christian as “so young” (Richardson 9; James 7).
One thing which remains the same in both novels despite their different settings is the way in which the relationship evolves in these stories. Even though each novel represents its time with the choice of the main characters, their roles in society and other elements, when these are stripped down, the process of the evolution of their relationship stays the same as it mostly deals with the struggle of the heroes to be in control of the heroines and, in response, the effort of heroines to resist their power. In addition, the major themes that Pamela deals with can also be found in Fifty Shades of Grey. The virtue, the money and the problem of social unacceptance are the themes that both novels share and that support the sameness of the two. However, it is not only plot and major themes which show how Fifty Shades of Grey is similar to Pamela but also main characters and the features that they share. The heroine and the hero in Fifty Shades of Grey are built on the same ideas as the heroine and the hero in Pamela with the heroine being a young, innocent and inexperienced girl and the hero being the rich, villainous and good looking man. Because of all the similarities between these two novels, Fifty Shades of Grey cannot be described as revolutionary as it obviously draws ideas from a romance novel published in the eighteenth century which was equally popular and caused similar confusion in its time. This shows us that when it comes to romance novels, certain plot twists and ideas always remain appealing to the readers and these are definitely the ideas present in both Pamela and Fifty Shades of Grey; the disadvantaged heroine wins the love of a villainous and rich hero.