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Indexing Pamela et. all
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Indexing Pamela et. all

4 min read

When I read through Pamela's 1742 Table of Contents, I was struck by a trend in the text's syntax—while the sentences contained in each entry of this list (an example of the list form which differs from Crusoe's cataloguing of things, since it's more interested in emotional and physical events) are necessarily fragmented, shortened for the lazy or preoccupied reader who wants a broad understanding of what Pamela is without having to slog through hundreds of pages, this shortening is achieved by removing as many names and pronouns from each summary sentence as possible. The reader is left with phrases such as "Continuation of her story. Her irresolution what to do. Desires Mrs. Jervis to permit her to lie with her: And tells her all that has passed. Mrs. Jervis's good advice," (ii) phrases which can be consumed at a rapid pace but lack much of the intimate quality that Pamela itself, with its first-person narrative mode and interest in both interiority and interpersonal dynamics, possesses. This erasure of pronouns is most drastic in the case of "I," which entirely disappears from the Table of Contents in favor of a shift to the third-person; "she," "he," and the names/titles of characters remain, but are dramatically fewer. 

I'm still formulating my thoughts on what this decreased emphasis on the human subject in summary sentences signifies about Pamela, and trying to figure out how an intimacy with the reader is so easily manipulated by something as simple as a pronoun's presence or absence. I'm reminded of Armstrong's thoughts on how domestic fiction prioritizes individual character over societal role, and of the way that Gallagher talks about the close (but not too close) relationship which fiction encourages between its readers and its characters, but I'm not quite sure whether pronoun use is consequential enough to have a strong connection to these theories. The shifting presence of pronouns in Pamela and its associated works nonetheless struck me deeply when I used the Voyant text analyzer as well, because Voyant does the same thing that Richardson did in his introduction—it tries to cut the pronouns out, automatically designating "she," "he," and "I" as stopwords and strangely (this admittedly may have been a glitch) allowing "she" to be searched for in the Document Terms window but not "he" or "I." When I messed around with the Reader window once I'd uploaded the full corpus, I was able to graph the relative frequencies of pronouns in the various books; those graphs are included below. Pamela's first edition has the highest use of "I" followed by Shamela, reflecting the confessional and self-interested style of the former which was satirized by the latter, but the corpus' interest in the first person dwindles from there as the use of "she" and "he" rises. I was surprised by how similar the "he" and "she" graphs appeared, since I assumed that this corpus' focus on domestic fiction and gender would give one gendered pronoun preference over another, but upon reflection it seems reasonable that novels which are so interested in the categories of femininity and masculinity both would use the two pronouns proportionally. 

I'm still working to complicate my thoughts further from "this is important and I'm not sure why but it is a thing that happens," so I'd be interested to hear what (if anything) other members of the class noticed about pronoun use, reader-character connection, and gender in their experience of this exercise and this corpus as a whole!