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Pamela vs. Shamela: An investigation of "feminine" word choice

3 min read

Armstrong makes a central claim in "Desire and Domestic Fiction" that the reproducibility of Pamela's domestic themes and sentimental language were crucial to creating the modern novel because, as she argues throughout, they made space for the individual outside of political rank. "Novels early on assumed the distinctive features of a specialized language for women," she writes (472). "Inasmuch as his masculine form of heroism could not be reproduced by other authors, we cannot say Crusoe inaguarated the tradition of the novel as we know it" (471). With this in mind, I wanted to find out which words made up this "specialized language" and how Pamela's parodies and sequel reproduced it. I found out two things that seem to go along with Armstrong's argument. Firstly, "feminine" language such as "kiss," "feel," "desire" and "sweet" appears as often as or more often in Shamela than it does in Pamela--showing us that Fielding understood what was distinctive about Pamela and capitalized on it.

But on the flip side of this, we see how Fielding avoided language that conveyed some of Richardson's messaging about class and moralism: many kinds of political/economic/religious language appear much more in Pamela than in Shamela (except servant, which he mentioned often, probably to highlight the threat of class solidarity; that's for a later discussion). 

There are a few conclusions we could draw here. One is that it is true, as Armstrong says, that Pamela was very reproducible because of its language and content. But the more interesting conclusion we could possibly come up with is that she may have been reductive of Robinson Crusoe when she said its language prohibited it from conveying the kind of interiority that is distinctive to the novel, because he talks about God and himself about as much as Pamela does.