Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"I Am Become a Mere Usurer": Pamela and Domestic Stock-Jobbing

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"I Am Become a Mere Usurer": Pamela and Domestic Stock-Jobbing

Article excerpt

At the beginning of Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740), Pamela sends her parents the four gold guineas she has received from Mr. B., advising them to put half of it toward their "old Debt" and the other half toward their "comfort."(1) When she discovers her parents have "laid it up in a rag among the thatch," because of their concern for the origins of that money, Pamela chides them for storing it and urges them to "make use of the Money" (p. 29). While Pamela's concern and specific instructions to her parents on how to distribute their funds are consistent with a dutiful daughter desirous of her parent's welfare, they more strikingly reveal Pamela's approach toward economics. Money, property, and capital, in any form, are, to Pamela's mind, designed to be put to use, to be invested for a profit, to bear some form of interest. Critics have commented on Pamela's fierce accounting abilities and have located her in a system of exchange based primarily on tangible goods and mercantilism. James Cruise goes so far as to suggest Pamela's letters record a "bourgeois autobiography."(2) Certainly we see numerous examples of her accounting abilities, her shrewd financial assessment of other (typically male) characters, and her recognition that most aspects of the socio-cultural world are determined by the absence or presence of money. But Pamela is more than just thrifty. While I readily acknowledge Pamela's desire for the accumulation of material goods, I believe she views them as evidence of future profits rather than as an end in themselves. Indeed, I would argue that Pamela's more pressing concern is with a type of speculative investment that makes her, in essence, a domestic stock-jobber. As the novel progresses, Pamela departs from the material world of real, tangible goods (for which she never actually loses her concern) as she becomes increasingly fascinated with the imaginative world of paper credit and the possibilities it holds. The discourse in and of the novel locates it firmly within an emerging consumer culture preoccupied with credit, speculation, and increasingly intangible forms of property.

Like a stock-jobber in Exchange Alley, Pamela speculatively deals in symbolic instruments of exchange on her own account. She transforms the good opinion and fine reputation she has within the household (a measure of her worth based on past behavior) into a growing source of credit (faith in her future value and performance).(3) She further invests in herself for herself by creating her own negotiable paper or "paper credit," letters and a journal, which acts as an indicator of her worth. When placed in circulation-with her parents, Mr. B., or Mr. B.'s social circle-Pamela's written accounts of her relationship with B. provide her with a growing amount of "capital" with which to trade or invest within the closed economy of the novel. But this production of symbolic capital would have no value if she did not recognize a potential investor in Mr. B., and her letters and journal act as an ad hoc stock prospectus. B. already understands the speculative financial economy, having invested "large sums in government securities, as well as in private hands" (p. 392), and he proves willing to participate in Pamela's speculative domestic economy as well. Pamela simultaneously jobs her paper credit while acting as a projector for her own stock scheme: Pamela as joint-stock company. Finally, however, Pamela uses her accumulated interest to translate the credit she has accrued (a term with significance within an economic system or marketplace) into virtue, a concept whose meaning expands beyond the domestic stock exchange Pamela has created and gains currency within the (idealized) moral economy represented by Mr. B. Pamela transforms Mr. B.'s estimation of her from that of a "saucebox" to my "own true virtuous Pamela" by presenting her virtue as a textual construction within an imaginatively understood value system. …

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