Pamela and the cult of early

(Content warning: rape, child abuse)

“You, my dear,” said he, “may better do this than half your sex, because they too generally act in such a manner, as if they seemed to think it the privilege of birth and fortune, to turn day into night, and night into day, and seldom rise till ‘tis time to sit down to dinner; and so all the good old rules are reversed: for they breakfast when they should dine; dine, when they should sup; and sup, when they should retire to rest; and, by the help of dear quadrille, sometimes go to rest when they should rise. In all things, but such as these, my dear, I expect you to be a fine lady.”


And these were his observations on the early and regular times of breakfasting, dining and supping, which he prescribed:

“I shall, in the usual course,” said he, “and generally, if not hindered by company, like to go to rest by eleven. I ordinarily now rise by six, in summer; you will, perhaps chuse to lie half an hour after me.

“Then you will have some time you may call your own, till you invite me to breakfast with you: a little after nine.

“Then again will you have several hours at your disposal, till three o’clock, when I shall like to sit down at table.

You will then have several useful hours more to employ yourself in, as you shall best like; and I would generally go to supper by nine.”

The context is a husband a few days after his wedding, telling his new bride how things will be in his household. He goes on to say that it’s not fashionable to keep such fixed and such early hours, but that everyone (by which he presumably means every man) has the power to set his own timetable, and if you stick unmovingly to yours, eventually people will stop mocking you for it and start fitting around you instead. And, in that way, maybe you can get others to fall into an earlier daily rhythm. This is someone who, despite not getting up particularly early by the standards of the average 2016 full-time worker, undoubtedly subscribes to the cult of early. He genuinely thinks he’s a better person for eating dinner at 3pm instead of 6pm.

The broader context of this extract is that the husband attempted several times to rape his now-wife when she was a 15-year-old servant in his household. He abducted her, kept her prisoner and used all his power and privilege to abuse her. He lied to her and to many other people. He hired servants to beat her up for trying to escape. He drove her to the brink of suicide. He bribed servants and neighbours to stay silent about the abuse and imprisoned the one person who spoke up about it. He was engaged to be married before, but he had sex with his previous fiance and then broke off the engagement – because who wants to marry the kind of woman who would have sex before marriage, amirite?

In other words, this man is a sociopathic shitheel. From a modern perspective, it’s a pretty fucking troubling book. The 2016 reader is screaming for Pamela to get away, get back to her family and friends, get some counselling, press charges from a safe distance. The 1740 reader doesn’t have access to concepts like consent, boundaries, Stockholm Syndrome, gaslighting and so on, let alone the still-radical-in-2016 concept that women are people, which means the focus is on her “virtue” rather than her personal autonomy. “Virtue” seems to be code for “keeping her vagina showroom fresh until marriage”, which means that if she can get a wedding ring on her finger before having sex with her abuser, that counts as a happy ending.

Reader, she marries him. And yes, she does it before sleeping with him, which means she’s still “virtuous”. Which means he becomes virtuous too! Amazing what can be accomplished through the influence of a good woman who has literally no influence.

Back to his daily timetable. He’s describing his habits as if they’re of long standing, so I think we can assume he kept to this kind of schedule in the bad old days before he suddenly became virtuous through the power of Pamela’s magic vagina. I’m guessing he felt great about getting up early for the duel in which he injured a man who later died? Maybe he also got up nice and early on the day he fled Italy to escape the man’s angry relatives? Maybe he fathered his illegitimate child in the daytime.

Who cares, though? From a 2016 perspective, I hope it seems obvious that there’s more moral difference between someone who abducts a child and someone who doesn’t, than between someone who gets up at 6am and someone who gets up at 9am. I think we can all agree that it’s better to stay up dancing quadrilles until midnight than to get up at dawn to commit grievous bodily harm…can’t we? Luckily for her, starry-eyed Pamela subscribes to her new husband’s cult-of-early beliefs just as enthusiastically as she believes everything else he says. Her response to his long diatribe on daily timetables:

“O dearest, dear sir,” said I, “have you no more of your injunctions to favour me with? They delight and improve me at the same time!”

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One Comment on “Pamela and the cult of early”

  1. gryphon Says:

    Re: “quadrille”, it’s not clear whether Abusive Dickface means the dance or the card game. When I first drafted this post I assumed the card game. Then googled it and decided he meant the dance. Now I think he really does mean the card game, but who cares?

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