The 18th century novels Pamela and Evelina, by Samuel Richardson and Frances Burney, respectively, paint men (particularly upper-class men) in a generally unflattering light. If we were to determine the criteria for masculinity in this era, it would be the man’s ability to take a woman that he wanted and have her be obedient to him. The three male protagonists of this story – Mr. B in Pamela, and Lord Orville and Sir Clement Willoughby in Evelina, both occupy different ends of this spectrum of masculinity, which provides a more comprehensive picture of how men are treated in 18th century fiction. In this essay, we will examine what makes these men the men they are, and what they do in their respective works that indicates the attitudes of people in this time.
In Evelina, a 17-year-old aristocratic heir finally comes to London after being secluded in the country for the majority of her life. She is a legitimate heir, but not acknowledge, and this will be her first time operating in high society. Before long, she is chased after by two different men – the polite and virtuous Lord Orville and the duplicitous and unscrupulous Sir Clement Willoughby. These two men occupy the complete opposites of the 18th century spectrum of masculinity that states that women must be owned and possessed by any means necessary; while Willoughby is perpetually unfavorable to be around and does terrible things to attempt to win her affections, Orville remains kind and true throughout the book.
Lord Orville, with his kind face and polite behavior, quickly impresses Evelina, but circumstances and the terrible behavior of those around her cause her to believe that he would never love her. Evelina is instantly taken with him: “it occurred to me that, insignificant as I was, compared to a man of his rank and figure, yet, since he had been so unfortunate as to make choice of me for a partner, why I should endeavour to make the best of it.” (Evelina p. 37) The only bad behaviors attributed to him were not actually perpetrated by him; a rude letter written to Evelina in his name was, in fact, written by Willoughby. Evelina is perpetually intimidated and impressed by Orville, never wanting to talk to him out of nervousness or fear. She always wonders if he would actually be with her, given what she perceives as terrible and rude behavior on her part. However, Orville always reacts with unfailing courtesy and chivalry, perpetually forgiving.
The only flaw that Orville seems to have is jealousy, as evidenced when Mr. Macartney shows up for Evelina. Thinking that he is here to try for her hand, Orville acts remarkably unlike himself, withdrawing himself from the situation. However, as soon as he realizes that Macartney was only there to pay back a debt, he returns to her and proposes after making sure the financial transaction between Macartney and Evelina goes through.
Orville is truly a shining example of male virtue as evidenced by 18th century views of men; he is chivalrous, perpetually kind and patient, only pausing when he believes that someone else is trying for Evelina. This being his only flaw makes him an incredibly virtuous man when compared to the other main characters of these novels.
Sir Clement Willoughby is the other side of the coin in Evelina, a baronet who is far too forward with his advances, something which puts Evelina off. He never quite gives up on trying for Evelina’s hand himself, trying his hand at large, grandiose speeches and over the top pronouncements in order to gain her affection. He even writes a nasty letter to Evelina in Orville’s name in order to ruin his reputation with her. While he later apologizes to Evelina, this does not completely undo his actions, nor does it curry any real favor for Evelina, making it the one selfless act that he does in the novel.
Willoughby presents a much more misogynist and rakish figure than Orville, being a man who will stop at nothing to get Evelina, no matter how unscrupulous the methods. His normal attempts at courtship are also very brash, coming on too strongly through his speeches and proclamations to be anything but unappealing to Evelina. “I am quite amazed that, with such opinions, you can behave to them all with so much attention and civility,” says she to Willoughby’s terrible opinions of the women around her. Willoughby is even proud of his hypocrisy, as he detests women while still desiring them. (Evelina p. 381)
Mr. B., over the course of the novel, shifts between being a complete scoundrel to her and then coming to a realization about his behavior not long before marrying her. He reads Pamela’s letters to her family describing his terrible behavior, and only then acknowledges that he has been harsh in his treatment of her. He and Pamela then negotiate their potential marriage, discussing how he could behave better as a husband and as a man. Eventually, they are able to come to an agreement, and they marry.
There are a few things about Mr. B’s portrayal in Pamela that can ring false to a modern audience. For example, there is the fact that Pamela would actually agree to marry him after everything that he has done. Also, the fact that, as soon as he shows the slightest bit of friendliness and courtesy toward her, she becomes quite submissive and agrees to all the conditions set forth for their marriage. This can also indicate how easy men had it in the 18th century – even when they showed the slightest bit of acquiescence and sympathy for women, the woman would pay that back in spades.
These three primary characters in these 18th century novels are all different examples of what noblemen are capable of doing, as well as their attitudes toward women. The virtuous Lord Orville is what all men should aspire to – kind, gentle, polite, never forcing their hand and allowing women to come to them if they so choose. Sir Charles Willoughby, on the other hand, offers a completely buffoonish and asinine portrayal of the unbecoming behavior men can stoop to in order to land the woman that they want.
Mr. B is a little bit of both of these characters; he begins Pamela acting not unlike Willoughby would; he locks Pamela up in his estate and does whatever he can to attempt to persuade her to be with him. It is only until he reads the letters that Pamela has been sending that he realizes what he has been doing to her. It is either a wonderful thing that he alters his behavior to become more kind, or a terrible thing that he did not realize what he was doing on his own. Either way, it is at least fortunate that he rescinds his boorish behavior in favor of an attitude which is slightly more becoming and generous towards Pamela.