I was going to post about My Story Can Beat Up Your Story again today, but with the unexpected appearance of Ms. Marvel #8 and various other things going on, I haven’t had time to get into it and have decided to postpone that until next week. One of the “various other things” was me trying to get this abstract together to turn in to my adviser on Wednesday, so here you go! Things may flex and vary as I go along, but this is the preliminary direction for my undergrad senior thesis. (My adviser said very nice things about it, thanks for asking. 🙂 )
Working Title: “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded: Novels and Human Rights”
The history of popular sentiment may be one of the most difficult histories to trace. However, in the realm of popular literature and culture, it is possible to follow not only what people were thinking about, but sometimes why they were thinking it. A novel with a wide reach can illustrate the public’s interest in particular ideas at certain times, but under the right circumstances, such a novel may also change the public’s ideas and help create a new culture. This paper will take the example of Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, written by English author Samuel Richardson and published in 1740, to argue that Pamela was instrumental in bringing about human rights legislation in the 1700s and afterward. First, this paper will incorporate the history of literacy and literature to demonstrate how Pamela launched novels, especially epistolary novels, as a literary form. Then it will use contemporary reactions to Pamela, as well as modern research into the effects of novels on readers, to demonstrate how the novel built empathy in the public mindset. Empathy was a necessary precursor to human rights as a concept, leading to important human rights documents such as the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and eventually the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, so this paper will also touch on those impacts. Pamela is a novel of extreme importance in the history of literature, and is therefore also extremely important in the history of human rights.