The novel describes virtue in an 18th century way that is foreign to our times. Pamela Andrews is a young maidservant in a wealthy household. The son of the household conceives a passion for her and repeatedly schemes with his servants to have his way with her but she protects her virtue successfully and the young man is forced to propose to her if he is to have her.
To the modern reader it all seems more like a conspiracy to rape and it makes no sense to us when Pamela marries the son and all is well. To Richardson, virtue was a question only of whether the lady was married or not, and the villainy of the son disappeared as soon as the vows were exchanged.
Despite the popularity of the novel, many contemporary readers were also shocked by the attitudes expressed. In particular, Henry Fielding parodied Pamela twice, once in the same epistolary form, as Shamela, and again with Joseph Andrews, which tells the story of Pamela's brother Joseph and his manly efforts to protect his virtue.
Richardson also wrote two later epistolary novels, Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748) and Sir Charles Grandison (1753). Of the three, Clarissa has generally been the most highly regarded by critics. Many subsequent authors have admired the psychological depth of Richardson's novels.