Before Jane Eyre's madwoman roamed the attic, Samuel Richardson's Pamela showed readers and critics the transformative power of the lumber-room, an older term for “attic.” One of the earliest uses of the “lumber-room” in eighteenth-century fiction occurs in Richardson's 1740 publication of Pamela, an occurrence that suggests the novelist's early awareness of the lumber-room's symbolic potential. In the eighteenth century, the lumber-room represented a protean space, one that shifted in designations from an attic to a garret to a mere junk room. The 1719 dictionary, Glossographia Anglicana Nova, defines the lumber-room as the “false roof, of a house,” which is “that part … between the upper rooms and covering.” Situated between truth and falsity, exteriority and interiority, the lumber-room represents a liminal and transformative space available to eighteenth-century writers in order to alter the public's perspective of a newer genre.

Richardson introduces the lumber-room as a site for transforming Pamela, the heroine, and as a site for constructing Pamela, the prototypical novel of manners, which Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë reconstruct a century later. In Pamela Mr. B plans to convert his family's “lumber-room” into his own “little chapel,” thereby remodelling a domestic and interior space into a sacred and exterior one. In a narrative predicated on transformations – from a rake to a gentleman, and from a servant girl to a married lady – the lumber-room's own reconstruction provides a topos for the novel's own experimental metamorphosis from the amatory fictions of authors like Eliza Haywood to the newer marriage-driven fictions of Richardson. Richardson, I argue, uses the lumber-room in his novel to allegorize this experimentation of the formation and re-formation of literary genres. Moreover, his use of the lumber-room changes our current perspective of the standard rise-of-the-novel teleology, a critical account that tends to obscure “the novel's” more fluid and complex origins.

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