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Farcical/tragical domestic melodrama, object lessons in sexual and social injustice, delightfully flummoxing conundrums -- all crowded noisily but agreeably into the warm and witty 1837 journal of a London lass of outsize affections and apparent good sense. Pamela is the young daughter of rather decent Wilfred Summerfield (the beer king) and wise mother Melissa -- and it's during the social season (when such as the Trollopes drop in for tea) that Pamela spots the glorious, muscular Captain Giles. So her magpie mind begins to research sex, with the reluctant aid of her hyperventilating French hairdresser, and Giles, to whom she secretly succumbs, becomes her Profane love. She will also love, however, family enemy Rhys O'Connor, a journalist with a bulldog grip on the evils of caste and poverty; but before the two men clash, Pamela's friends and relations will have passionate flights with Fate: the homosexual love of her brother Willy (a religious reformer) will lead to exile and a suicide; sister Phoebe will die giving birth to a child -- not her impotent husband's, but Rhys'; Melissa will reveal her 15-year affair with the butler in order to save him from execution as the strangler of five women (he is innocent); and the sad wife of one of Wilfred's poor workers, who prefers an S-M brothel to poverty, is rescued by Pamela and Rhys. But then Russell's domestic fandango shifts gears, zooming off into fantasy, Instead of becoming Queen, the Princess Victoria dies (or is poisoned?), so the sinister Duke of Cumberland becomes tyrranical King Augustus. Captain Giles is one of his storm troopers -- and he and Rhys, who would be doomed as a traitor, plan to duel for Pamela. Who wins? We'll never know. The lady and her tigers disappear without a trace. And, in an Afterword, ""editor"" Russell wonders whether Pamela had a laudanum fantasy or really lived in a parallel universe where Victoria was never queen. A literary prank, of course, somewhat burdened with its familiar Messages about social injustice -- but immensely entertaining nonetheless, spirited and lively and popping with surprises.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1979
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin