Thursday, December 31, 2015

Shamela, by Henry Fielding

"A Fig for my Conscience, said I, when shall I meet you again in the Garden?"
-- Shamela, from Shamela, p. 270

This was so short, I feel guilty even counting it. But since it's always described as Henry Fielding's first novel, I guess I can take credit for it.

Like Anti-Pamela, this was an almost immediate reaction to Samuel Richardson's Pamela; they were both published a year later, in 1741. Fielding's version is the more famous, which makes sense, since Fielding is much more well-known than Eliza Haywood, who never came up in any of my Brit Lit courses, and I had to discover on the street (literarily speaking). Haywood responded to the Pamela phenomenon by creating a character who would encounter similar situations, but react to them with naked self-interest (the pun just sprang up, so I'm keeping it), using the window of opportunity for advancement given to her by her good looks and her unconcern with morals. Fielding took a different approach, writing a direct parody of Richardson -- almost MAD magazine-like. In his scenario, the "real-life" story of Pamela's elevation was turned into the popular fiction, and made a moral exemplar, but now the "truth" is being revealed in the letters of the "real" Shamela, who already had "a small One" out of wedlock before she ever met Lord B (244).

Also unlike Haywood, Fielding openly mocks the prose style of Pamela, most famously the breathless narration in the first-person present tense: "he is in bed between us ... he steals his Hand into my Bosom" (247).

Fielding questions the morality of Pamela, but I find the conclusions questionable myself. He was clearly bothered by the racy scenes in Pamela. They were a titillating selling point for the book, by excused by the ultimate reward of virtue, thus being, potentially at least, hypocritical in its moralizing. That's a fair point. However, some of his other conclusions are problematic, like "Young Gentlemen are here taught, that to marry their Mother's Chambermaids, and to indulge the Passion of Lust, at the Expence of Reason and Common Sense, is an Act of Religion" (275) My footnote: "Worse than indulging it without marriage?"

In his mind, probably yes ... which again, makes me more sympathetic to his deceitful protagonist, who candidly declares "I believe I shall buy every thing I see ... it would be hard indeed that a Woman who marries a Man only for his money should be debarred from spending it." (p. 266, 267)

There's definitely some humor to be had, as when her "Master" says "I have a great Mind to kick your A---. you, kiss -----, says I" (245), proving that not all the vernacular has changed so much. Then, on the next page, there's reference to "giving his Hand a Liberty" (246). Which was not footnoted, but I think the meaning was probably the same as in our time. And when I finally get to Pamela, I'll know to be on the look for Parson Williams, with his preaching on how we should "Be not Righteous over-much" (253).

Oddball literary connections:

This has been two books in a row (after Cranford) that talk about "Paduasoy" (266). Which is a "luxurious strong corded or grosgrain silk fabric," according to the ubiquitous Wikipedia.

Among Shamela's books, along with works about moral improvement, is found one Venus in the Cloyster: Or, the Nun in her Smock (262). Somewhere along the line I read this passage, and it always cracked me up. I've finally got it on order, and plan to review it here, although the edition I can get translates it as "The Nun in Her Chemise." Possibly more accurate, but that word just isn't as funny as "smock." Alas.

Fielding, Henry. Anti-Pamela and Shamela. P. 229 - 276. Edited by Catherine Ingrassia. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2004.

No comments:

Post a Comment