Friday, 3 April 2009

36. Shamela by Henry Fielding

The title page of Shamela reads:

In which, the many notorious FALSHOODS and MISREPRSENTATIONS of a Book called
Are exposed and refuted; and all the matchless ARTS of that young Politician, set in a true and just Light.
Together with
A full Account of all that passed between her and Parson Arthur Williams; whose Character is represented in a manner something different from what he bears in PAMELA. The whole being exact Copies of authentick Papers delivered to the Editor.
Necessary to be had in all FAMILIES.

From this rococo beginning it can be seen that Fielding’s main target was Pamela, Samuel Richardson’s smash-hit novel of 1740. The plot of Pamela is fairly simple: the heroine is a maid in the service of Mr B., who tries repeatedly to seduce her. Pamela foils all attempts on her virtue until Mr B., frustrated beyond endurance, makes a marriage proposal, which she accepts. The End. The subtitle of PamelaVirtue Rewarded — leaves no doubt about the high moral tone of the book. Some, however, detected a whiff of hypocrisy. Richardson claimed that he had excluded anything ‘inflammatory’ in the book — that it was intended merely as a conduct manual for young ladies — but Pamela, which is basically a tease spread over 800 pages, has a force-nine erotic charge. Almost as soon as it had left the presses Pamela had drawn mockery and parody in a genre of books now known as ‘anti-Pamelas’, and Fielding was first off the blocks with Shamela, published only five months after the book that had inspired it.

Shamela is a splendidly immoral little squib, the story of a faux-naif strumpet on the make, out to ensnare Squire Booby (the counterpart of Mr B.), all the while carrying on an affair with Parson Williams. But Pamela was not the only target of Shamela. The full title, An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, and its pseudonymous authorship by one ‘Conny Keyber’, reveals a second mark. Colley Cibber was the poet laureate, an appointee of the Whig ministry of Robert Peel, and much scorned as an establishment propagandist by his rivals, notably Alexander Pope, who made him the hero of the Dunciad. Cibber’s vainglorious memoirs of 1740 were entitled An Apology for the Life of Mr Colley Cibber. The transformation from ‘Colley Cibber’ to ‘Conny Keyber’ was in reference to Cibber’s Danish ancestry: he was regularly ridiculed in the press as ‘Minheer Keiber’. (‘Conny’, originally meaning a rabbit, was slang for the dupe of a thief or trickster.) The title-page of Shamela was an attempt to mock the Apology, and in the long introduction to Shamela, written in the form of various dedicatory and commendatory letters, there were many little anti-Cibber and anti-Walpole touches.

Shamela was an overnight success and marked an important career-change for Fielding. He had spent his youth writing plays: Shamela was his first novel. It was quickly followed, in 1742, by Joseph Andrews, the story of the brother of Shamela, and then in 1743 Jonathan Wild (another anti-Walpole production). In 1749 he produced his greatest novel, Tom Jones.

One postscript is of some interest. Three years after the death of his wife Charlotte in 1744, Fielding married, not without scandal, his wife’s maid Mary Daniel, who was six months’ pregnant at the time. One wonders if he had Shamela — or alternatively Pamela — in mind.

Fielding, Henry: An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (introduction by Sheridan W Baker, University of California Press, 1953)
Fielding, Henry: Shamela (introduction by Thomas Keymer, Oxford World’s Classics, 1999)
Turner, James Grantham: ‘Novel Panic: Picture and Performance in the Reception of Richardson's Pamela’, Representations, No. 48 (1994)

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