Shamela indeed

ShamelaIn addition to a couple of Anti-Pamelas which came out shortly after Richardson’s work, Shamela appeared, “in which, the many notorious Falshoods and Misreprsentations of a Book called Pamela, Are exposed and refuted; and all the matchless Arts of that young Politician, set in a true and just Light.” Henry Fielding, the generally accepted author, uses it not only as a poke at Richardson, but at some of his other rivals as well, and certainly there are too many jokes in here for a 21st century reader to understand without copious notes or research. But the jabs at Pamela alone are plenty good to appreciate.

Shamela is even more epistolary than the original, being an epistolary story framed in an epistolary story, with some laudatory letters at the beginning by the “author,” “editor,” and “John Puff” thrown in for good measure. After Parson Tickletext sends a copy of Pamela to Parson Oliver, recommending it, Oliver shoots back something to set him straight:

Is it possible that you or any of your Function can be in earnest, or think the Cause of Religion, or Morality, can want such slender Support? God forbid they should.

The Instruction which it conveys to Servant-Maids, is, I think, very plainly this, To look out for their Masters as sharp as they can. The consequences of which will be, besides Neglect of their Business, and the using all manner of Means to come at Ornaments of their Persons, that if the Master is not a Fool, they will be debauched by him; and if he is a Fool, they will marry him. Neither of which, I apprehend, my good Friend, we desire should be the Case of our Sons.

And notwithstanding our Author’s Professions of Modesty, which in my Youth I have heard at the Beginning of an Epilogue, I cannot agree that my Daughter should entertain herself with some of his Pictures; which I do not expect to be contemplated without Emotion, unless by one of my Age and Temper, who can see the Girl lie on her Back, with one Arm round Mrs. Jewkes and the other round the Squire, naked in Bed, with his Hand on her Breasts, &c. with as much Indifference as I read any other Page in the whole Novel.

Aside from the difficulty I have quite believing that last (ahem), I think Parson Oliver does a very admirable job ripping into the novel here. Of course, Fielding’s reasons for disliking it aren’t exactly identical with my own, but I still prefer him to Richardson. But that’s not all—not only is Pamela not morally edifying, it’s not even true! Oliver sends Tickletext a set of letters, “which I assure you are authentick,” putting the lie to pretty much the whole novel, while sticking very faithfully to its plot. Here, Pamela, or rather Shamela, is a schemer who already has one illegitimate child and is working up a plan to get a nice wealthy squire, Mr. Booby, to marry her and raise her up above her low station.

Shamela’s virtue (here, “vartue”) is her means to that end. Instead of letters from her to her father about how oppressed she is, she sends letters to her mother, a fellow trollop, to report on how well things are going. Fielding is simply wonderful for Shamela’s descriptions of her conversations with Mrs. Jewkes:

I would have you know, Madam, I would not be Mistress to the greatest King, no nor Lord in the Universe. I value my Vartue more than I do any thing my Master can give me; and so we talked a full Hour and a half, about my Vartue; and I was afraid at first, she had heard something about the Bantling, but I find she hath not; tho’ she is as jealous, and suspicious, as old Scratch.

There are also a lot of very apt digs about Shamela’s morality and religion. Fielding’s thoughts on the subject are likely to be much more sympathetic for the average reader nowadays than Richardson’s.

As I noted above, Fielding stays very true to the plot and vast majority of the characters in the original. The fact is, it’s not hard to read many of the events of Pamela imagining that she really is a schemer, and there are only a few happenings that would be incongruous with that. Also, he’s very faithful to the form. Not only is Shamela simply epistolary, but it relies on many of the same epistolary devices—Shamela encloses other letters with her letters to her mother, and there is a need for secret correspondence. And he manages to be funny, and probably more realistic, in less than 1/10 the space, which I’m definitely not going to complain about.