A perfect fit

Henry Fielding’s “Shamela” is a vastly different piece of writing compared with Richardson’s “Pamela” upon first inspection. The language alone is more colloquial, more crass, and it appears to merely be a satifical rip-off of the original novel (one of many copycat publications surfacing at the time, apparently).

However, upon looking more closely, Fielding’s work is deeper than it appears, and it is extremely clear that he read Richardson’s novel quite closely. So closely, in fact, that he found its plot holes and exploited them (apparently quite literally… I think there was something in the introduction about Fielding needing money and writing Shamela in order to pay off some debts…).

In Shamela, Fielding paints the leading female as a seductress with a lurid past — including a “slip with Parson Williams” that resulted Shamela “having had a small One” by him (315-16) — who plots and schemes with other seemingly innocent characters from Richardson’s novel to trick Squire Booby, as he is known in the novel, into marrying her, all while she is carrying on an affair with Williams.

The best part about Fielding’s work is its believability. It plays on Mr. B’s suspicions of a relationship between Pamela and Williams in the original novel, as “evidenced” by Williams’ offer to marry Pamela to free her from Mr. B’s imprisonment. In Shamela, it is all a game, and she is pulling the strings, feigning virginity and purity while maintaining a relationship with Mr. Williams the entire time.

Fielding also takes scenes from Richardson’s novel where Mr. B suspected Pamela’s behavior to be a farce and validates his suspicions. For instance, when Richardson’s Pamela falls into a fit after being assaulted in the Summer-house, Mr. B questions her authenticity:

“O Sir, said she, for your Honour’s sake, and for Christ’s sake — But he would not hear her, and said — For your own sake, I tell you, Mrs. Jervis, say not a Word more. I have done her no harm. And I won’t have her stay in my House; prating, perverse Fool, as she is! But since she is so apt to fall into Fits, or at least pretend to do so, prepare her to see me To-morrow after Dinner, in my Mother’s Closet, and do you be with her, and you shall hear what passes between us” (“Pamela,” 32-33).

Fielding validates Mr. B’s suspicions that Shamela (the “real” Pamela) is less than authentic and merely acting:

“Mrs. Jervis and I are just in Bed, and the Door unlocked; if my Master should come —- Odsbobs! I hear him just coming in at the Door. You see I write in the present Tense, as Parson Williams says. Well, he is in Bed between us, we both shamming a Sleep he steals his Hand into my Bosom, which I, as if in my Sleep, press close to me with mine, and then pretend to awake. — I no sooner see him, but I scream out to Mrs. Jervis, she feigns likewise but just to come to herself; we both begin, she to becall, and I to bescratch very liberally. After having made a pretty free Use of my Fingers, without any great Regard to the Parts I attack’d, I counterfeit a Swoon” (“Shamela,” 318).

In the introduction to Fielding’s work, the editors even point this out:

“Fielding, in short, had all his cues set out before him in Pamela itself, and from this point of view, Shamela begins to look less like an attack on Richardson’s text than the intelligent realization or grateful comic development of one of its aspects” (xvii).


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