Fielding’s Shamela: Annotated Bibliography
Golden, Morris. “Public Context and Imagining Self in Pamela and Shamela.” ELH 53.2 (1986): 311-329. Print.
Golden’s article is a fact-driven effort to capture the 18th century’s turbulent atmosphere of social and political change, and to speculate on how it may have influenced the thinking of Richardson and Fielding. The author finds extensive parallels between the lives of contemporary political figures and the characters of Pamela, likening Mr. B. to King George II and Pamela to Queen Caroline, for example. These parallels become especially compelling as Golden points out recurring images of royalty in Richardson’s text, as well as its overtones of political strife and reconciliation. Golden also suggests Richardson’s own life story as a prominent influence on the novel, as elements of its plot echo the ascent and struggles of his printing career. Through these and many other examples, Golden seeks to define what was going through Richardson’s mind as he was preparing to write Pamela, and the influences that shaped its development.
This essay is much less expansive in its treatment of Fielding, leaning toward interpretation and summary rather than a rigorous examination of potential influences; however, it does provide some insight into the background of this author. In particular, Golden emphasizes Fielding’s career as a political journalist hostile to political orthodoxy, a role that would have well prepared him to write his scathing critique of Richardson’s politics in Shamela. He also stresses Fielding’s awareness of the dangers of subversive prose, citing the novelist’s use of opposing commentators (Oliver and Tickletext) as a means of distancing himself from the conflict and protecting his own identity from direct scrutiny. Finally, Golden places Shamela in a political context, noting similarities between its characters and political figures as further evidence of Fielding’s connection to political journalism.
Gooding, Richard. “Pamela, Shamela, and the Politics of the Pamela Vogue.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 7.2 (1995): 109-130. Print.
In this wide-ranging article, Gooding asserts that the flood of 18th century literary responses to Pamela are not merely centered on moral evaluation, though writers of the time often loudly declared themselves as either Pamelists or Anti-Pamelists on moral grounds. Instead, he shows how these response texts also carry implicit (and often overlooked) attacks on Richardson’s subversive political vision. In particular, Gooding establishes Pamela as a radical political argument for class equality, and he demonstrates how Pamela’s supporters and detractors react to this crucial point.
Gooding presents a close examination of Kelly’s Pamela’s Conduct in High Life as a representative work of the Pamelist genre. This novel, though the most faithful to the original, critically undermines Richardson’s political message. By elevating Pamela’s birth rank and prose style, Kelly means well but implicitly supports the old aristocratic order that Richardson argues against. In this and other Pamelist works, Gooding sees a fear of social progress and a tendency to suppress challenges to aristocratic order.
In Shamela, Gooding notes the charges of hypocrisy and flaky characterization that mark most Anti-Pamelist works; but he focuses mostly on an evaluation of Fielding’s political message. In Shamela, he writes, Fielding lowers the original Pamela’s birth rank and writing style; Fielding also systematically reduces the moral and psychological complexity of his main characters. In doing so, he renders moral assessment of his characters nearly impossible, eliminating any ground for a broader political discussion. On the whole, Gooding claims, Fielding’s response suggests an attitude of social conservatism, but fails to openly address the issues of aristocratic authority raised in Richardson’s novel.
From the Pamelists’ tendency to elevate Pamela’s character and in the anti-Pamelists’ pattern of degrading her, Gooding concludes by noting the paradox that writers on both sides betray a desire to protect traditional aristocratic order.
Wilputte, Earla A. “Ambiguous Language and Ambiguous Gender: The 'Bisexual' Text of Shamela.” The Modern Language Review 89.3 (1994): 561-571. Print.
Wilputte’s thought-provoking argument interprets the gender-ambiguous characters that populate Fielding’s Shamela as a part of a larger warning against the dangers of ambiguous language. Wilputte notes a pervasive theme of homosexuality in Shamela, especially in characters such as (Fielding’s) Mrs. Jervis, with her manly appearance and demeanor. Just as these characters represent sexual characteristics opposed to traditional heterosexuality, Fielding’s language is also pervaded with a moral vocabulary opposed to its traditional meaning. The word “virtue,” for example, refers in Shamela to a physical state rather than a spiritual one; it is homosexual in the sense that it carries a meaning contrary to the original intent of the word.
Shamela’s more significant sexual ambiguity is bisexuality, as represented by characters like Conny Keyber, who stands for two opposite things at once. In Wilputte’s view, Shamela is dominated by overtly bisexual language – in particular, by words that carry opposing meanings and cannot therefore be interpreted with any confidence. For instance, the word “honor” is used so often and so indiscriminately in the text that it has come to stand for a multitude of contradictory meanings; in consequence, the reader can never be sure exactly what is meant by the word.
Wilputte draws these arguments together by establishing Fielding’s social conservatism, noting his belief that sexual passion is best restrained within traditional boundaries of heterosexuality. The text of Shamela, Wilputte declares, reveals a similar conservatism in Fielding’s views of language, as it shows the danger of allowing our moral vocabulary to become promiscuous and imprecise. Wilputte’s article is somewhat light on examples and would be stronger with a more rigorous examination of the novel’s vocabulary, but overall it is a fresh, smart, and well-reasoned attempt to reconcile sexuality and language in Fielding’s writing.