Fielding, Henry: Joseph Andrews (1742) and Shamela (1741)

“Joseph Andrews and Shamela” was published as part of the Oxford World’s Classic series. They both appeared in the same volume, which I took as a hint that they are probably closely linked thematically. But as it turned out, it is more likely that they were published that way because Shamela on its own would hardly be worth printing at all considering that it consists of less than 40 pages of actual text – even though some inter-textual links do exist.

Shamela is a parody on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or, virtue rewarded (1740), an epistolary novel that describes how Pamela Andrews, a virtuous house maidservant is courted by her master and ultimately rewarded for her virtue which prevented her from giving in to his advances without being married to him first. In Shamela this scenario is perverted in that Shamela is not actually virtuous, but instead the scheming daughter of a common whore who has an affair with the local parson and lures her master into marrying her in order to get access to his money, while still continuing her affair with the parson. Given that Fielding’s parody is far shorter than Richardson’s original – Shamela being as I said less than 40 pages while Pamela comes close to 500 – and also considering the fact that I did not actually read Pamela first, Shamela made for a really confusing read at times and I was actually glad when it was finally over. It nonetheless had its good moments that made me laugh, for example when it was mentioned that most of the relevant letters were collected and printed except for the one describing Shamela’s wedding night, which was curiously lost.

Having said this, let’s move on to Joseph Andrews: this book is amazing! I definitely need to stop underestimating 18th century novelists. This keeps happening to me because at some point I started to think that life must have been pretty boring before the roaring nineteen-twenties slowly but surly started to undermine the strict Victorian moral codes society was governed by until then. The problem with this notion is that Queen Victoria was not actually born until 1819 and only ascended the throne in 1837, which means that there was at least a whole century between the onset of novel writing and the begin of the Victorian period, which brought us – amongst other things like the London sewage system – Jane Austen with her very orderly and very morally correct novels.

OK, back to Fielding, who was a comical writer and as sharp a satirist as ever they come. His protagonist, Joseph Andrews, is an exaggeratedly honourable man. He serves as a footman in the household of Mrs. Booby (haha, boobs – please tell me I’m not the only one?), a lusty widow of – almost – six months, from which he is dismissed after he successfully defended his virtue against the morally reprehensible attacks of said lady. These attacks occur quite regularly throughout the novel, even though they are of course more subtle than they would be in most modern texts. (Not comparable for example with the rape scene in Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero) But it is not all that unpleasant: the book also contains a whole page that is dedicated to the description of Joseph blissfully contemplating the Bosom of his beloved fiancée – isn’t it nice to know that not everything has changed since 1742? 😉

Aaanyway…after Joseph was dismissed from the service of lady Booby , he travels through the country on a quest to reach his beloved fiancée Fanny (again…maybe I should consider getting one of those grown-up kinds of humour that would not make chuckle inappropriately whenever I encounter a character whose name is Fanny…? At least this one isn’t called Fanny Blood – a name which one of Mary Shelley’s friends was ‘blessed’ with.

OK, enough now. The point I was originally getting at is that from this point onwards, the novel turns into an adventurous road trip. To fulfil one of the requirements of this genre, he soon encounters his side kick, parson Adams, who during the course of the novel turns out to be way more of an actual character than Joseph himself is. Parson Adams will be liked by anyone who enjoyed the adventures of Giovannino Guareschi’s Don Camillo and could probably even induce me to look into this whole church going thing if I could ever be convinced that the people running this organisation are in any way like him. He is a very good-natured person who would give his last for anybody whom he deems suffering and worthy of his pity, albeit his own miserable situation in life (he has a wife and six children to support and is constantly made fun of on account of his miserable attire). However, he is not the kind of person who would in his good-naturedness turn the second cheek if somebody does him wrong. Instead he is often caught in the middle of some fist fight or other, which he does not just not try to avoid but which he sometimes seems to await with pleasant anticipation.

All in all, Joseph Andrews makes for a really enjoyable read. The chapters are relatively short, which comes in handy if one’s looking for something to read on a short commute or to bridge similarly short time spans that are made so much more agreeable by reading, and Fielding’s self reflective style of writing adds immensely to the actual plot, which is admittedly rather thin.

…PS: Somebody needs to tell me whether there’s a limit as to how often I’m allowed to press the ‘Edit’ button after publishing something and what will happen once I’ve reached it because if there is such a limit, I feel like I’m certainly getting close. Seriously: I’ll stop now.


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