Shamela was published on 2 April 1741, less than five months after the first edition of Pamela had appeared and three weeks after the third edition was released. Fielding’s well-timed text was highly topical, a factor which contributed significantly to its success.
How did Shamela parody Pamela?
At the heart of Fielding’s parody was the implausible trajectory of Richardson’s Pamela, in which Pamela’s terror at Mr B’s advances is swiftly transformed into love when he proposes marriage. Shamela exposes the unreliability of Pamela’s account of events. Instead of portraying Pamela as a martyr to virtue, Fielding creates an alternative narrative which casts Pamela, or Shamela as she is now known, as a shameless gold-digger prepared to trade her feigned innocence for wealth and an elevated social position:
... nothing under a regular taking into keeping, a settled Settlement, for me, and all my Heirs, all my whole Lifetime, shall do the Business – or else crosslegged, is the Word. (p. 15)
Not only does Shamela satirise the story of Pamela; it also pokes fun at the self-aggrandising letters of recommendation that Richardson included at the start of his second edition:
Happy would it be for mankind, if all other books were burnt, that we might do nothing but read thee [Pamela] all Day, and dream of thee all Night. Thou alone art sufficient to teach us as much Morality as we want. (p. 3)
This ironic praise for Richardson’s Pamela appears in the introduction to Shamela, in a letter written from the fictional Parson Tickletext to Parson Oliver, the apparent editor of Shamela. Tickletext’s enthusiastic yet blasphemous and ironically sexualised enjoyment of the novel was indicative of the ‘epidemical Phrenzy’ (p. 4) with which Pamela was received in mid 18th-century society. Parson Oliver soon rebukes Tickletext by asserting that ‘the whole Narrative is such a Misinterpretation of Facts, such a Perversion of Truth’ (p. 7).
Fielding also lampoons Richardson’s ‘to the moment’ epistolary style by highlighting the absurdity of using a first person narrative in a letter format to describe events as they unfold:
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. (p. 15)
- Full title:
- [An apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews. In which, the many notorious falshoods and misreprsentations [sic] of a book called Pamela [by Samuel Richardson], are exposed ... 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 ... By Mr Conny Keyber [pseudonym of Fielding].]
- 1741, London
- Book / Octavo
- Henry Fielding
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Louise Curran
- Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Rise of the novel, Language and ideas
Louise Curran explores the real and fictional letters published in the 18th century, from the correspondence of Alexander Pope and Ignatius Sancho to Samuel Richardson's hugely popular epistolary novel Pamela and the works it inspired.
- Article by:
- Margaret Doody
- Gender and sexuality, Rise of the novel, Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism
Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded evolved from a collection of model letters into a bestselling novel. Margaret Doody introduces Samuel Richardson's work and its exploration of gender, class, sexual harassment and marriage.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Rise of the novel
John Mullan explains how the novel took shape in the 18th century with the works of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne, and the ways in which the book industry both shaped and responded to the new genre.
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