Sarah read ‘Pamela’, so I don’t have to

I have been looking at novellas recently, books that can be read in a couple of hours or one very long bath, and came across An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews by Henry Fielding. This parody of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela was written in 1741, and is hilarious today as it was then.

By looking over Sarah’s posts and reading the Sparknotes summary of the novel, I have the gist. A servant girl is ruthlessly pursued by her boss for her virtue, and the novel like Clarissa (which I have read, so totally served my Richardson-time) is in epistolary form, as she tells her parents all about her awful Mr B who since his wife’s death keeps trying to force himself on her.

One key point to remember with Pamela was that it was written in two months, and I think there should be some kind of law about books taking longer to get through that it took to write them. Richardson altered each new edition, so it seems rather like his first draft was the first edition. I’d like to say it’s a good job we don’t do that now, but judging by some of the ebooks and free kindle downloads out there, some fellow self publishers (Richardson was a printer) seem to be doing that today.

Shamela begins with exaggerated letters of praise for Pamela, ‘Thomas Tickletext’ declares he reads it five or six times a week (I predict Sarah has just snorted) and that the novel is ‘the only education we intend henceforth to give our daughters’. The recipient of his letter, Parson Oliver, writes back to let him know he has discovered the truth, that Pamela is indeed Shamela, and sends him the following letters so he may know the truth.

The letters are correspondence between Shamela Andrews and her mother, where she lays bare her plans to hook Squire Booby (Mr B) as she says she once thought of making a little money with her body, but now has a mind to make a great deal with her virtue. She also lets slip that she’s already had to nip away and have a child secretly, the product of liasons with Parson Williams, whom she keeps seeing even after she marries Squire Booby. Booby is still portrayed as a handsy oaf who can’t stop himself from getting into bed with her every twenty minutes, but Shamela plays on this and is anything but a victim. The books ends with a footnote that Williams and Shamela were eventually discovered in bed together by Booby (oh, how I wish people were actually called Booby) and divorced, slung out on her ear.

It must be quite something to publish a novel and then have a parody written the following year. Fielding wrote a blistering, direct attack, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Richardson was flattered. The book was doing well, he was loved for his easy-to-read (in those says, anyway) style, so he probably brushed it off, although it’s necessary reading for anyone who has stuck through a Richardson to the end.

So cheers to Henry Fielding, a man with more wigs than a drag queen.