Henry Fielding Shamela Essay - Critical Essays

Shamela, Henry Fielding


Shamela Henry Fielding

The following entry presents criticism of Fielding's epistolary novel An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741). See also, Henry Fielding Criticism.

Hailed by Sheridan Barker as the “best parody in English literature,” Henry Fielding's Shamela is the best known of a number of novels written in the 1740s that satirized Samuel Richardson's hugely popular 1740 novel, Pamela. Fielding's sixty-page book condenses and imitates Richardson's two-volume epistolary novel, poking fun at the original work's narrative method and pretense at moralizing. The heroine of Pamela is a paragon of virtue, a servant girl who resists the sexual advances of her master, and Richardson's purpose with the novel was to “cultivate the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the Youth of Both Sexes.” Fielding's heroine Shamela, on the other hand, is an artful minx who uses her “Vartue” to rise in the world. By poking fun at every aspect of Richardson's method and message, Fielding exposes the hypocrisy of contemporary mores. The work is more than a simple parody of Richardson, however, as Fielding lampoons political figures, the clergy, and contemporary writers. Shamela also marked a turning point in the modern novel, as it prepared the way for Fielding's more complex and ambitious work, Joseph Andrews (1742), which launched the tradition of comic fiction in English literature.

Biographical Information

Although Fielding had published a number of plays, poems, and essays by 1741, he was struggling financially. His theatrical career had come to an end in 1737 because of the controversy stirred up by his dramatic satires, and that year he began preparing to qualify as a barrister in order to support his family. He also took on translation work and in 1739 launched a newspaper, the Champion, for which he wrote a number of essays that satirized politics, law, literature, religion, and government. As he inveighed against all manner of societal excesses and corruption in the Champion, Fielding was in fact preparing himself for the pointed satire that was to come in Shamela. In 1740, three books appeared that particularly irked Fielding. In addition to Richardson's Pamela, there was An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, a book full of grammatical mistakes and misused words, and Conyers Middleton's Life of Cicero, which was obsequiously dedicated to Prime Minister Robert Walpole's Privy Seal, Lord Hervey. Shamela satirizes all three of these works by imitating their content and style. In early 1741 when Fielding found himself in a “sponging house” because of his debts, he dashed off the manuscript of Shamela, which he published anonymously. Richardson suspected that Fielding was the author of the parody, and never forgave him. A year later Fielding would publish Joseph Andrews, which inaugurated his career as a novelist.

Plot and Major Characters

Fielding takes special care to parody even the smallest details of Richardson's work, and the form of Shamela closely follows that of Pamela. The novel is introduced by the “author,” one Conny Keyber (a combination of the names of the writers Conyers Middleton and Colley Cibber), who claims he presents the “authentick Papers” of the heroine of Richardson's novel. Keyber dedicates his work to “Miss Fanny,” a parody of Middleton's dedication to the supposedly effeminate Lord Hervey. He also includes letters to the editor (including one from the editor himself) congratulating him on his fine work, just as Richardson had appended letters in praise of his novel to his second edition of Pamela. The novel begins with a letter from the gullible Parson Thomas Tickletext, who, overcome by the loveliness of Pamela, writes to his friend, Parson J. Oliver, enthusiastically recommending the novel. Oliver, however, has in his possession certain letters that reveal the true nature and history of Richardson's heroine. Oliver explains that Pamela's name is actually Shamela and transmits her authentic correspondence. There follows a series of letters written between the various characters in the novel: Shamela; her unwed mother, Henrietta Maria Honora Andrews; Squire Booby, the master of Booby Hall; Booby's housekeeper and Shamela's confidante, Mrs. Lucretia Jervis; Booby's more loyal housekeeper, Mrs. Jewkes; and the Reverend Arthur Williams. The letters reveal that Shamela, formerly a servant in Booby's household, becomes his wife by supposedly resisting his attempts to seduce her and flaunting her “Vartue.” She has done this with the help of Mrs. Jervis, who pretends to help Booby to win Shamela but who actually aids Shamela in her designs on his worldly goods. In the meantime Shamela has an affair with Reverend Williams, which according to Parson Oliver, is eventually found out. Events and characters in the novel parallel Pamela, but things are seen in a very different light, with Parson Williams appearing as a scheming rogue, Mr. Booby as a fool, and Pamela as a calculating hussy.

Major Themes

As a parody of Pamela, Shamela aims to overturn what Fielding considered to be the sententious moralizing of Richardson's novel. Richardson claims that Pamela is a model of virtue, whose chastity is rewarded, but Fielding in his novel equates morality with expediency, as Shamela behaves as she does in order to secure material comforts for herself. Throughout the novel Shamela uses words such as “feign,” “act,” and “pretend.” She tempts Booby but pretends to do so unwittingly, thus retaining her virtuous image, resisting him in order to appear virtuous and lure him into marriage and elevate herself socially. Shamela is not the virtuous woman Richardson supposes but rather a calculating, conniving creature. While Fielding parodies Richardson's views on morality and virtue, at the same time he presents his own moral message about hypocrisy and feigned goodness. His criticism of hypocrisy extends also to the clergy (represented by Parson Williams), the gentry (in Squire Booby), and the political establishment. The theme of faith versus good works is also explored in the character of the parson. Fielding with his novel attacks corruption on many levels, from the perversion of language to the exploitation of the nature of decency and uprightness for political purposes.

Critical Reception

Fielding published Shamela anonymously, but upon its publication he was widely suspected as being the author of the parody. Because of the enormous success of Pamela, Fielding's burlesque enjoyed considerable notoriety, and indeed it spawned several other, lesser satires of Richardson's novel. Shamela was hardly a critical success upon initial publication, however, and it was not only until the early twentieth century that scholars began taking it seriously as a work of literature. Early discussions of the novel centered on its authorship, and it was not until the 1950s that Fielding's authorship of Shamela was established. Subsequent analyses have explored issues such as the nature of Fielding's parody; the work's complex, multi-layered satire of contemporary values and politics; the similarities and differences between Shamela and Pamela; the anticipation in the novel of themes elaborated upon in Joseph Andrews; the satire's concern with sexuality, gender, literacy, and class; the idea of authenticity; and Fielding's political attitudes.

Principal Works

Love in Several Masques (play) 1728

The Author's Farce and The Pleasures of the Town (play) 1730

The Temple Beau (play) 1730

Tom Thumb (play) 1730; also published as The Tragedy of Tragedies; or, The Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great [enlarged edition] 1731

The Welsh Opera, or, The Grey Mare the Better Horse [as Scriblerus Secundus] (play) 1731; also published as The Grub-Street Opera, 1731

The Covent-Garden Tragedy (play) 1732

The Modern Husband (play) 1732

Don Quixote in England [adaptor; from the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes] (play) 1734

Pasquin: A Dramatick Satire on the Times; Being the Rehearsal of Two Plays, viz. a Comedy Called “The Election” and a Tragedy Called “The Life and Death of Common Sense” (play) 1736

The Historical Register for the Year 1736 (play) 1737

An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews. In Which, the Many Notorious Falsehoods and Misrepresentations of a Book Called “Pamela” Are Exposed and Refuted; and All the Matchless Arts of That Young Politician, Set in a True and Just Light [as Conny Keyber] (novel) 1741; also published as Shamela in Joseph Andrews and Shamela, 1961

The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams. Written in Imitation of Cervantes, Author of “Don Quixote” (novel) 1742; also published as Joseph Andrews, 1935

A Journey from This World to the Next (novel) 1743; published in Miscellanies, Vol. II

The Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (satire) 1743; published in Miscellanies, Vol. III; also published as Jonathan Wild, 1932

Miscellanies. 3 vols. (essays, satires, dramas, and poetry) 1743

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (novel) 1749; also published as Tom Jones, 1896

Amelia (novel) 1751

An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers, & c., with Some Proposals for Remedying This Growing Evil (essay) 1751

A Proposal for Making an Effectual Provision for the Poor (essay) 1753

The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon (journal) 1755

The Works of Henry Fielding, Esq; With the Life of the Author. 4 vols. (dramas, novels, satires, and essays) 1762

The Complete Works of Henry Fielding, Esq. 16 vols. (novels, satires, dramas, essays, journalism, and poetry) 1903


Gerard E. Jensen (essay date 1916)

SOURCE: Jensen, Gerard E. “An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews, 1741.” Modern Language Notes 31, no. 5 (May 1916): 310-11.

[In the following essay, Jensen provides textual evidence to show that Shamela was written by Fielding.]

In his Samuel Richardson (Eng. Men of Letters, 1902) Mr. Austin Dobson discusses the authorship of the above parody on Richardson's Pamela, but does not decide the question for us. The evidence that he brings forward seems to support Miss Thomson's conjecture (Samuel Richardson, London, 1900, p. 38) that it is not improbable that Henry Fielding wrote this pamphlet. In a recent examination of a...

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Charles Richard Greene (essay date 1944)

SOURCE: Greene, Charles Richard. “A Note on the Authorship of Shamela.Modern Language Notes 59, no. 8 (December 1944): 571.

[In the following essay, Greene notes similarities between a passage in Shamela and a passage in Fielding's translation of a work by Moliére, and suggests that this is evidence for Fielding's authorship of the novel.]

As a contribution to the vexed and as yet incompletely settled question of the authorship of Shamela (1741) may I offer the following parallel passage in Fielding's translation of Molière's Le Médecin malgré lui as The Mock Doctor: or, The Dumb Lady Cur'd (1732). It occurs in an added plot...

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Charles B. Woods (essay date 1946)

SOURCE: Woods, Charles B. “Fielding and the Authorship of Shamela.Philological Quarterly 25, no. 3 (July, 1946): 248-72.

[In the following essay, Woods argues that Shamela was written by Fielding, citing as evidence the similar subject matter in Fielding's essays and Fielding's distinctive prose style.]

Since 1900, when Miss Clara L. Thomson suggested that the parody of Pamela (pub. Nov. 6, 1740) entitled An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews … By Mr. Conny Keyber (pub. April 4, 1741) was “not improbably written by Fielding,”1 considerable attention has been given to this curious link between Richardson's...

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Sheridan Baker (essay date 1953)

SOURCE: Baker, Sheridan. Introduction to An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews, pp. xi-xxxvi. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1953.

[In the following excerpt, Baker discusses Fielding's authorship of Shamela, the novel's thematic concerns, and its relationship to Pamela.]

Shamela is not only a little book of great historical interest; it is not only a work which turned Henry Fielding from a minor dramatist and journalist into a major novelist: it is itself a masterpiece. It may well be the best parody in English literature.

In the history of the novel, Shamela holds a highly distinguished place,...

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Ian Watt (essay date 1956)

SOURCE: Watt, Ian. “Shamela.” In Fielding: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Ronald Paulson, pp. 45-51. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1962.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1956, Watt discusses the major theme of faith versus good works and analyzes Fielding's brand of satire.]

Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded was published on November 6th, 1740. It immediately became the sensation of the literary season, and a swarm of attacks, parodies, and spurious continuations soon appeared to sour Richardson's remarkable and unexpected triumph; of these the first and easily the best was the eighteen-penny pamphlet An Apology for...

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Maurice Johnson (essay date 1961)

SOURCE: Johnson, Maurice. “The Art of Parody: Shamela.” In Fielding's Art of Fiction: Eleven Essays on Shamela, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, and Amelia, pp. 19-45. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961.

[In the following essay, Johnson considers Shamela, besides being pure, humorous fun, to be a prelude to Fielding's more serious, realistic works.]

The Pamela, which he abused in his Shamela, taught him how to write to please, tho' his manners are so different.

Samuel Richardson.1

Few parodies can withstand more than one rereading. But...

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Eric Rothstein (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: Rothstein, Eric. “The Framework of Shamela.ELH 35, no. 3 (September 1968): 381-402.

[In the following essay, Rothstein shows how the framework of Shamela, beginning with the prefatory material, sustains the burlesque of the novel's action and satirizes English social, political, and religious life.]

Fielding, in his prudence, did not let his ward Shamela go out to make her literary fortune alone. Her letters appeared with three epistolary chaperons, three addresses that are variants of her own correspondence. First, we have the letter of dedication from Conny Keyber to “Miss Fanny, & c.”; next, two letters to the Editor,...

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Hugh Amory (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: Amory, Hugh. “Shamela as Aesopic Satire.” ELH 38, no. 2 (June 1971): 239-53.

[In the following essay, Amory claims that Shamela satirizes Cibber's Apology, Middleton's Life of Cicero, and Richardson's Pamela, which Fielding thinks are testaments to the social and political corruption of the age.]

Who wrote Shamela? and who did Fielding suppose wrote Pamela? On these questions there is a surprisingly large literature, but until an article by Eric Rothstein in 1968, there had been little speculation on the aesthetic function of the mystery in which Fielding enveloped both subjects.1 For the question,...

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A. R. Humphreys (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: Humphreys, A. R. Introduction to Joseph Andrews preceded by Shamela, by Henry Fielding, edited with an introduction by A. R. Humphreys, pp. vii-xi. London: J. M. Dent, 1973.

[In the following excerpt, Humphreys argues that Shamela attacks a number of literary and political figures, and that Fielding's parody is a result of his irritation with the moralizing tone of some of his contemporaries, which was brought to a head with the publication of Pamela.]

In April 1741, five months after Pamela appeared, Fielding disclosed his opinion of Richardson's book. An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, while directed mainly against...

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Theo Olivier (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: Olivier, Theo. “‘Pamela’ and ‘Shamela’: A Reassessment.” English Studies in Africa: A Journal of the Humanities 17, no. 2 (September 1974): 59-70.

[In the following essay, Olivier maintains that Fielding's purpose in Shamela was not much different from that of Samuel Richardson in Pamela, in that both attempt to entertain, but do so by different means.]

All fools have still an itching to deride,
And fain would be upon the laughing side.

(Pope, Essay on Criticism)

To approach a comparison between Richardson and Fielding today poses some rather formidable problems, not the least that of saying...

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Morris Golden (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Golden, Morris. “Public Context and Imagining Self in Pamela and Shamela.ELH 53, no. 2 (summer 1986): 311-329.

[In the following essay, Golden examines the social and cultural context in which Pamela and Shamela were written, which he argues is of particular interest because it sheds light on the origins of the novel.]

Most people would grant that Pamela, Fielding's responses, and the modern novel generally rose out of the powerful economic, demographic, religious, folkloric, and literary forces and traditions that have been so ably defined in the scholarship of the past few decades. But we may still ask why and how one...

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Simon Varey (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Varey, Simon. “Shamela and Joseph Andrews.” In Henry Fielding, pp. 46-52. London: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

[In the following excerpt, Varey examines the parody of Pamela which Fielding uses in Shamela as a forerunner of the parodical elements in Joseph Andrews.]

Samuel Richardson's first novel, Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded was published in November 1740. It was a triumph, a sensation. Perpetually tinkering with his text, Richardson brought out four revised editions in less than a year. He soon added a sequel (Pamela in her Exalted Condition) and later virtually rewrote the whole novel twice more....

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Martin C. Battestin and Ruthe R. Battestin (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: Battestin, Martin C. and Ruthe R. Battestin “Politics, Novels, and The Law.” In Henry Fielding: A Life, pp. 301-308. London: Routledge, 1989.

[In the following excerpt, Battestin examines the political, social, and cultural context for Fielding's composition and the public reception of Shamela.]

For many reasons, then—personal, financial, political—these months were a distressing time for Fielding. In this same year of 1741 we also first hear of the chronic ill health that plagued him for the rest of his life, undermining a robust constitution. That he managed to rise above this sea of troubles to produce Shamela attests not only to an...

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Judith Frank (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Frank, Judith. “Literacy, Desire, and the Novel: From Shamela to Joseph Andrews.The Yale Journal of Criticism: Interpretation in the Humanities 6, no. 2 (fall 1993): 157-74.

[In the following essay, Frank offers a reading of Shamela that departs from earlier analyses about bourgeois politics and literary representation, arguing that the novel is about literacy and desire among the lower classes, a theme that Fielding further develops in Joseph Andrews.]

Like the transition from traditional open-field to capitalist agriculture or the transition from a paternalistic to a contractual model of labor and service, the rise of literacy in...

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Ian A. Bell (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Bell, Ian A. “Pamela into Shamela.” In Henry Fielding: Authorship and Authority, pp. 57-77. London: Longman, 1994.

[In the following essay, Bell argues that Shamela suggests themes and cultural critiques that are developed in a more serious and disciplined manner in his later works.]

An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews, In which, the many notorious Falsehoods and Misrepresentations of a Book called Pamela, are exposed and refuted; and all the matchless Arts of that young Politician, set in a true and just Light. Together with a full Account of all that passed between her and Parson Arthur...

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Earla A. Wilputte (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Wilputte, Earla A. “Ambiguous Language and Ambiguous Gender: The ‘Bisexual’ Text of Shamela.The Modern Language Review 89, no. 3 (July 1994): 561-71.

[In the following essay, Wilputte contends that in his novel Fielding uses sexually ambiguous creatures and bisexuality to represent perversions of language.]

An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews (1741) is too easily dismissed by scholars as not warranting real critical attention. Fielding's parody of Richardson's Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded is a genuinely comic piece and, as so often happens with comedy, the critics take it apart with reluctance. Fielding's satire exposes...

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Jenny Uglow (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Uglow, Jenny. “Towards Fiction: The Champion and Shamela.” In Henry Fielding, pp. 28-33. Plymouth, U.K.: Northcote House, 1995.

[In the following excerpt, Uglow offers a general reading of Shamela and notes the reader's collusion with the author in the novel's pretense.]

Shamela was prompted by three books that had made Fielding's blood boil in 1740. The most important was Samuel Richardson's Pamela, in which, through her plangent, urgent letters home, we follow the young servant's brave attempts to foil the assaults on her virtue by her master, Mr B—, (including kidnapping, near-rape, and virtual imprisonment), until...

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Richard Gooding (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Gooding, Richard. “Pamela, Shamela, and the Politics of the Pamela Vogue.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 7, no. 2 (January 1995): 109-30.

[In the following essay, Gooding discusses the similarities and differences between Richardson's Pamela and the parodies it spawned, including Shamela.]

There are Swarms of Moral Romances. One, of late Date, divided the World into such opposite Judgments, that some extolled it to the Stars, whilst others treated it with Contempt. Whence arose, particularly among the Ladies, two different Parties, Pamelists and Antipamelists. … Some look upon this young Virgin as...

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Albert J. Rivero (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Rivero, Albert J. “Pamela/Shamela/Joseph Andrews: Henry Fielding and the Duplicities of Representation.” In Augustan Subjects: Essays in Honor of Martin C. Battestin, edited by Albert J. Rivero, pp. 207-28. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Rivero discusses Fielding's concerns with representation, authority, and authenticity in Shamela, which the novelist explores more fully in Joseph Andrews.]

The title page of Joseph Andrews indicates that the work we are about to read is “Written in Imitation of The Manner of CERVANTES, Author of Don Quixote.1 This...

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Tiffany Potter (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Potter, Tiffany. “Georgian Libertinism and the Reclamation of Virtue: Shamela and Joseph Andrews.” In Honest Sins: Georgian Libertinism and the Novels of Henry Fielding, pp. 74-82. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1999.

[In the following excerpt, Potter argues that Shamela displays the coherent ideology of libertinism that Fielding embraced, with its rejection of contemporary standards of virtue, religious dogma, and vision of human behavior.]

Shamela and Joseph Andrews form a transition between Fielding's dramatic career and his career as a novelist, and both works are informed by the developing Georgian libertinism....

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Thomas Lockwood (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Lockwood, Thomas. “Theatrical Fielding.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 32, no. 2 (fall 1999): 105-10.

[In the following excerpt, Lockwood claims that, with its dramatic elements, Shamela shows the current of Fielding's theatrical imagination.]

What I mean by this title is not so much the Fielding who worked in theater as the Fielding in whom theater itself worked and kept on working, imaginatively, all his life. From his playhouse experience, he took or was taken by a certain deeply theatrical habit of imagination that bathes the material of his post-dramatic writing career and, in some cases, I would argue, underpins the creative structure of...

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Further Reading


Baguley, David. “Parody and the Realist Novel.” University of Toronto Quarterly: A Canadian Journal of the Humanities 55, no. 1 (fall 1985): 94-108.

Discusses the relationship between parodies and parodying texts, including Shamela and Pamela.

Baker, Sheridan. Introduction to Joseph Andrews and Shamela, by Henry Fielding, pp. xi-xxx. New York: Crowell, 1972.

Surveys Fielding's career and presents an overview of the two novels, claiming that with Shamela English fiction becomes “literate” because the work generates its meaning from other literature.


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