December 15, 2017
Tom Jones, Fielding, Richardson
On this day in 1749 Samuel Richardson expressed this opinion of Henry Fielding's new, very popular, and "truly coarse-titled" The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling:
I was told that it was a rambling collection of Waking Dreams, in which Probability was not observed: And that it had a very bad Tendency. And I had Reason to think that the Author intended for his Second View (His first, to fill his Pocket, by accommodating it to the reigning Taste) in writing it, to whiten a vicious Character, and to make morality bend to his Practices. What Reason had he to make his Tom illegitimate, in an Age when Keeping is become a Fashion? Why did he make him a common -- What shall I call it? And a Kept Fellow, the Lowest of all Fellows, yet in Love With a Young Creature who was traipsing after him, a Fugitive from her Father's House? -- Why did he draw his Heroine so fond, so foolish, and so insipid? -- Indeed he has one Excuse -- he knows not how to draw a delicate Woman -- he has not been accustomed to such Company -- And is too prescribing, too impetuous, too immoral, I will venture to say, to take any other Byass than that a perverse and crooked Nature has given him; or Evil Habits, at least, have confirm'd in him. Do Men expect Grapes of Thorns, and Figs of Thistles?...
At this stage, the scuffling between Richardson and Fielding had been going on for almost a decade, ever since Richardson had published Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded in 1740, usually said to be the first modern novel. The book proved so popular that there were soon Pamela waxworks on the street corner, Pamela displays in Vauxhall Gardens, and a steady stream of Pamela products. Fielding regarded Pamela as ridiculously moral, a violation of "Probability" in the other direction. He immediately published his spoof, Shamela, and then continued the fun in the first part of Joseph Andrews, wherein Richardson's besieged Pamela is replaced by her brother Joseph, who must fend off the fleshy advances of Lady Booby and her attendant, Mrs. Slipslop.
One contemporary wrote that all this soon had the literary world encamped into "two different Parties, Pamelists and Antipamelists." Whether after fun, money or the moral high ground, the attacks and defenses produced a stream of spin-off memoirs, sequels, operas and mock-heroic poems -- Pamela Censured, Pamela Nubile, Pamela: or, Virtue Triumphant and Anti-Pamela: or, Feign'd Innocence Detected, and so many others that a recent scholarly study documenting such texts and the Pamela controversy runs to six volumes.
Here is Tom at the end of Fielding's book, at which point he loves Squire Allworthy like a father, and loves Sophia to death, and is beyond anyone's reproach:
Whatever in the nature of Jones had a tendency to vice, has been corrected by continual conversation with this good man, and by his union with the lovely and virtuous Sophia. He hath also, by reflection on his past follies, acquired a discretion and prudence very uncommon in one of his lively parts.
To conclude, as there are not to be found a worthier man and woman, than this fond couple, so neither can any be imagined more happy....