An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews, or Shamela, as it is more commonly known, is a satirical novel written by Henry Fielding and first published in April 1741 under the name of Mr. Conny Keyber. (Fielding never owned to writing the work but it is widely considered to be his.) It is a direct attack on the then-popular novel Pamela (November 1740) by Fielding's contemporary and rival, Samuel Richardson and is composed, like Pamela, in epistolary form.


Publishing history

Shamela was originally published anonymously on 4 April 1741 and sold for one shilling and sixpence. A second edition came out on 3 November that same year which was partly reimpressed and partly reset where emendations were made. A pirated edition printed in Dublin in 1741 as well. Reprint editions have subsequently appeared as texts for academic study

Plot summary

Shamela is written as a shocking revelation of the true events which took place in the life of Pamela Andrews, the main heroine of Pamela. From Shamela we learn that, instead of being a kind, humble, and chaste servant-girl, Pamela (whose true name turns out to be Shamela) is in fact a wicked and lascivious creature, scheming to entrap her master, Squire Booby, into marriage.

Themes and style

The novel is a travesty of, and direct response to, the stylistic failings and moral hypocrisy that Fielding saw in Richardson’s Pamela. Richardson’s epistolary tale of a resolute servant girl, armed only with her ‘virtue’, battling against her master’s attempts at seduction had become an overnight literary sensation in 1741. The implicit moral message – that a girl’s chastity has eventual value as a commodity – as well as the awkwardness of the epistolary form in dealing with ongoing events, and the triviality of the detail which the form necessitates, were some of the main targets of Fielding’s parody. In this way Fielding exposes the multiple weaknesses of Richardson's work, and has a good laugh at them too, although recent criticism has explored the ways in which Pamela in fact dramatizes its own weaknesses, in which context Fielding's work may be seen as a development of possibilities already encoded in Richardson's work, rather than a simple attack (see, for instance, Thomas Keymer). Another novel by Fielding parodying Pamela, albeit not so explicitly, is The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams (February 1742) more commonly known as Joseph Andrews.

See also

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