Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

Views of Women in 18th Century British Literature: Richardson vs. Fielding

Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

Views of Women in 18th Century British Literature: Richardson vs. Fielding

Article excerpt


Richardson's Pamela, published in 1740, had a significant effect on the status of the novel. The story of a young servant who preserves her virginity despite the repeated attacks from her master, Mr B, and marries him when he reforms offers the readers a variety of attractions. There are the satisfactions of female virtue rewarded by true love with honour, and lower-class virtue rewarded by true love with honour, and insight into the mind and heart of an innocent yet feeling heroine. The combination of romantic wish fulfilment and inflexible morality was very popular, and changed the concept of the novel. With Richardson, fiction became more respectable. He was following a long tradition of epistolary fiction, much of it written by women, and his achievement was based on the traditions established by women writers.

Meanwhile, Henry Fielding, Richardson's contemporary and rival, was also doing a great deal to raise the novel's reputation, but the tradition he followed was different. The differences were both technical and moral. The difference in the two writers' moral visions is obvious in the contrast between Fielding's comic and satiric realism and Richardson's creation of exemplary characters. Richardson hoped to have a good influence on his readers by depicting goodness. His Pamela and Clarissa, though highly individualized and not quite unrealistically perfect, were clearly intended as good examples worthy of imitation. For Fielding, exemplary fiction was out of touch with reality. He deliberately made his Tom Jones lack the proper heroic qualities, arguing that imperfection made him human. He warned his readers "not to condemn a character as a bad one, because it is not perfectly a good one. If thou dost delight in these models of perfection, there are books now written to gratify thy taste; but as we have not, in the course of our conversation, ever happened to meet with any such person, we have not chosen to introduce any such here." (Fielding, 1992)

In Tom Jones, Fielding distinguishes his own "heroic kind of writing" from novels and romances, insisting on his adherence to the Truth of Nature. Like Richardson, who tried to convince that he was not writing romances but "copying Nature", Fielding stressed the duty of the "historian" of private lives to "keep within the limits not only of possibility, but of probability too" (Macsiniuc, 2003).

The conception of character in eighteenth century fiction follows two main directions. On the one hand, novelists interested in the re-creation of larger, more comprehensive pictures of contemporary life would inevitably choose to explore the surfaces of experience and would make their characters intelligible in terms of their "words and actions," as Fielding put it. To them a character is a certain type of social behaviour, more precisely, characters are defined through a particular interaction between their inner, private beliefs and their outward manifestation under the pressure of social demand. As Cornelia Macsiniuc shows, "characters conceived in this way, with an ultimate interest in their social self, in their capacity of integrating themselves satisfactorily in the social pattern, are best illustrated by Henry Fielding's fiction" (Macsiniuc, 2003). They are, in Dr. Samuel Johnson's terms, characters of manners, as distinguished from the characters of nature, best illustrated by Richardson's novels. On the other hand, this other direction in character delineation entails greater attention to the inner springs of action and to the psychological intricacies of the human personality.

Richardson and Fielding stood in contrast with regard to yet another aspect: point of view. The popularity of Richardson's Pamela was mainly due to the effective technique of revealing the story through the letters written by the protagonist and exchanged by characters. Thus a multiple perspective is offered, and also a greater sense of immediacy. …

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