Prudes, Lusciousness and 'Joseph Andrews'

Michael Orange


It is not surprising that in selecting one kind of writing about sexuality as the occasion for his own counter-narratives Fielding created intractable difficulties for himself. Parody demands likeness, as the relationship between Richardson's novel Pamela and his own Shamela shows, and even the measure of liberation from parody that Joseph Andrews provides turns out to be minimal when desire and its deferment are engaged. The parodic nature of Fielding's project in his earliest novels almost guarantees that they will subvert themselves because of his commitment to exploring sexuality. Like Richardson he was a product of his own times and his writing is therefore partly determined by (as well as helping to define) eighteenth-century notions of sexuality, which can seem peculiarly alien to readers today. And these difficulties are compounded by the nature of prose fiction itself, to Fielding literally novel. He saw himself as an experimenter within a new form. Perhaps historically he was hardly in a position to realize that while protesting vigorously about voyeurism he had committed himself to an intensely voyeuristic medium.

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