Monday, October 3, 2011

Robin Johnson Secondary Lit Post: Shamela

In her article “Ambiguous Language and Ambiguous Gender: The 'Bisexual' Text of Shamela,” Earla A. Wilputte examines how sexuality is used and demonstrated in regards to identity and vocabulary in Shamela. Wilputte asserts that Fielding’s “technique in Shamela is to equate shifting sexual identities with shifting meanings of moral terms. He employs feminization, 'the persistent gendering as feminine of that which is devalued', to underscore his point that the Christian vocabulary has been perverted and devalued by his contemporary society,” (Pg. 561). Wilputte first looks at the sexual identity of Fielding’s characters. She notes that “the suggested lesbian tendencies of Richardson's Jewkes are given to Fielding's Mrs. Jervis. Rather than emphasizing the masculine physical attributes with which Richardson endows Jewkes… Shamela employs connotative language rather than explicit description to portray the character's and Richardson's perversion,” (Pg. 564). The language that Fielding’s Mrs. Jervis uses is, as Wilputte calls it, sexually charged. The sexual identity of Shamela’s mother is also examined, as in her letter to Mrs. Jervis, she writes of a sprained hand due to “boxing three new made Officers” whom she managed to beat. In this example, Wilputte points out that Shamela’s mother emasculates these men with her behavior.

Shamela herself is also of ambiguous gender according to Wilputte. One of the most prominent examples is decoded by Wilputte:

At one point in the novel, Booby exclaims to Shamela, 'I know not whether you are a Man or a Woman, unless by your swelling Breasts' (p. 23). Booby is politely referring to the fact that he and Shamela have not had sexual intercourse. Although Fielding is making fun of Richardson's dialogue, the remark also suggests within my context that she may be female only physically: that is, she cannot be read confidently from her appearance. (Pg. 569).

The idea of “bisexual text” (text that can mean two separate things, as opposed to a heterosexual text that can only mean one) is also shown through Shamela. Wilputte says that “Shamela herself, though she is the personification ofthe corrupt state ofthe moral vocabulary, is not presented blatantly as a bisexual or homosexual character. She does, however, generate the 'bisexual' text through her manipulations ofthe ethical language and her contortions of Christian virtue into mercantile 'vartue',” (Pg. 567).

I read Shamela as a more exaggerated, sexual, and comedic version of Pamela. I was aware of the changes in the actions of each character, making note of how the women in the novel are more masculine, whereas the men are seen as more feminine. Reading Wilputte’s article, however, opened my eyes a little bit more to how Fielding is using the text to illustrate his points and ideas. I found myself agreeing with much of what Wilputte is saying in her article.

How do you perceive the sexuality displayed in Shamela (keep in mind the switch of gender roles)? Do you interpret the text as “bisexual” as Wilputte does, or is there some other way to look at it?

Wilputte, Earla A. "AMBIGUOUS LANGUAGE AND AMBIGUOUS GENDER: THE `BISEXUAL' TEXT OF SHAMELA." Modern Language Review 89.3 (1994): 561-571. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 Oct. 2011.

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