Lockwood on Fielding
In an article titled “Theatrical Fielding,” Thomas Lockwood explores Fielding’s early novel-writing in the context of his earlier theatrical writing. He takes it for granted that critics see Fielding’s novels as the more important and substantial part of his career, and that drama was more of a kind of internship he went through before finding his chosen career. Most criticism, according to Lockwood, focuses on Fielding’s novels as the work of a dramatist in exile, someone trying, circuitously, through a different medium, to create comic scenes which the reader can almost see as if staged. Lockwood’s thesis is more interesting than that. He claims that the intensity of Fielding’s decade-long career in theater formed his very way of conceiving the world—a conception which is above all playful. Theater informed the kind of imagination he lived with and that writing was just a part of how he lived. Further, Lockwood says that Fielding was able, with Shamela, to create a character he never could have created if the theaters had remained open and the dramatist never forcibly converted to fictional narrative.
An extensive familiarity with Fielding’s career helps illustrate this point. Lockwood sees, in the character of Shamela, the final culmination of a character-type which had been developing in Lockwood’s earlier works. He points to Catherine Clive, an actress who had played 10 roles in Fielding’s plays, and specifically to her role as Lucy Goodwill in the 1735 play The Virgin Unmask’d. Goodwill is one incarnation of a character type Lockwood describes as “an immensely engaging sort of Barracuda virgin.” (pp 108) She is innocent of experience but not of ambition, and like Shamela she associates marriage with financial and social upward mobility.
Imagining the relationship between a playwright and an actress as collaborative may help illustrate Lockwood’s thesis: Fielding created the characters Clive would recreate on stage and this give-and-take mode of character creation—the differences, one can imagine, between the creation and the recreation—helped fielding see nuances in character creation which would help him as a novelist to craft such dynamic characters as Shamela.
Lockwood says that Fielding went further with his work in novels than he did with his plays, taking full advantage of the print medium to illustrate his characters. With Shamela, as with Pamela, we get an access to her inner thoughts which stage dialogue could not have done so richly. Thus Fielding the dramatist and Fielding the novelist can be seen as two mutually-reinforcing approaches which resulted in incredibly rich characters.
This article was pretty dense, and required two complete readings. Lockwood says that in the first paragraph his thesis is “all a bit murky and remote so far.” (pp 105) But his point is worth teasing out and I agree that Fielding’s experiences and combined with his outlook (or can the two be separated?) make his literary style unique. Fielding moves past the didacticism of Richardson’s original work to create something which is not merely instructive but demonstrative. It points out how interesting people and their conflicting desires can be.
I spent most of my reading of Shamela, caught up in comparing the titular character to Pamela. Rereading sections of it in light of Lockwood’s suggestion that we separate the two and give them individual treatment is a lot more fun and makes it possible to look more closely at Shamela full frame, so to speak. I would like to know if any of my classmates were able to read the character of Shamela for her own sake. Is it easier, when you stop thinking of Pamela as a perversion of Shamela, to see the fun and the humor in it?
Lockwood, Thomas. "Theatrical Fielding." Studies in the Literary Imagination 32, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 105-114. MLA International Bibliography, EBSCOhost (accessed October 5, 2011).