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Mandeville's and Fielding's 'Unmasked Virgins.'.

Although Henry Fielding's An Old Man Taught Wisdom or, The Virgin Unmasked, A Farce (1734) has received a considerable amount of scholarly attention, no one has suggested that the possible source for the play, or at least its title, is Bernard Mandeville's The Virgin Unmask'd (1709), a work that has received little critical attention. It is likely that Mandeville's raciest work is a source for one of Fielding's most successful and farcical afterpieces.

We can be sure that Fielding read Mandeville. As Martin C. Battestin explains, Fielding wrote an article for The Champion in which he groups Mandeville and Hobbes, among others, as 'Political Philosophers' who see humans as essentially depraved creatures.(1) Battestin also points out that in Tom Jones (VI.i) Fielding satirizes this group, referring to them as 'that modern Doctrine, by which certain Philosophers, among many other wonderful Discoveries, pretend to have found out, that there is no such passion in the human breast'.(2) Furthermore, in Amelia, Miss Mathews and Booth debate over Mandeville's view of human nature. Booth seems to be the mouthpiece for Fielding: 'I hope you do not agree with Man-devil neither, who has represented human Nature in a Picture of the highest Deformity'.(3) Finally, we know that Fielding owned a copy of Mandeville's Fable of the Bees.(4) Even though Fielding expresses discontent with Mandeville's view of human nature, the possibility clearly exists that Mandeville's The Virgin Unmask'd is a source for Fielding's An Old Man Taught Wisdom Or, The Virgin Unmasked.

Admittedly, the works do differ in terms of genre and tone. Fielding's play is a one-act farce that, as Robert D. Hume states, is 'more in a spirit of contemptuous ridicule than serious satire' (187).(5) Mandeville's The Virgin Unmask'd consists of ten dramatic dialogues, unfolding over the span of two days, between an aunt and her niece. While there are farcical and satirical elements in Mandeville's work, the dominant tone is moral, often didactic, and philosophical. Stephen H. Good claims that it is a work about 'the empirical method for discovering truth'.(6)

However, the two works are alike in several important ways, beyond the obvious similarity of the two titles. First, one of Mandeville's two main characters is named Lucinda; the only female character in Fielding's farce is named Lucy. Lucinda is the knowledgeable, sober, and elderly aunt who instructs her niece on topics ranging from women's virtue to politics. Lucy, the converse of Mandeville's Lucinda, is the silly, affected, teenage daughter of Goodwill, who is attempting to marry her off to a prospective kinsman. Second, both works share central thematic concerns: marriage, or not marrying, as it were, and the depravity of men. Although the topics of the Lucinda-Antonia dialogues range from bawdy discussions about 'naked breasts' and masturbation to more serious discussions about politics and government, the themes of marriage anti the essential depravity of the male sex govern the progress of the conversation. Similarly, the theme of marriage and Fielding's mocking portrayal of the prospective kinsmen - Blister, Coupee, Quaver, and Wormwood - govern the tension and progress of his farce. The male sex in Fielding's play does not suffer the degree of criticism it does in Mandeville's work, but it does suffer Fielding's ridicule. Finally, the works are similar in terms of the parent-child dynamic. Although Lucinda is Antonia's biological aunt, she explains that since the death of Antonia's mother, she has considered Antonia 'her own'.(7) As parents, she and Fielding's Goodwill are alike in their obsessively energetic efforts to keep their daughters cloistered from the outside world, namely from men and notions of marriage. For example, Lucinda measures the success of her tactics by Antonia's former disdain for men: '[n]othing ravish'd me more than that I saw ye have that III Opinion of Men which they deserve'.(8) With more jocularity, Goodwill asserts that he, too, has successfully cloistered Lucy from men: 'The girl I have bred up under my own eye; she has seen nothing, knows nothing, and has consequently no will but mine'.(9)

Regarding the daughters, Antonia is much smarter and eminently more admirable than the flighty Lucy, but both perform their role as daughters being instructed in the ways of the world. Antonia, nineteen and daily growing more curious about men and her own sexuality, presents logical and argumentative questions to Lucinda, as the matronly aunt attempts to dissuade her from notions of marriage. The fatuous Lucy is not at all intelligent, and enough in love with Thomas the footman to know only that she does not want to marry one of her father's kinsmen. At any rate, both are the virgins to be unmasked.

KEVIN L. COLE Baylor University, Texas

1 See Henry Fielding, Amelia, ed. Martin C. Battestin (Middletown, 1983), 144 n. 1.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 114-15.

4 See Frederick G. Ribble and Anne O. Ribble, Fielding's Library: An Annotated Catalogue (Charlottesville, 1996), 212.

5 Robert D. Hume, Henry Fielding and The London Theatre, 1728-1737 (Oxford, 1988), 187.

6 See Bernard Mandeville, The Virgin Unmask'd: Or, Female Dialogues Betwixt and Elderly Maiden Lady, and Her Niece. On Several Diverting Discourses on Love, Marriage. Memoirs, and Morals, & c. of the Times, ed. Stephen H. Good, (Delmar, 1975), vi.

7 Ibid., 18.

8 Ibid.

9 Henry Fielding, The Complete Works of Henry Fielding. Esq.: With an Essay on the Life, Genius. and Achievement of the Author by William Ernest Henley, Ll.d, III (New York, 1967), 327.
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Title Annotation:authors Bernard Mandeville and Henry Fielding
Author:Cole, Kevin L.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:911
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