The two Amelias: Henry Fielding and Elizabeth Justice.
The assumption that drives McCutcheon's query and Battestin's investigation of all matters regarding Henry Fielding is, of course, that Fielding's stature as a writer sets him apart, not only from Elizabeth Justice, but from most of his contemporaries. Postmodern thought, however, has challenged this kind of assumption. We have come to suspect the validity of totalizing strategies, that is of reference to author, oeuvre, tradition, influence, development or evolution. Such methods, as Michel Foucault has suggested, convey the impression of a false unity.(4) To avoid such distortion, we might begin with the admission that if Amelia were the only novel that Henry Fielding had ever written, it would probably be as obscure to us as is Elizabeth Justice's Amelia. These works bear the same title, address the same subject, and were published the same year; once we bring them together, we can expect to discover resonances and complexities inherent in the early modern experience that neither work divulges on its own.
The two Amelias constitute, as it were, an irruption of discourse about uxorial distress, particularly the trials of the wife in the married state. The plot of Fielding's Amelia is no doubt familiar to anyone reading this essay. Although William Booth is a worthy man who ultimately learns to govern his life by the precepts of religion, his early behavior - infidelity and profligacy - certainly imperil his family's, and especially his wife's, existence. From the beginning the Booths have a difficult time of marriage due to the greediness of Amelia's sister who by forgery robs Amelia of her estate. And other factors outside the marriage, such as corrupt justices, menacing lawyers, and lustful acquaintances, render the pursuit of marital ease and happiness difficult. But it is Billy Booth himself, through gambling and adultery, who drives Amelia to the point of despair. When Booth pays a reluctant visit to his Newgate mistress, Miss Mathews, in order to prevent her from disclosing their affair to his wife, he is arrested for a gambling debt. Meanwhile Colonel James, lover to Miss Mathews and thwarted, would-be seducer of Amelia, sends a challenge to the Booths' home demanding satisfaction from Booth with the excuse that Booth had betrayed him, and Amelia herself, by dining with Miss Mathews. James's design, we are told, was one of "injuring Booth in the Affection and Esteem of Amelia, and of recommending himself somewhat to her" (F, 495). He achieves the first of his ends, for while Amelia (unbeknownst to Booth himself) already knows of his affair with Miss Mathews and has forgiven him, and while she had earlier soothed him when he confessed his gambling excesses, the prospect of his being killed in a duel is too much for her. She tells her children, "your Papa is - indeed he is a wicked Man - he cares not for any of us" (F, 491), a conclusion that fairly reflects Amelia's frustration at the completely dependent state of a wife when her husband's actions are dangerous, thoughtless, and threatening to her and her children's future security as well as his own safety.(5)
Elizabeth Justice's less familiar tale stresses the same themes. Her Amelia tells the story of the Johnsons, a couple less beleaguered than the Booths by outside forces but equally threatened from within by personal shortcomings. Too fond of money, Mr. Johnson sacrifices all else to the acquisition of wealth. He is in the habit of attending book auctions, from which
he would often bring home a small Quarto, with an extream bad Binding, dirty Leaves, &c. such as she [Amelia] thought not worth House-room; he would indeed say, it is not perfect, that he had only given a Guinea for it; but he could make it perfect and it would be worth five or six.(6)
On this pursuit, on good food and drink, and on the purchasing of rare and curious prints, Johnson spends what money he has and what he can get from Amelia - that is what he can persuade her to give him out of the cash gifts made to her by her parents to spend on herself, for, of course, the fortune she brought to the marriage became her husband's at their union (J, 35).
Like the Booths, the Johnsons have several children and for their sakes, as well as from a conviction that marriage is a "Friendship of the highest Nature" (J, 18), this Amelia is as forbearing as the other when confronted by "a stupid insensible Husband" (J, 19). Yet, unlike Booth, Johnson does not come to regret his thoughtlessness. Indeed, his behavior becomes crueller and crueller, culminating in physical abuse - at which point Amelia asks for a separation and [pounds]100 a year. Her husband agrees to this arrangement at first, but later reduces his pledge to [pounds]25 a year. He also takes their children from Amelia, arriving at her lodgings in the night accompanied by a constable. As the narrator tells us, "there was nothing left, but either to give up them, or live with him; the Law having given such Power to the Husband" (J, 79).
Ultimately Amelia is forced to go to the law herself to exact payment of the [pounds]25 per annum from her estranged husband, and, to her "great Satisfaction," her rights are upheld by the court (J, 115). Unfortunately, however, her husband undermines her victory by threatening a Chancery suit to force her to pay the costs he had incurred in the first lawsuit. Here she is trapped, for "tho' Mr. Johnson had no Right on his Side, she knew it would take as much Time and Money as if he had" (J, 116). At this point, in these financial straits, Amelia takes a position as governess to an English family in Russia where she lives for a little over three years. She is called home by concern for her children when she hears of her husband's arrest and conviction on the charge of robbing the Cambridge library (J, 184-85). Back in England and again in financial difficulties, Amelia publishes by subscription an account of her life in Russia. She then becomes the companion of a benevolent, wealthy lady, appropriately named Mrs. Sweet, at whose death Amelia turns author once more, producing the very account in which we read this story of marital misery.
Both Amelias reflect an understanding of marriage as a spiritual union, "instituted of God . . . for the procreation of children, . . . [as] a remedy against sin . . . [and] for the mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity."(7) Indeed, it would be strange if these novels about the married state did not proceed on such assumptions, because in the eighteenth-century these notions were encoded in the marriage ceremony authorized by the Established Church, printed in the Book of Common Prayer, and elaborated on in various devotional tracts such as The Whole Duty of Man and in etiquette books such as Halifax's Advice to a Daughter.(8) Both Amelias accept that "the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church," and they obey the injunction, "Let the wife see that she reverence her husband."(9) Fielding's Amelia tells Booth, "you have a Wife who will think herself happy with you, and endeavour to make you so in any Situation" (F, 162). Justice's Amelia exhibits a similar cheerful subservience:
Her Notion was, that a Wife should endeavour to do every thing that might make herself agreeable after Marriage . . . [and] by her Behaviour shew no Company could give her so much Delight as his; if he went abroad she attended him to the Door, wishing his Return might be soon, without asking when, lest that Question should savour of ill Manners, . . and at his Return he was sure to find her chearful, neat, and obliging. (J, 18-19)
Both Amelias also seem to have taken to heart the marriage sermon's invocation of 1 Peter 3: "Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives."(10) Early in her marriage, Justice's Amelia comforts herself with this philosophy:
As she could not study any Method to improve Mr. Johnson's Mind, she took a double Care of her own Conduct, and strictly observing that nothing she did, should give him any just Cause of Displeasure; and pleas'd herself, thinking that by and bye, things would mend; and that he, in length of Time, would see into his Errors, and she should then have a double Satisfaction, not only to be more easy, but to be the Instrument of his Change. (J, 48)
She was not, however, to effect such a miracle, for as Fielding's Amelia knew, St. Peter notwithstanding, subservience is not an effective position from which to wage combat. When the subject of virtue and religion came up in the Booth household, "Booth immediately turned the Discourse to some other Subject; for tho' he had in other Points a great Opinion of his Wife's Capacity; yet as a Divine or a Philosopher he did not hold her in a very respectable Light, nor did he lay any great Stress on her Sentiments in such Matters" (F, 451).(11)
Indeed, what we term today the "power imbalance" was so acute in an eighteenth-century marriage that the typical or even the extraordinary wife's influence over her husband's behavior and beliefs was likely to be fairly minimal. Of course, neither Amelia would have styled her marriage a "power" relationship, and each seems perfectly content to restrict her exercise of authority in marriage to the education of her children in their very early years. "It was a Rule" with Amelia Johnson "that as soon as [her children] should be capable of doing any witty or unlucky Action, that it was then Time to teach them some wise ones" (J, 49). And Amelia Booth "never let a Day pass, without instructing her Children in some Lesson of Religion and Morality" (F, 167). Yet in each novel we become aware that even this authority, though admirably executed by the Amelias, is being eroded by another value system - a mercenary value system.(12)
The novels present parallel scenes in each of which the mother tries to instill moral principles in her eldest child (in each instance a boy), even as the child begins to perceive that the world operates quite counter to the precepts he has been taught to regard as true. To take Fielding's Amelia first: having revealed to her child, "not quite six Years old," that his father has been abandoned by his benefactor Dr. Harrison at, she can only suppose, the evil offices of an enemy to Booth, Amelia is confronted with the child's innocent protest: "'Nay, Mamma, how can that be? Have not you often told me, that if I was good, every body would love me?'" The dialogue continues:
"All good People will," answered she. "Why don't they love Papa then?" replied the Child, "for I am sure he is very good." "So they do, my dear," said the Mother, "but there are more bad People in the World, and they will hate you for your Goodness." "Why then bad People," cries the Child, "are loved by more than the Good." - "No Matter for that, my Dear," said she, "the Love of one good Person is more worth having, than that of a thousand wicked ones; nay, if there was no such Person in the World still you must be a good Boy: for there is one in Heaven who will love you; and his Love is better for you than that of all Mankind." (F, 166-67)
As the context of this discussion is the loss of a benefactor, we recognize that the concern is not the correlation between goodness and love but the exchange value of goodness, a subject confronted less obliquely by Justice. Mr. Johnson assumes that there is no profit in being good and tells his wife, "I cared not if the whole World said I was the greatest Villain upon Earth, so I was rich." Like the Booths' child, the Johnsons' son challenges this view:
Amelia's little Boy stood by them, and observing what his Papa said, ask'd Amelia if his Papa wanted to be a naughty Man. Upon which Mr. Johnson takes him up and kisses him, and tells him, "No, he would be a very rich one, and have a great deal of Money to give him and his Sister, when they grew up." But Papa said the Child, What makes my Mamma say, that all the Poor are God Almighty's People; is not that best? He was somewhat struck at this, and bid him go and talk Nonsense in his Nursery. while the tender Mother was grieving at what had been said. (J, 47-48)
Justice's Amelia might well grieve, for her husband has embraced mercenariness in as thoroughgoing a way as possible. In doing so, he does more than simply undermine his wife's traditional authority within the married state; he redefines her value, as he defines all value, in purely economic terms. Although Johnson thinks little of his wife as a preceptor to his children or as a companion for himself, he does not count her a liability. She is attractive, intelligent and, in a word, marketable.
The most chilling truth that emerges from Elizabeth Justice's autobiographical Amelia is that she was a victim of her husband's attempts to prostitute her:
Amelia plainly discovered, that nothing she could do would be wrong that she got Money by. This was a Wound of a severe Depth in her Mind; and the Reflection of it struck her with Horror; and now was sensible she might do much more than give a Gentleman a Dish of Tea. His [Johnson's] Baseness was such, that he would continually bring very pretty Fellows home to dine and whoever saw her Behaviour at the Head of the Table, join'd with a becoming Civility, made her appear amiable in the Eyes of the Company. (J, 23)
The "pretty fellows," we assume, found Amelia much more than "amiable and gay," or at least so Johnson designed, for the next paragraph informs us that he would typically leave his wife to entertain his friends alone while he attended book auctions (J, 2324). In this instance, Amelia's strategy is to stave off unwanted sexual attention by lecturing her guests about "Honour, good Nature, and Civility" (J, 24). At a later date, Amelia appeals to her husband's sense of these virtues, but to no avail. When a creditor, Mr. Snee, made improper advances to Amelia in her husband's absence, she informed Johnson, but "he thought Snee not wrong" and wrote to tell her so (J, 62).
Upon the Receipt of this, Amelia thought her former Judgment not wrong; for tho' it did not appear that he [Snee] was at this Time sent [by her husband], yet it was clear to her that his Behaviour was approved by Mr. Johnson; she now had more Reason for Suspicion than ever, and found she might do what she pleas'd, so it ended in getting Money. (J, 63)
During the negotiations for separation, Amelia confronts her husband with the enormity of his behavior: "you have a Heart as hard as the Marble Table you lean on, and would sacrifice every thing for Money. You basely have left nothing undone to contrive to get Money by my Person" (J, 74-75).
Although Justice's Amelia observes to her husband, "I believe you are the only Man that would chuse your Wife to have such Favours from Gentlemen" (J, 46), the practice of wife prostitution was not unheard of in the eighteenth century.(13) In Fielding's Amelia, too, we find that the motif figures prominently. The marriages of the Trents, the Atkinsons and the Booths are all infected by the temptation to regard a wife as an exchange commodity. Of the three husbands, Trent is the most like Justice's Johnson: noting a noble Peer's attraction to Mrs. Trent, Trent "began to consider whether his Wife was not really a more valuable Possession than he had lately thought her" (F, 469). For the use of this one "property," Trent receives "a House at the polite End of the Town, . . . [an] Equipage . . . [and] handsome Cloaths" - a profitable exchange (F, 471). Mrs. Atkinson (who prides herself on her ability to reason as well as a man) prostitutes herself for her husband's advancement. Actually, she does so twice, first as Mrs. Bennett when she is tricked into a liaison with a noble lord by, among other things, favors he has already conferred on her husband, and second as Mrs. Atkinson when she allows herself to be mistaken for Amelia and, in that guise, promises kindnesses to Colonel James in return for a commission for Atkinson (F, 443-47). And, finally, Booth himself is encouraged by Trent to think of Amelia as a way to "make your Fortune" (F, 440), an offer Booth adamantly rejects.
Of course, she does make his fortune, in a sense. Amelia's estate is restored to her, enabling her husband to pay his debts and to move his family into the country, a move that signifies - as always in Fielding - a return to an old order, reinvested with value by the hard earned perception of the alternative. But there has been a change too in Amelia's status in the marriage. Fielding's Amelia rejects the option of regarding a wife as a commodity to be exploited; it instead redefines her in aesthetic terms. Indeed, it is significant that while Amelia refuses to "sell herself" for money, she does not hesitate to pawn her portrait. This deed, in fact, initiates the happy resolution of the Booths' woes. Robinson, who had helped Amelia's sister forge the will by which Amelia was disinherited, happens to be in the pawnbroker's shop when Amelia comes in wrapped in hoods and disguised. When she leaves, the pawnbroker looks at the portrait and cries, "Upon my Word this is the handsomest Face I ever saw in my Life" (F, 516). Robinson takes a look and is immediately struck with such remorse that he falls ill and soon confesses all to Dr. Harrison, who takes the necessary steps to recover Amelia's fortune.
When Booth sees his wife for the first time after he has learned of this recovery, Amelia appears transformed. She is the aesthetic embodiment of wifeliness, her pawned portrait come to life:
Amelia was then in a clean white Gown, which she had that Day redeemed, and was indeed dressed all over with great Neatness and Exactness; with the Glow therefore which arose in her Features from finding her Husband released from his Captivity, she made so charming a Figure, that she attracted the Eyes of the Magistrate and of his Wife, and they both agreed when they were alone, that they had never seen so charming a Creature; nay Booth himself afterwards told her that he scarce ever remembered her to look so extremely beautiful as she did that Evening. (F, 525)
This offers quite a contrast to the sordidness of wife prostitution, of debtor's prison, of the urban world in which the Booths have been trying to make their way. Yet it is an image born of this world, in response to the hard economic truths on which the world is founded.(14)
Justice's Amelia evidences a similar aestheticizing impulse in a scene presented after we are told of the Johnsons' separation. Amelia has returned to her parents' home awaiting the completion of her negotiations with her husband. This Amelia, however, has trouble severing ties, and although she is fully determined to receive a settlement from her husband that will enable them to live apart, she continues to mend his shirts for him. Amelia is confronted by her mother who "in a violent Passion" berates her for "do[ing] any thing for a Man that had us'd her so ill" (J, 97). Amelia defends herself in very conventional Christian terms:
The Forgiveness of such gross Injuries is a Task most difficult, and can only be done by reflecting how great Sinners we are all in the Sight of God, and if we ask as commanded, we beg to be forgiven as we forgive others; and are told, if we convert the Wicked we shall shine as the Stars in the Firmament; and I firmly believe, a Reward will be given beyond Expression, to those that only have the View of amending the Sinner, and none is so wretched but Repentance and Amendment will restore them, even to the Almighty; and you cannot blame me for trying to make a bad Man good. (J, 97)
Balderdash! replies her mother, or words to that effect: "you [will] be look'd upon as a Fool" (J, 97). Amelia then changes her tactic and reminds her mother of "the last Mount I chose for my Fan, which was a Lady sola, leaning on a Tomb, with this Motto, Hard is my Fate" (J, 98). With this shift to the aesthetic the quarrel ends; Amelia's mother, unpersuaded by the notion that Amelia's behavior would receive some reward in a future life, finds more compelling the image of her daughter as an emblem of suffering: "This took off the old Lady's Warmth; and she grew a little calmer, and said, she fancy'd the Painter had some Idea of her when he drew the Lady" (J, 98). For Amelia's mother, the fan confers on Amelia's forbearance and sacrifice an autonomous beauty more persuasive than any argument.
Justice never portrays Amelia herself as motivated by anything more strongly than her belief in an afterlife, but often, as in the case above, the focus on the next world shifts sufficiently to suggest that self-sacrifice will bring not only future reward but also its own satisfaction. Amelia's devotion to charity, for example, is attributed both to her desire to lay "up Treasure in Heaven" and to her "Disposition" (J, 219). And in fulfilling her natural bent toward charitable acts, Amelia derives a pleasure that does not depend solely on her hope for future benefit. Such self-referentiality, such autonomy, is the very essence both of the aesthetic and of middle-class concepts of virtue, as Terry Eagleton explains in his summary of eighteenth-century "moral sense" philosophers: "To do good is deeply enjoyable, a self-justifying function of our nature beyond all crass utility." By this means, Eagleton continues, "the whole of social life is aestheticized. . . . Virtue, the easy habit of goodness, is like art beyond all mere calculation."(15) But as Eagleton shows, the aesthetic is a "double-edged concept," both an "emancipatory force" and an instrument of "political hegemony."(16)
As we have seen, the distresses of Justice's and Fielding's Amelias are largely attributable to economic pressures that threaten them with commodification. Both Justice and Fielding combat this commodification by positing an aesthetic value for their Amelias. From the Amelias' point of view we might be tempted to regard this as a real gain - an emancipation - for aestheticism, after all, renders the wife a valuable object of beauty, desirable not for her estate, the way she brings up her children or for her market price, but for herself and herself alone. Yet it is ultimately difficult to distinguish between objectification that is driven by the impulse to commodify (that is to assess the market value) and objectification that aestheticizes (that is asserts autonomous value). For, after all, when women are placed on a pedestal or exhibited in a centerfold they too are viewed as autonomously valuable aesthetic objects.
The discourse of commodification and the discourse of aestheticism are born of the same environment. "It is just when the artist is becoming debased to a petty commodity producer," Eagleton observes, "that he or she will lay claim to transcendent genius."(17) Both Amelias recognize themselves as commodities and both lay claim to an aesthetic value that is autonomous rather than utilitarian. Justice, who admits her "Unskilfulness in Writing," tells us that her friends have urged her to write: "Truth . . . wanted not Ornament; . . . Nature and Simplicity were all that were required" (J, ii). Fielding, on the other hand, does plead the usefulness of his narrative in his dedication to Ralph Allen (it will "promote the Cause of Virtue" [F, 3]) and in the first chapter of book I ("Histories of this Kind . . . may properly be called Models of Human Life" [F, 17]), but in the narrative itself we find a somewhat different claim for value. During his imprisonment at the suit of Dr. Harrison, Booth meets an author with whom he converses at some length only to discover that the writer confuses Lucan and Lucian, does not understand Homeric Greek, has very poor Latin, and finds it impossible to rank the classical poets by merit. The reason is clear: he writes only for money. The imprisoned author thinks of literature as a trade; he tells Booth: "I have now and then wrote a Poem or two for the Magazines; but I never intend to write any more: For a Gentleman is not paid for his Time. A Sheet is a Sheet with the Booksellers; and, whether it be in Prose or Verse, they make no Difference" (F, 329). This author too complains that "there is no Encouragement to Merit, no Patrons" (F, 329), but Booth clearly feels that even if there were such encouragement, as there should be, this author would and should be left out. In fact, Booth chastises Colonel James for subscribing to the ignorant author's translation of Ovid:
Don't you think . . . that by such indiscriminate Encouragement of Authors, you do a real Mischief to the Society? By propagating the Subscriptions of such Fellows, People are tired out, and withhold their Contributions to Men of real Merit. (F, 332)
Because Booth is not an author, we assume he voices not his own but Fielding's concern.(18) If people spend all their money on "trash," who will buy "good books"?
Yet, the commercial environment is a cacophony of competing cries, all proclaiming worth of one sort or another. Buy my book for its Truth, says Elizabeth Justice. Buy mine for its Genius, Merit and Learning (note the untranslated Greek), says Henry Fielding. Buy my edition of Fielding's "ambitious experiment" says Martin Battestin, but ignore the "potboiler" of that female writer no one has ever heard of, though I include mention of her because this is a scholarly edition which will be valued for its completeness. Quite soon, no doubt, we will hear another voice: buy my edition of Elizabeth Justice's Amelia, the narrative of authentic female experience, unlike the patronizing distortion of that misogynistic Henry Fielding. The two Amelias were commodities in 1751 and they are commodities still. The two Amelias were aesthetic objects in 1751 and they are aesthetic objects still. Both of these statements can be true; indeed neither is true if the other is false, for aestheticism is born of commodification, and it exists only in relationship to commodification.
In the early modern period, traditional institutions and traditional social relationships began to respond to the force of emergent capitalism, as the balance of economic power shifted from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie. The response to this shift took the form of a dialectic between traditional values and economic realities and generally resulted in a compromise, a third way.(19) So, for example, when the early modern bourgeois marriage was confronted with the economic uselessness of self-abnegation and with the limited opportunities for meaningful, personal acts of charity in a society organized by economic classes rather than by residual feudal obligations, moral absolutes simply shifted to more utilitarian Christian virtues: thrift, sobriety, hard work. Charity and sacrifice remained virtues, of course, but aestheticized not useful virtues. In the same way, the early modern bourgeois wife and mother continued to instill moral values in her children, but the importance of this early training, indeed the importance of family altogether, was mitigated by new economic realities which made the passing on of family estate and social position but one of the paths to prominence available to the individual.(20) The role of the wife and mother was likewise aestheticized until her uselessness itself became a gauge of her husband's worldly success. Her idleness, however, was economically useful as well, in that it provided her time to consume, and thus her tastes and pleasures opened new markets for tea, fashions, collectibles, and, perhaps most importantly, books.
Books figure quite significantly in the marriages of both Amelias. They are the objects on which Mr. Johnson lavishes the money and love he withholds from his wife; thereby they contribute to the breakdown of the Johnsons' marriage. But a book saves Amelia Booth's marriage. It is, after all, a volume of Isaac Barrow's sermons that accomplishes the miracle Amelia is incapable of performing: the conversion of Booth to Christianity, the only reliable insurance of marital stability. And the book trade provides Elizabeth Justice/Amelia Johnson with a way to exact some degree of retribution from the society that stood and watched without protest as her husband spent her fortune, tried to prostitute her, deprived her of the company of her children, and refused to pay the meager allowance the courts determined her due. The same society transported her husband for life for stealing books from the Cambridge library. Is it any wonder, then, that when she found herself in need, Elizabeth Justice chose to turn herself into the kind of commodity her society valued?
The book trade, like other areas of early modern life, is a contradictory domain still reflective of old patterns of relationship in that patrons and lists of subscribers lent credibility to a publication that, finally, would be deemed a success or a failure by the impersonal market.(21) Elizabeth Justice failed to do more than supply her subscribers. Perhaps a few books were sold as a result of what Battestin termed her publisher's "ruse," but her Amelia was in essence pronounced a market failure by the Monthly Review:
As this is a piece of secret personal history, to which we have no key, we shall say nothing further of it, than that it is printed by a subscription, which seems to have been merely a charitable one, for the benefit of the writer, a woman, who gives her own history, under the name of Amelia.(22)
Here Justice's Amelia is dismissed as plea for charity, satisfying as such to the subscribers but of no use, interest, or value to the rest of the world. Fielding's Amelia, on the other hand, had every hope of commercial success, buttressed by the patronage of Ralph Allen, the confidence of the publisher, and an eager market. But it too failed.(23) By the time Amelia was published, Fielding was expected to be the Fielding of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, and that Fielding is not evident in Amelia.(24)
In his own time, Fielding's Amelia was a victim of the success of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones. For, when he published his last novel, Fielding was no longer an unknown author, and his name alone raised expectations of the style and subject matter associated with his earlier works. In a sense, in other words, Henry Fielding himself had become a commodity, and, therefore, Amelia was rejected by some of its first readers for detracting from the aesthetic whole of that product called "Fielding." Later generations, however, have reversed this judgment, for as Henry Fielding has continued to accrue value in the academic world, Amelia's value has increased by virtue of our interest in anything and everything written by one we dub a "major author." As Elizabeth Justice's attempt to commodify herself failed in her own time, her Amelia's value, once determined by charity, now depends on our willingness to admit the relationship between aestheticism and commodification. Her Amelia may indeed bear witness to the fact that many eighteenth-century writers wrote for money, but so does Fielding's Amelia. Even if we agree that Elizabeth Justice's Amelia is the work of an inferior writer and Fielding's the product of genius, the difference between them is not as significant as the insight they share: the commodified Amelia and the aesthetic Amelia are concomitant products of a commercial environment. And, as the saying goes, you can't have one without the other.
University of Georgia
1 "Amelia, Or the Distressed Wife," Modern Language Notes 42 (1927): 33.
2 "General Introduction," Amelia, (Middletown: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1983), xliv. Although I take issue in this essay with Battestin's easy dismissal of Elizabeth Justice's work, I gratefully acknowledge the superb scholarship that he has brought to Fielding studies; it was his introduction, after all, that first informed me of the existence of another Amelia. Battestin's edition of Amelia is the standard edition, and is hereafter cited parenthetically in the text and abbreviated by F.
3 "General Introduction," xlv. This argument is echoed by Donald Thomas in Henry Fielding (New York: St. Martin's, 1991), 331. I disagree with his judgment that Justice's Amelia "had nothing in common with Fielding's forthcoming book but the presence of a distressed wife whose name was Amelia," as the following discussion will demonstrate.
4 See, for example, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972): "We must question those ready-made syntheses, those groupings that we normally accept before any examination, those links whose validity is recognized from the outset; we must oust those forms and obscure forces by which we usually link the discourse of one man with that of another; they must be driven out from the darkness in which they reign. And instead of according them unqualified, spontaneous value, we must accept, in the name of methodological rigour, that . . . they concern only a population of dispersed events" (22).
5 This episode was singled out by Sarah Chapone, one of Amelia's first readers, as "extremely affecting" ("Sarah Chapone, letter" in Henry Fielding: The Critical Heritage. ed. Ronald Paulson and Thomas Lockwood, [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969], 318). Elizabeth Bergen Brophy also discusses this scene as the one occasion "in the novel . . . [that] Amelia feel[s] anger toward her husband" (Women's Lives and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. [Tampa: Univ. of South Florida Press, 1991], 157).
6 [Elizabeth Justice], Amelia, or the Distress'd Wife: A History, (London, 1751), 21-22, hereafter cited parenthetically in the text and abbreviated by J.
7 These words are taken from the Book of Common Prayer's "The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony," (London, 1691).
8 As Lawrence Stone has recently noted, "the overwhelming ideology of female subordination and inferiority [was] drilled into every member of the society by clerical sermons, state regulations, marital handbooks, and both elite and popular culture" (Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England 1660-1857 [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993], 13). Elsewhere, however, Stone has discussed Fielding as endorsing the new "companionate marriage" in the relationship between Tom Jones and Sophia Western. (The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 [London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977], 279). Similarly, Angela Smallwood argues that Amelia departs from the wifely ideal in crucial ways that emphasize a growing equality between husband and wife (Fielding and the Woman Question: The Novels of Henry Fielding and Feminist Debate 1700-1750 (New York: St. Martin's, 1989), 152-71). But as Susan Moller Okin has observed, married women's complete economic dependence on their husbands in the eighteenth century suggests that "until significant changes in marriage and property were effected by the Divorce Act and the Married Women's Property Acts in the latter half of the nineteenth century, both the legal structure of marriage and prevailing attitudes about it were such that only in fantasy can we regard eighteenth-century married life as a situation of companionship between equals" ("Patriarchy and Married Women's Property in England: Questions About Some Current Views," Eighteenth-Century Studies 17 [1983/84]: 138). This conclusion is upheld by the case histories in Stone's new study and by the experience of the two Amelias. See also Muriel Brittain Williams, Marriage: Fielding's Mirror of Morality, (University: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1973), especially the summary, 119-20.
9 "Form of Solemnization of Matrimony" (note 7).
10 "Form of Solemnization of Matrimony."
11 Smallwood (note 8) argues that Amelia is "intellectually and morally independent and a source of strength to Booth" (156); but, as Brophy (note 5) observes, Amelia is portrayed throughout the novel as "basing decisions not on a sense of right and wrong or on considerations of self-respect, but rather on her loyalty to a beloved man" (242).
12 James Thompson has noted of Fielding's Amelia that "it portrays a world almost totally ruled by money" ("Patterns of Property and Possession in Fielding's Fiction," Eighteenth-Century Fiction 3 : 38). This observation applies with equal force to Justice's narrative.
13 See Battestin, Amelia (note 2), 469 n.2.
14 Several recent essays and book-length studies treat Fielding's response in fiction to aspects of the emergent commercial environment of his time. See, for example, James Cruise, "Fielding, Authority, and the New Commercialism in Joseph Andrews," ELH 54 (1987): 253-76; James Thompson, "Patterns of Property and Possession" (note 12), 21-42; John P. Zomchick, Family and the Law in Eighteenth-Century Fiction: The Public Conscience in the Private Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 130-53; John Bender, Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987), 165-98; and Michael McKeon, Origins of the Novel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987), 382-409.
15 Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 37.
16 Eagleton, 28. See also Bender's discussion of "The Aesthetic of Isolation as Social System," chapter 7 of Imagining the Penitentiary (note 14), 201-28. As Bender observes, "the aesthetic of isolation takes shape when the spectator, the theorist, the artist, imagines and narratively structures consciousness in reciprocation with social power. It is an aesthetic of the sublime in which anxiety at the fantasy of subjection to unlimited force is displaced into a resolute embrace of finite social structure, an aesthetic that affirms the transcendent value of self by transmuting fear of external power into identification with its strength and thereby stabilizing both self and the social other" (202).
17 Eagleton, 65.
18 See Battestin, Amelia (note 2), 332 n.1, where he cites the 7 January 1752 Covent Garden Journal as corroboration of the idea that Booth expresses Fielding's own view.
19 One sees such compromise in the very class structure of eighteenth-century England. As Eagleton (note 15) notes, "uniquely among European nations, the English landowning elite had itself long been a capitalist class proper" (31). And, as Michael McKeon (note 14) has argued, the middle class combines "two antithetical tendencies: to imitate . . . the aristocracy, and to . . . supplant . . . [the] aristocracy" (174). In other words, both Eagleton and McKeon (among others) understand the social questions of the early modern period as part of a dialectical process rather than as a supplantation of one fixed category (aristocracy) with another (middle class). Indeed, even conservative ideology is developed in response to the progressive optimism of the bourgeoisie. This ideology is not a return to an old order so much as it is the development of an alternative new order, as McKeon has convincingly argued (169-171).
20 Adam Smith notes "very old families, such as have possessed some considerable estate from father to son for many successive generations, are very rare in commercial countries." And the reason is clear: "In countries where a rich man can spend his revenue in no other way than by maintaining as many people as it can maintain, he is not apt to run out, and his benevolence it seems is seldom so violent as to attempt to maintain more than he can afford. But where he can spend the greatest revenue upon his own person, he frequently has no bounds to his expence, because he frequently has no bounds to his vanity, or to his affection for his own person. In commercial countries, therefore, riches, in spite of the most violent regulations of law to prevent their dissipation, very seldom remain long in the same family" (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, 2 vols. [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976], 1:421-22).
21 Elizabeth Eisenstein discusses the complex domain of print culture in general, the ramifications of its impersonality, its contribution to the growth of individualism and internalized authority, and its effect on traditional social relationships in her highly influential The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979). She notes the ambiguous status of the early modern writer who "wavered between the lofty position of arbiters of taste and inspired 'immortals' and the lowly role of supplying, for favor or payment, commodities sold for profit on the open market" (1:155-56).
22 Monthly Review 5 (1751): 72-73. Slightly misquoted by McCutcheon (note 1), 32.
23 See Battestin, "General Introduction" (note 2) for the history of Amelia's publication and reception (xliv-lxi).
24 See Battestin, xlv and Paulson and Lockwood, Henry Fielding: The Critical Heritage (note 5), for remarks of Fielding's contemporaries that Amelia disappoints by being so unlike Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews, 311 and 431.
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|Date:||Jun 22, 1995|
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