Having included a category on my Ten-Year Plan for eighteenth-century novels, naturally I made a place for Richardson’s Pamela, one of the biggest sellers of the time. But it grossly disappointed me. I supposed that it did me some good to have read the book that caused all the fuss. But its writing was clunky, its characters flat and unbelievable, and its plot absurd. For half the book, Pamela is relentlessly pursued by a sexual predator, yet maintains her virtue. Then the creep sees what a rare jewel he has found and repents his base treatment of her. The two marry, and he becomes the best husband possible. I’ve never heard of Stockholm Syndrome actually paying off in the real world.
This year, that eighteenth-century category took me to Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews. I had originally intended to reread Tom Jones but just decided to try out another of the author’s offerings. Not only is JA interesting and funny, it did something I didn’t think possible. I had seen Tom Jones fall well below Pamela’s virtuous mark, and I knew that Fielding wrote a parody of Richardson’s novel called Shamela. So I figured that Fielding somewhat shared my assessment of Richardson. But I didn’t realize that Joseph Andrews was Pamela’s brother and that his account followed his attempts to live up to his sister’s standard. I would have enjoyed Joseph Andrews without having read the earlier novel, but not as much. And so, just as Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger’s Down with Love made me glad I had suffered through the dreadful Pillow Talk, Joseph Andrews actually made me glad I had read Pamela.