Comedy and Burlesque in Henry Fielding and Jane Austen

Sammlung von Thesepapieren

Script, 2001

26 Pages, Grade: 2,7



01 Pamela vs Les Liaisons Dangereuses – minutes

02 The Importance of Being Religious

03 Ordinary People: Northanger Abbey

04 Male Heroics and Female Dramatics: Sense and Sensibility

05 Experience and Reflection: Sense and Sensibility

06 Tom Jones: Journeys

07 Farce and Material Culture: Fielding, Tom Jones

08 Chercher l’auteur: the Presentation of Fictional Characters in Tom Jones

09 Persuasion: Love

10 Persuasion: Sense and Sensibility

Literaturwissenschaftliches Hauptseminar

Comedy and Burlesque in Henry Fielding and Jane Austen

Stephanie Lipka

Pamela versus Les Liaisons Dangereuses

22nd April 2001

Summary of the first meeting, 19th April 2001

At the beginning of the meeting we had an initial discussion on the three genres in literature - drama, poetry and epic, and we agreed on the fact that the line between the two latter genres is hard to draw as both are written in verse.

As in this course we will be dealing with novels, we tried to place the novel among one of these genres and to find the first novel that has ever been written and found that Chaucer’s narrative „Canterbury Tales“ (14th century) could easily be called a novel, whereas late 17th century writers like Shakespeare or Marlowe preferred the genre of drama. About Cervantes’ „Don Quixote“ (17th century) we named the aspects of satire and parody. This satire deals with society and politics, while the parody mimics the literary form of chivalric and pastoral code. In the end we agreed on the first novel having been written at the turn of the 17th/18th century and named Dafoe’s „Moll Flanders“. Characteristic about it is its authenticity and naturalism. It deals with the lives of lower class people and describes the ordinariness of life at that time. Interest in these topics grew -as we said- because monarchy lost power and as printing as well as books became cheap, more people of all kinds of social background took to reading.

We then decided on the two main aspects in novels we will be dealing with in this course:

- the novel as a form of social criticism which is indoctrinating and
- the novel as a keeper of the lower order which is the liberating aspect.

At this point, we brought the seminary’s two initial texts into our discussion, namely Richardson’s Pamela and Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses, both of which are epistolary novels. Both novels provide the reader with different characters’ thoughts, feelings and emotions from their personal point of view.

The difference between the two is that Les Liaisons Dangereuses offers different points of view as they shift from one writing (narrating) character to another while Pamela just gives one point of view.

We found that the fascination of epistolary novels is based on this aspect of soliloquy - the equivalent of the interior monologue in plays.

At the end of the meeting we discussed the character of Pamela who some critics would call hypocritical and others naive. Openly, she tells her parents everything about her life - constantly afraid of letting them down and ashamed of her master’s affection for her. We came to the conclusion that the girl’s point of view is credible while certain descriptions are giving too much the impression of being used as a literary device, for example the girl’s description of one night with her master (p.175ff). About that paragraph we said that it might be called pornographic as it leaves lots of room for imagination about sexual intercourse and as it deals with the master’s psychic and physic power over the girl.

Aspects of Interest

Worthy for a discussion might once again be the question of pornography in literature (such as Les Liaisons Dangereuses) and in what respect they were influenced by their time and have influenced the readers of their time.

Furthermore one could have a closer look at morality in society and in which respect it has changed. We could compare Richardson’s Pamela with Fielding’s Shamela and bring in the novels by Jane Austen to deduce a social code. We could then discuss what people expected from a girl in the 18th century and what is expected from her today and, of course, we could discuss the male position in society.

We could also have a closer look at the pros and cons of epistolary novels the first of which could be authenticity and brevity the latter the opposite because not every reader might be interested in the character or the character’s innermost feelings. This leads to the different kinds of novels and the topics of novels. In the 18th century morality and love might have been of considerable interest while nowadays suspense and murder are more likely to attract people’s interest. But murder leads back to morality and ethical questions.

Literaturwissenschaftliches Hauptseminar

Comedy and Burlesque in Henry Fielding and Jane Austen

Stephanie Lipka

The Importance of Being Religious

29th April 2001

Virtue and Morality

As Fielding points out in the preface of Joseph Andrews the main aspects of his social criticism are society's hypocrisy and vanity which lead to vices yet not to greater evil (at least not in his story).

To underline the contrast between the morally good and the morally corrupt he supplies his characters with strong

features like in the first case simplicity, happiness and belief in god or in the second case lust, hind thought or bad will. Archetype of the first category is the parson called Adams, a well-schooled, well-read but not too down-to-earth clergyman of fifty (book l, chapter 3) who believes that all man is good and who acts on this conviction. Archetype of the second could be Lady Booby who knows that Joseph Andrews is a rather naive young man and who therefore thinks that she has no big Job in making him her lover (book l, chapter 5), yet Joseph resists. His conduct can be traced back upon Mr Adams' work of moral education and the two principles of innocence (book l, chapter 3) and honesty (as is opposed to hypocrisy: book 2, chapter 3; “Thoughts so unworthy a Christian” referring to the episode with Lady Booby).

We can hereby conclude that religion has a lot to do with moral conduct in society. The Bible's topics are neither questioned nor discussed, yet sexual intercourse (book 4, chapter 8; where Parson Adams says that he is against passion, and his wife defends her position on marriage out of love) or betrayal of one's fellow men are critically looked upon - when that can be of any use. Of course, both vices exist behind more or less drawn curtains. In the fable-like history of Leonora (book 2, chapters 4 and 6) we find two characters defined by the number of times they go to church in a day: Leonora goes twice - because she prays for her lover's recovering (she goes because she has got a reason) whereas Lindamira goes thrice (chapter 6) to emphasize her excellent moral reputation. (“a Lady whose discreet and starch Carriage , together with a constant Attendance at Church three times a day, had utterly defeated many malicious Attacks on her own Reputation,” p. 112) Yet she acts not like a Christian (though that is what she pretends to be) when -out of envy and jealousy- she writes a letter to Leonora's father telling him about his daughter s scandalous behaviour towards her two lovers. Her religiousness and Christianity are used as a shield to hide lower (human) intentions. The same - only less strong- can be said of Parson Adams who preaches the abstinence from passion and lust and who soon after contradicts himself when he gets the news of his son's death - and reacts very emotionally (book 4, chapter 8: “Lusts and Affections are to be greatly subdued, if not totally eradicated.”- He “soon began to stamp about the Room and deplore his Loss with the bitterest Agony,” both p. 277).

Allusions to the Bible

In Joseph Andrews we can also find several allusions to the Bible and we can assume that the reader at the time did understand those allusions or the author would not have made use of them.

On the one hand there is the significance of names (such as Joseph or Abraham) that could be of some interest. On the other hand on could discuss parabolas (such as the Good Samaritan [Adams] in the story with Parson Trulliber and the pigs, book 2, chapter 14). The question is why Fielding chose to employ biblical characters and topics as the Society he criticizes cannot be so full of vice as he counts upon their religious background which would be forgotten if indeed moral decadence was of such a great extend.

Literaturwissenschaftliches Hauptseminar

Comedy and Burlesque in Henry Fielding and Jane Austen

Stephanie Lipka

“Ordinary People: Northanger Abbey“

3rd May, 2001

The Heroine

Catherine Morland is presented as a nice but rather simple young girl from a clergy family. Taking no interest in the feminine arts such as drawing or writing poetry - or, if making an effort, not producing anything of considerable interest, Catherine can be called a tomboy. She enjoys life without understanding the rules of the society around her.

At the age of 17, she is invited to Bath by a richer family, the Allens, who want to give her the chance of being introduced into this society. Described as vulgar (vol.1, ch. 2; „her impudence, vulgarity, or jealousy“) and superficial („fond of going every where and seeing every thing herself“; „Dress was her passion.“, p.19), Mrs Allen’s character can be called the opposite of Catherine’s. She does not look after the girl, but seeks enjoyment and gaiety. Nearly every night at Bath is spent at Balls. And there it is where Catherine actually gets into contact with other young people.

Male Acquaintances

The first young man Catherine gets the opportunity to talk to and to be talked at by is Henry Tilney, a handsome clergyman (vol.1, ch.3; „a very gentlemanlike young man“; „He talked with fluency and spirit.“, p.23), and Catherine falls in love with him. He is the classical womanizer, taking great interest in women’s hobbies. For example, he talks about novels, offering Catherine the possibility of conversation.

Later on she meets her friend Isabella’s brother John Thorpe as well. He stands in strong contrast to the other man’s character. Selfish and idle, he boasts with his knowledge and gives Catherine the feeling of being simple (vol.1, ch.7; „I never read novels; I have something else to do“; judging Udolpho as nonsense but praising its author not knowing who its author is and being corrected by Catherine; p.45).

Straightaway, the reader is led to like the first of the two young men and to dislike the second.

Female Acquaintances

Here, Catherine meets Tilney’s younger sister, Eleanor, whom she takes for his friend and who is described as shy. Catherine does not take much notice of her, so the reader does not get any more information.

The other girl Catherine meets is Isabella Thorpe, instantly called her best friend, but indirectly being characterized differently.

Isabella uses Catherine’s plainness and innocence to portray herself. She is much more familiar with society and knows how to attract men. And while Catherine is convinced of her friend’s friendship, Isabella drops hints such as remarks to marriage (vol.1, ch.6; both describe her ideal man, Isabella adds: „You must not betray me“, if ever meeting a man matching her favourite. As Catherine does not understand this hint, she insists on dropping the subject as too delicate. p.39)

Human Mischief

About people’s lives in Northanger Abbey, we can say that it is rather boring. We do not get any information as to education (not counting the bits of knowledge of painting and literature) or business. Business seems to be in male hands, and as Jane Austen is not one of them, she leaves this side of society aside.

She deals with what she experiences: female behaviour. And keeping in mind that women at that time did not study or take a job, their life seems to be concentrating on female things: namely clothes, jewellery, religion and relationships. Here, she observes and precisely describes female behaviour.

As soon as Isabella and James Morland, Catherine’s brother, meet, it becomes obvious that the young woman wants to convince him into marrying her (vol.1, ch.7; „she has so much good sense and is so thoroughly unaffected and amiable“, p.46). She charms him and flirts with him, while her friendship with Catherine becomes a little forgotten about.

It becomes more and more obvious that Catherine has been used as a means to find a man - especially as Catherine’s brother and the Thorpes had been acquainted before.

In the following, the reader has pity with Catherine, the poor and honest heroine who is completely at sea at Bath among all kinds of people who are not as honest as she is. And this shows most strikingly in the episode of Blaize Castle (vol.1, ch.11) where she expects to see the Tilneys, but is talked into a country ride by the Thorpes who assure her that the Tilneys

would not show up which they did. This is against Catherine’s principles and she begins to doubt Isabella’s friendship. She goes out to see the Tilneys to offer her excuses and finds true friends in them.

Isabella’s wickedness then shows when she -fiancée to James- meets the wealthier General Tilney Jr. and abandons James. He tells Catherine about it in a letter (vol.2, ch.10) and she is shocked by her friend’s behaviour. She is even more so when Isabella soon after writes to her telling the story the other way round (vol.2, ch.12). But she has grown up and sees Isabella’s falsehood.

Ordinary Life

Finding a man, trying to get rid of concurrence, marriage - these are the main aspects of most of Jane Austen’s novels. And this is what makes up lives. You do look for happiness and you do not want to be alone at the end of your days, so you find yourself a partner and that is it. That this is not easy, that will be clear to everyone, but most of the times you do succeed.

This is what people believe, and this is what they want to read about in fiction. So Jane Austen writes about it. Her novels are happy ones ending satisfyingly with a marriage; and it is the tragic heroine the reader has identified with in the course of reading, who succeeds in finding the love of her life.

Realistic? Might be. It is as far as critical observation of female behaviour is concerned because here the reader gets the impression that Jane Austen really describes people she knows or knew (like Isabella). As far as the frame, the action, is concerned, her novels do not confront the reader with a complex or extraordinary story and they appear slightly kitsch. And they might do so because that is what the reader wants to read.


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Comedy and Burlesque in Henry Fielding and Jane Austen
Sammlung von Thesepapieren
University of Münster  (Englisches Seminar)
Comedy and Burlesque in Henry Fielding and Jane Austen
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Stephanie Lipka (Author), 2001, Comedy and Burlesque in Henry Fielding and Jane Austen, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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