Amelia

Themes

Virgilian

There are strong Virgilian overtones in Amelia. Fielding claimed, in his 28 January The Covent Garden Journal, that there were connections of the work to both Homer and Virgil, but that the "learned Reader will see that the latter was the noble model, which I made use of on this Occasion."[8] The parallels are between more than the plot, and the novel follows a "twelve-book structure" that matches the Aeneid.[8]

Even the characters have Virgilian counterparts, with Booth being comparable to Aeneas and Miss Mathews Fielding's version of Dido. Fielding does not shy away from such comparisons, but embraces them with his use of the line "Furens quid Foemina possit" (translated as "what a woman can do in frenzy"), in Book IV, Chapter Five; this line is directly taken from the Aeneid.[8] Likewise, Fielding's bailiff misstates Virgil's "dolus an virtus, quis in hoste requirat" (translated as "whether deceit or valour, who would ask in the enemy") when he says "Bolus and Virtus, quis in a Hostess equirit" in Book VIII, Chapter One.[8] However, these are not the only quotes, and Fielding cites many passages of Latin and Greek while not providing direct translations for them.[8] To these Virgilian parallels, Samuel Richardson claimed that Fielding "must mean Cotton's Virgil Travestied; where the women are drabs, and the men scoundrels."[9][10]

Feminine intelligence

Although the novel deals with marriage and life after marriage, it also gives three "histories": the history of Miss Mathews, Mrs Bennet, and Mrs Atkinson. It is the third story, that of Mrs Atkinson, which demonstrates feminine intellect. According to her story, she received her understanding of the classics from her father. To demonstrate her knowledge, she quotes from the Aeneid, an action that Fielding describes, in Book VI, Chapter 8, as her performing "with so strong an Emphasis, that she almost frightened Amelia out of her Wits."[11] However, Fielding follows that by claiming she spoke on "that great Absurdity, (for so she termed it,) of excluding Women from Learning; for which they were equally qualified with the Men, and in which so many had made so notable a Proficiency" and this idea was not accepted by either Amelia or Mrs. Booth. Unlike the two women, Dr Harrison criticises Mrs Atkinson and declares, in Book X, Chapter One, that women are "incapable of Learning."[12]

A dispute forms between the various characters on the issue, and Sergeant Atkinson, Mrs Atkinson's husband, tries to stop the fight. Although his words provoke a harsh reaction from his wife, they soon come to accept each other's intellectual capabilities. However, Mrs Atkinson's status as a woman educated in the classics and as an advocate for other women to be educated, could have provoked deeper tension between herself and her husband.[13] Her feminine intellect was described by Jill Campbell as a "threatening" force which her husband once reacted violently against, even though his violence was contained to him acting on it only in a dream-like state.[14] The actual nature of the plot lacks a certainty that would allow an overall stance on women's issues to be determined, and it is not even certain as to where Fielding stood on the issue. His lack of authorial comments seems to reinforce a possible "anxieties about gender confusion" in the plot, and the characters' sexual identities are blurred; the dispute between Mrs Atkinson and Dr Harrison continues until the very end of the novel.[15] Fielding did not comment on the gender roles, but Richardson's friend, Anne Donnellan, did, and she asked, "must we suppose that if a woman knows a little Greek and Latin she must be a drunkard, and virago?"[16]


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