“Except for Shakespeare, Fielding was the greatest English playwright between the Middle Ages and the 19th century”–George Bernard Shaw
Suddenly the middle classes “saw themselves” in fiction, so to speak. The next major novelist, Samuel Richardson, also wanted to give readers a “realistic” novel. In 1740, he published Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. This novel, set in readers’ own times (the 1700s for 1700s readers) was written as though it was a series of letters written by the title character, Pamela, a servant girl in the household of Lord B——, to her poorer family in the country. This format, used by many novelists since, including Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, became known as the epistolary novel. Now, Pamela was a pure and virtuous girl, but her depraved master, Lord B, is infatuated with her. He offers her many fine things, which she refuses, because she is virtuous. He spies on her undressing through the keyhole of her room, and even attempts to rape her, but she resists him. Then at the end of the novel, Lord B is so impressed with her virtue that he marries her, to which she eventually consents, for she has in fact fallen in love with him. Richardson’s message was clear: if a woman holds on to her virtue (if she doesn’t have sex before marriage) then she will be rewarded, either in this life or the next.
When William Hawke moved to London in the 18th century, little did he know that he would fall in with the criminal world, be transported to America, return to London and be hanged.
This is the text of a public talk given at Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds on 1 March 2015 to complement their Crime and Punishment Exhibition.
Johnson’s Lives of the Highwaymen was part of one of the most popular genres of early eighteenth-century literature: the criminal biography.
or, The Life and Death of the Notorious High-Way-Man, Now Hanging in Chains at Hampstead, Delivered to a Friend a Little before Execution: Wherein is Truly Discovered the Whole Mystery of that Wicked and Fatal Profession of Padding on the Road (1674)
The Man who served the Booby but loved the Fanny.
In Henry Fielding’s novel, there was no difference between the great men in high life and those in low life.