restricted access Amelia (review)
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Reviewed by
Henry Fielding. Amelia, ed. Linda Bree. Ontario: Broadview, 2010. Pp. 549. $22.95 CDN/US, $26.95 AUS.

While readers have many editions of Fielding’s Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews from which to choose, both hard- and paperback editions of Amelia are extremely scarce, largely because the novel has not received the critical attention devoted to these other works. A fine addition to the Fielding texts available for class, this new Amelia should increase interest in the novelist’s final major work of fiction.

In editing Fielding, scholars face the choice of copy-text, largely because of the novelist’s penchant for revising his works, sometimes substantially. Such is the case with Amelia. Before his death in 1754, Fielding edited the novel, correcting some typographical errors, deleting sections puffing, for example, the Universal Register Office, and removing material that readers of the first edition thought offensive. This revised text became the basis of the version in the collected works by Arthur Murphy in 1762. Although Battestin used the later text for the standard Wesleyan edition, Ms. Bree returned to the 1751 version, partly to reflect Fielding’s original intentions and reproduce the text familiar to the novel’s first readers, while her footnotes point out the substantive differences between the first and the 1762 editions.

Unlike the other paperback versions of the novel currently available, which are primarily facsimiles of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century editions, this text of Amelia comes with full apparatus. Although the prefatory material will give novice readers essential information, Ms. Bree avoids simplistic explanations. First, she situates the work within the development of the novel and connects it to Fielding’s careers as magistrate and writer. She also discusses the novel’s major issues: marriage, gender politics, and the passions. The Introduction ends with the novel’s reception in the eighteenth century and the current state of criticism. The prefatory material also includes a glossary of words [End Page 70] whose definitions have changed since the eighteenth century, a chronology of Fielding’s life, and an explanation of her choice of copy-text. The note on money is especially impressive because, unlike some editors of eighteenth-century works, Ms. Bree avoids giving exact equivalents between the pound in 1751 and today’s currency. Rather, she gives readers a sense of what money was worth by estimating the cost of living for various classes—for example, families of “the middling rank” (£50 a year) and tradesmen with family and servants (£350 a year). The discussion, however, overemphasizes the controversy between Richardson and Fielding, ignoring other important writers of the time, and the glossary seems redundant since she also defines some of these words in the footnotes.

Ms. Bree’s attention to detail is also reflected in the Notes, which, like the Introduction, are tailored to readers unfamiliar with the period. For example, she defines words now obsolete. She identifies locations in the text and often relates them to Fielding’s life. In addition, the footnotes gloss important events, such as the siege of Gibraltar in June 1727. Unlike editors, whose footnotes reflect their own interpretations, Ms. Bree concentrates on material that her readers will find unfamiliar. Her only shortcoming: citing Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones by book and chapter numbers, instead of providing page references to the Wesleyan edition which she does for Fielding’s other works.

But even Homer nods as we see in the four Appendices. The first two do not readily seem related to the novel, and neither in her Introduction nor in the headnotes at the beginning of these selections does Ms. Bree explain their relevance. A reader can probably connect the first, a selection on the passions from An Essay on Man, to Booth’s belief in the dominance of each person’s ruling passion. However, Ms. Bree’s decision to include the selection from Johnson’s Rambler No. 4 seems somewhat arbitrary; while Johnson does discuss what material is most suitable to a novel, he does not mention Fielding—or Richardson, for that matter—nor does Fielding refer to Johnson in Amelia. The headnote introducing this selection is no help because it offers no explanation...