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Reviewed by:
  • Natural Masques: Gender and Identity in Fielding’s Plays and Novel
  • Kristina Straub
Jill Campbell. Natural Masques: Gender and Identity in Fielding’s Plays and Novel. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995.

Campbell begins by gently pointing out the gap between work on shifting models of masculinity (associated primarily with Fielding) and the development of a feminine ideal, emerging in large part from studies on Richardson. Drawing on the work of feminist theorists Joan Scott, Judith Butler, and Donna Haraway, Campbell offers the suggestion that a more relational and fluid model of gender might produce a fuller account of how change occurs in literary and cultural history. The “masculine” politics of “war, governance, and kings” (5) and the “feminine” politics of the domestic and private are not separate realms so much as interactive elements in an ongoing process of reconfiguration.

By offering this proposal, Natural Masques directs us towards some exciting new paths in literary history. Recent work on the eighteenth-century theater has stressed the lability of gender roles and sexual categories on the stage. Whereas some recent work on the novel, primarily on women writers, has highlighted the instability of gender and sexuality, the literary history of the eighteenth-century novel tends to focus on the separation of gendered roles and spheres. Nancy Armstrong’s brilliant and influential Desire and Domestic Fiction has set the agenda for many of us, and quite productively so. The literary history of the novel has become the history of a modern subjectivity, grounded in the clearly demarcated realm of the domestic. Campbell does not correct this direction so much as help us on our way. She teaches us how to think about the novel and the theater as different but related representational sites in which similar concerns with private value, public forms and gender play out. This reconceptualization carries with it the insight that gender indeterminacy is not exclusively a sign of anxiety about the emergent modern subject, but a representational knot in which public- and private-sphere values intertwine. (This lesson is actually taught by Armstrong as well, but “the rise of the domestic woman” tends to eclipse the more integrative aspects of her book.)

Natural Masques allows the text-based critic to wallow happily in detailed and carefully argued readings of Fielding’s plays, particularly Tom Thumb and Tragedy of Tragedies, The Historical Register for the Year 1736, and The Author’s Farce, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, The Jacobite’s Journal, and Amelia, with a short but significant glance at the Lisbon Journal. [End Page 435] Campbell’s bringing together plays and the novels—indeed, beginning her discussion (as J. Paul Hunter did in Occasional Form) with the plays facilitates both the approach to gender as relational and the synthesis of separately gendered elements of literary and cultural history. As Campbell points out, the separation and reification of gendered categories seem most pernicious in the literary criticism and history of the novel. Reading the novels through the gender confusions of the plays effectively displaces stereotypes about the “manly” Fielding with a much more complex image of a writer—and a culture—in which gendered spheres of the domestic and the public do not stay neatly in their separate places. Citing contemporary examples from other plays and popular satiric poems on the Italian castrati, Campbell makes a strong case for the cultural habit of reading, in figures of gender and sexual ambiguity, the economic and political in close and integral connection with the domestic. The textual confusions of sexuality and gender associated with the castrato Farinelli resonate with confusions of class and economic value, for instance. The gender confusions of Fielding’s satiric plays similarly conflate unstable gender categories with unstable political and economic values. Fielding’s gender play is, however, less deconstructive performance than an ongoing struggle for morally stable ground. Campbell reads the ambiguities of gender in Fielding’s Plays as signs of both his desire for “phallic” political and economic authority and his sense that the outward, public display of such authority in Walpole’s England is empty of “personal identity and desire” (59).

Campbell sustains attention to the intertwined problems of gender and political instability raised...

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pp. 435-436
Launched on MUSE
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