- Sarah Fielding’s Dashing Style and Eighteenth-Century Print Culture
Several eighteenth-century women authors have benefitted from the recent expansion of the literary canon along gender lines, among them Sarah Fielding. Precisely in light of recent scholarly attempts to “recover” original texts by women authors, however, it is time that one of the most significant texts in Sarah Fielding’s oeuvre, The Adventures ofDavid Simple (1744), was restored to the version we know to be much closer to the author’s original intentions. 1 When we rescued her novel from historical obscurity, we resurrected not Sarah Fielding’s first edition of David Simple, but the second edition—a text heavily edited by her brother, Henry Fielding. 2 In fact, every edition of Sarah Fielding’s novel since 1744 has been based on Henry Fielding’s text. When Henry Fielding “corrected” what he termed his sister’s “Grammatical and other Errors in Style” he did great violence to her original text, in effect re-authoring her novel according to his own design. 3 This essay focusses on the most common of Sarah Fielding’s alleged errors, namely her characteristic punctuation and unconventional use of the dash. I will argue that what might, at first glance, appear an eccentric or sloppy application of dashes, actually serves a vital interpretive function in Sarah Fielding’s text—indicating the depth of her control over the details of her writing and its visual production. Her original punctuation, I argue, conveys information through graphic rather than verbal means. Specifically, Sarah Fielding’s use of printallows her to echo the non-verbal world which the women of her novel increasingly come to inhabit. Moreover, her punctuation deliberately aligns her novel with a Richardsonian literary tradition resisted by her brother. Understood in this narrative and historical context, Henry Fielding’s “corrections,” though seemingly minor, reveal the so-called “accidentals” of David Simple to be of critical importance in a reading of the novel. Only by returning to the first edition text of David Simple can we recover these vital clues to interpretation.
I. Henry Fielding’s Editorial Revisions
Soon after the initial publication of Sarah Fielding’s The Adventures of David Simple, her brother, Henry, assumed editorial control [End Page 633] over a second edition, making hundreds of corrections to the original text. The title page of the new edition of David Simple flaunts Henry Fielding’s involvement: “The Second Edition, Revised and Corrected. With a Preface By Henry Fielding, Esq.” Sarah had published the first edition anonymously as by “A Lady,” and, as a result, Henry is the only Fielding whose name appears on the title page of the second edition. A casual reader might easily suspect that Henry Fielding himself had authored the novel, that his assumption of the identity of a reviser and corrector was analogous to Richardson’s “editing” of Pamela. Indeed, given Henry Fielding’s fame and his sister’s relative obscurity, such mistakes almost certainly improved the sales of the novel. Yet if Henry Fielding’s advertised involvement in David Simple was born of such generosity, it seems suspiciously like the kind of magnanimity that is actually the expression of ego, as though Henry Fielding’s goal is to displace his anonymous sister as the controlling force behind the novel’s production. If modern studies of the relationship between “Henry’s” and “Sarah’s” editions of David Simple are any guide, Henry Fielding succeeded in eclipsing his sister’s authorship. Previous critics have compared the two editions of David Simple not to recover Sarah Fielding’s original project but rather to identify Henry Fielding’s contributions. 4 This essay does the opposite. It examines Henry Fielding’s corrections in order to better understand Sarah Fielding’s original intentions.
In his Preface to the second edition, Henry Fielding justifies his many revisions:
There were some Grammatical and other Errors in Style in the first Impression, which my Absence from Town prevented my correcting, as I have endeavoured, tho’ in great Haste, in this Edition: By comparing the one with the other, the Reader may see, if he thinks it worth his while, the Share I have in this Book, as...