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Imitation in the Novel: Fielding's Amelia JOHN E. LOFTIS Imitation in the eighteenth century became a complex and sophisticated artistic strategy in which the poem and the poem-behind-the-poem interacted to create meanings.1 The form especially attracted satirists, since it enabled them to focus their attacks in the here-and-now at the same time that the poem-behind-the-poem provided a wider geographical and historical frame of reference for the normative values of the satire as well as examples of similar satiric targets in another time and place. Attacks on contemporaries, then, were justified and amplified by the universality of both the normative values and the satiric targets — a universality established by the imitation itself. The only novelist in the early eighteenth century who consistently concerned himself with the universality of his works in relation to both literary tradition and a wider moral perspective for the issues they engaged was Henry Fielding . In both the "Preface" to Joseph Andrews and the introductory chapters to the eighteen books of Tom Jones, he tried to place his novels in the mainstream of the western literary tradition by asserting their similarities to the epic. In his final novel, Amelia (1751), however, he does not assert similarities; he adapts the strategies of imitation to suit the needs of the novel. In Amelia Fielding systematically parallels Virgil's Aeneid in structure, action, character, and setting; sometimes these parallels are highly focused and specific, sometimes loosely analogous . Thus Fielding invites readers to compare characters and events in Amelia with their counterparts in Virgil's Aeneid, and by extension with epic values generally. Against this backdrop of epic values and John E. Loftis teaches in the Department of English at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley. For a thorough discussion of the genre, see Howard D. Weinbrot, The Formal Strain: Studies in Augustan Imitation and Satire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969). 214FIELDING'S AMELIA expectations, Fielding explores in Amelia the moral relationships among the individual, the family, and the society. Critics who have examined the relationship between Amelia and Virgil's Aeneid have tended to underrate the artistic significance of the parallels. Powers stresses too strongly, I think, the particularity of the parallels, focusing on Booth's function in the novel. He assumes that Booth is the hero and does not investigate how other characters, for example the title character herself, relate to the total design." George Sherburn, on the other hand, though the first critic to point out some of the important epic parallels, finally overgeneralizes their significance: "Fielding undertook in Amelia to write a sober, faithful history of his own times in humble prose," one that would "recall at least remotely the masterpiece of Virgil."3 Because he overgeneralizes this important function of the genre, the epic as an historical account of a nation's greatness up to the present age, Sherburn finally underestimates the artistic and moral significance of the epic parallels in Amelia: "Fielding simply turns his back on his larger theme, and content to make his worthy couple happy, lets them retire to Wiltshire and an untroubled country life" (Sherburn, 14). Robert Alter, who offers a more thorough and sympathetic reading of Amelia and who points out some of the implications of the epic parallels, still maintains that Fielding's imaginative apprehension and control of his novel's relationship to the Aeneid was fragmented and of only minor artistic importance.4 According to John S. Coolidge, however, these very epic parallels make Amelia different "in form and technique from [Fielding's] other novels to such an extent that it is no longer a 'comic romance' or 'comic epic poem in prose' but a different kind of novel."'' One must not only delineate the¦ Lyall H. Powers, "The Influence ot the Aeneid on Fieldinu's Amelia;· MLN, LXXI (1956), 330-336. 'George Sherburn, "Fielding's Amelia: An Interpretation," ELH, III (1936), 3. * Robert Alter, Fielding and the Nature o/ the Noiel (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), p. H2. 'John S. Coolidge, "Fielding and 'Conservation of Character,'" MP, LVII (1960), rpt. in Fielding: A Collection oj Critical E'says, cd. Ronald 1'aulson (Englcwood Cliffs, N...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 214-229
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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