The Dynamics of a Critical Rivalry
Richardson and Fielding: The Dynamics of a Critical Rivalry is the first book-length study of one of literature's most persistent and influential rivalries. Using an adaptation of Hans Jauss's reception theory, it surveys the recurring dichotomies projected onto Richardson and Fielding by all types of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century readers. Even when the rival is not mentioned directly, readers usually make it pointedly clear that one author is being privileged at the other's expense. It has always been safely assumed from the publication of Shamela in 1741 until today that "Richardsonians" are not "Fieldingites" by definition, and vice versa. This curious critical phenemenon can be seen as a kind of harmless literary parlor game, but the ramifications of the rivalry actually extend deep into our perceptions of the nature of the British novel.
Today's debate about the literary canon is often long on theoretical generalizations but short on historical specifics. A chronological and objective view of the Richardson/Fielding opposition is therefore necessary not only as a case study of how critics have used one author's works to set the "horizon of espectation" for the rival's, but also for the specific ways critics have contrasted Richardson and Fielding so that their works are now a foundation for the dichotomized ways we process the history of the English novle. Because Pamela, Clarissa, Sir Charles Grandison, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, and Amelia are among the earliest and most influential of English novels, readers searching for family trees of literary influence have often traced strains of the novel back to one author or another, claiming them to be founding fathers of "opposing" subgenres and narrative styles.
Even apart from its serious implications for literary history, the story of the Richardson/Fielding rivalry is a fascinating source of critical passions, prejudices, scholarly irresponsibility, wit, and often surprising interrelations between the literary tastes and cultural environments of the day.
About the author:
Allen Michie's degrees in English include a B.A. from the Univerisity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a M.A. from Trinity College, Oxford University, and a Ph.D. from Emory university. He has taught as a visiting assistant professor of English at Coastal Carolina University. Michie is now a visiting assistant professor of English at Wake Forest University. His most recent publication, also for Bucknell University Press, is "Between Calvin and Calvino: Postmodernism and Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress," in Questioning History: The Postmodern Turn to the Eighteenth Century, edited by Gregory Clingham.