Sarah Fielding (born 8th November 1710) was one of England’s finest and most influential novelists. She was the sister of the novelist Henry Fielding, and half-sister of Sir John Fielding, the ‘Blind Beak of Bow Street’. (Henry and John Fielding were magistrates based out of the court at No. 4 Bow Street, and they founded the the Bow Street Runners, who are sometimes regarded as London’s first police force.) Jane Collier was also a novelist, and a life-long friend of Sarah’s, and the two women lived together for a while.
The following is an excerpt from Suzie and the Monsters…
Living in Salisbury for a few years until late 1730, I got to know Sarah Fielding. She and her brother Henry went on to become two of the finest English novelists of the eighteenth century. Even as a young woman she was refreshingly intelligent and very opinionated, forever criticising women who gave into lust, vanity, ambition, and so on. She was very focussed on the need for reason and restraint, the only allowable passions for a woman being compassion and love. It sounds very conservative by today’s standards, but really she was arguing that women needed to be educated and careful in what was very much a man’s world, fraught with perils for foolish women. Something she wrote later, in response to Sam Richardson’s Clarissa, always makes me smile: ‘A Prude cannot, by an observing eye, be taken for a Coquet, nor a Coquet for a Prude, but a good Woman may be called either, or both…’
I, of course, was not a good woman, though I played one often enough. I admired Sally for her intelligence, and I would have left her alone if she hadn’t annoyed me with absurd theories about Anne Boleyn dumping Henry Percy out of vanity and her ambition to be Queen of England. I mean, what right did she have to slander one of history’s greatest women in this way? Anne Boleyn should have been a study of self-determination in the face of almost overwhelming pressure from parents and crown to be the king’s mistress.
Walking alone with her one day in a secluded garden, I confronted her angrily. ‘You talk about reason and restraint, but you have no passion. Will you be so constant when winds assail your heart?’
‘I will make love the source of my strength, and hold fast,’ she replied.
I didn’t bother to argue. Instead I grabbed her and kissed her fiercely. I had seen the way she was distracted around me, and the way she positively glowed around her friend Jane Collier. Sally pulled away from me, flustered, breathing fast, speechless with anger and confusion. ‘It’s easy to resist men when you have no attraction to them,’ I told her, making her blush a bright red.
‘You mistake me,’ she whispered, backing away from me, so that I had to follow her to a less secluded, safer part of the garden.
‘So much for holding fast,’ I called after her, but she didn’t reply, and avoided being alone with me for the remainder of the afternoon until I left. That was the last time I ever received an invitation to visit her.
A week later, Sally turned up uninvited at the house where I lived then. She was agitated, barely touching the tea, her usual enthusiastic discourse reduced to nervous pleasantries. I sent the maid away home, so that I could be alone with my prey, the pretty Sally, and sat down next to her on the sofa, my lips tantalisingly close to hers.
It started with a kiss and a caress, and progressed gradually, visit by visit, so that soon I was freeing her beautiful breasts from the dress and stays and sucking gently at her hard nipples, or guiding her reluctant mouth to my own impatient peaks. Her resistance to my fingers exploring her secret desire evaporated swiftly. I still remember clearly her look of panic as her body exploded with orgasmic contractions for the very first time, her sharp nails finding purchase in my flesh.
Make no mistake. This was no love affair. Nor was it sex-without-strings, as they say these days; and it certainly wasn’t rape. Although I have been Lovelace to many Clarissas over the years, it’s more entertaining to make my victims conspire in their own defeat, by which I mean liberation from the inhibitions and societal irritations that interfere with sexual destiny.
Take, for example, oral sex. There are a few things for which I am grateful to my husband, chief among them being the joy of oral sex, and I don’t mean blow jobs. It’s true my lips have wrapped themselves round hundreds of cocks, of various shapes and sizes, all proud and beautiful; I enjoy the power it gives me, and it’s certainly useful as a means to an end, but only if it’s my end. No, whether giving or receiving, it’s the other that I love. I can spend hours lapping away between a lover’s thighs. I’m generally not a fan of the Bible, but I’ve always liked that line in the Song of Songs about the vulva being a cup ever filled with wine.
But it’s really only during the last hundred years or so that the English have opened up to this divine pleasure. In Sally’s day the genitals were ‘unclean’ and oral sex, even between husband and wife, seen as profoundly unnatural, but this is what I was determined to get from her. What I wanted, pure and simple, was the corruption of Sarah Fielding for my own perverse pleasure and capricious need for vengeance.
She was under no illusion. Every week she left, burning with shame at what she had just done, promising never to return, and every week she returned, burning with shame at what she wanted. She even begged me not to admit her if she returned, crying, ‘Better that I stand humiliated on your doorstep than be admitted to the iniquity within!’
On one particularly warm, sunny day during the summer, I asked the maid to stop by my aunt’s shop and deliver a letter that suggested she might like to close early. When Charlotte, my widowed ‘aunt’, arrived home an hour later, she discovered Sally naked and tied spread-eagled to the table in the dining room. Ignoring the terrified girl’s desperate struggles, I offered to make Charlotte tea, to which she agreed without even raising a eyebrow in surprise. Hilariously, Charlotte sat down at the table, said, ‘Good afternoon, Miss Fielding,’ and proceeded to ask after the health of her sisters and of Lady Gould. When I brought the tray from the kitchen, she stayed at the table, sipping her tea and making polite conversation, while I returned my attention to eliciting pleasure from the entangled girl until she climaxed in tears. That was the last time she dared to let me tie her up. After she had gone, Charlotte and I spent the rest of the day giggling and making love.
Sally was addicted to the pleasure that only I could give her, and it let me strip away her moral armour, exposing the harlot concealed within the maid, for an hour or two of urgent pleasure. I never asked her what she told her family to explain these regular visits, but there was never any doubting her intelligence and inventiveness.
At last I took pity on her. As Sally drank my Biblical wine one day, I asked her, ‘Don’t you wish it was Jane Collier’s thighs you knelt between?’
She recoiled in sudden fury and stood to face me. ‘Jane Collier is a good woman!’ she raged at me. ‘How dare you tarnish her name with this vile act!’
‘She is a good woman,’ I agreed calmly, ‘and one that adores you, Penthesilea.’ The misquote distracted her, but then she blushed as she realised what I had said. I helped her to get dressed, then showed her out. ‘Farewell, Sally Fielding,’ I said as she left. ‘You’ll never see me again. Just remember: there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ (One of my biggest regrets is that I never met Shakespeare.)
I don’t know whether Sally ever played the seductress with Jane, but I do know that I’ve never seen two women so happy together as they were.