Write a critical note on Fielding's moral standard.
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Fielding’s moral standpoint was clearly communicated in his professional life and in his fiction. In his plays, poetry and novels, Fielding condemned the hypocrisy of the political institutions of the day. His 1730 play, Tom Thumb, was noted for its satirical humor at the expense of political systems and leaders of the day. With the introduction of Robert Walpole’s Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737, Fielding’s dramatic outpourings were severely restricted, with new theatre productions requiring government approval.
Fielding focused on the law as a new profession, and was successful in this field also. Unable to totally reject his literary leanings, Fielding was compelled to write a parody ofRichardson’s ‘Pamela’. Fielding had been appalled at the message of ‘virtue rewarded’ as a young girl is pursued by her lascivious master and ‘rewarded’ by becoming his wife.
Fielding was aware of the duplicity of social standards and the abuses evident in society based on class, gender and social position. Whilst working in public office to serve his fellow man, Fielding was instrumental in the development of the Bow Street Runners, who were the forerunners of the modern police force. His desire to promote the tenets of good citizenship and humanity over false modesty and sexual repression permeated his novels Jonathan Wild, Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews and Amelia, as well as the earlier Shamela.
Fielding lived by the moral codes he exhorted in his fiction. He supported his sister in her literary career and actively worked to promote political and social stability.
'Tom Jones' depicts Henry Fielding’s genuine passion for literature and his experience in theater. Henry had closely looked at financial risks and the social-economic arrangement that people of English in the eighteen century made in their lives. He himself had suffered many emotional and financial troubles. In fact, despite a large inheritance from his wife's mother, Henry Fielding found himself in financial straits and many times, and he was sued for debt. Tom is a bastard, 'a foundling,' with a generous heart but a weak will. In the story of “Tom Jones”, Allworthy banishes Tom from Paradise Hall. Tom’s reactions towards crisis and misadventures mirror Fielding’s personal approach to justice and mercy. The reader is constantly reminded that Allworthy is “good”, and he does justice with mercy when he declines to send Jenny to a Bridewell for being an unwed mother. However, Allworthy presides over several trials that result in substantial injustice. The injustice arises because Allworthy exceeds his formal legal authority. When Tom punches Blifil for calling him a “beggarly bastard”, Blifil “appears” before the “court” (of Allworthy and Thwackum) in which Tom charged of assault, battery and wounding. Generous Allworthy often is misled by Bliful and the two tutors. Thus, Allworthy’s rationality leads him to make wrong assessments about people around him. Here, Fielding indicates that goodness and innocence must be guided by prudence and reason. Fielding leaves judgment of guilt or innocence to the “reader’s determination” because from the outset he intends the readers to be the judge of Tom’s case.
By the standards of the time “Tom” is a rather un-heroic hero. By writing about an 'ordinary' person, Fielding made high conventions freshly accessible to the new middle-class reading public of the novel. He was aware of changes in taste of literature readers. He was the first theoretician of the modern realistic novel.
Fielding’s principal motivation was concern for those facing spurious charges (Tom’s situation), or for whom the consequences of committal were out of proportion to the gravity of the offence (Jenny’s situation). Regulations governing bail were very strict, and even if bail was technically available, cost was a barrier for those unable to meet the necessary sureties. Fielding’s realism is chiefly concerned with the seamy side of life, though he also deals with goodness and nobility. He considers a novelist not merely as a story-teller or an entertainer, but a man with a mission. In the very opening of “Tom Jones”, Fielding declares that his purpose in writing this novel is to depict the human nature that is a complex entity and manifests in different people in different puzzling ways. In Bliful is embodied all that is bad, wicked and petty. Fielding shows how Lady Bellaston grew jealous of Tom’s attachment to Sophia, and how Lady Bellaston was notoriously determined of getting rid of her rival Sophia. Fielding also creates good characters like Allworthy, Tom and Sophia. In this novel, we find multitude of characters and various incidents which convey the moral philosophy of Henry Fielding who aptly exposes the shams of the society.
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