Study Guide

Joseph Andrews

by Henry Fielding

Joseph Andrews Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Many critics say Joseph Andrews is Fielding’s first novel, discounting An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741). Joseph Andrews, however, though a parody of Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740-1741; commonly known as Pamela) in its first ten chapters, is “more refined and truly comic” than Shamela. Joseph is the “newly invented” brother of Richardson’s heroine, and Squire Booby and Lady Booby the counterparts of Pamela’s Mr. B. When Fielding had achieved his purpose, his novel soon moved on into an almost picaresque tale centered more on Parson Adams, who, from the eleventh chapter on, dominates the novel.

The full title is typically eighteenth century: The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, and of His Friend Mr. Abraham Adams, Written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes, Author of Don Quixote. The novel was published anonymously in 1742 and did not achieve the immediate acclaim that Pamela had, though a new edition came six months later. Fielding was not part of the literary mainstream, a situation true generally of the other early novelists. Individuals “of taste and intellect” liked Fielding’s book, finding Joseph Andrews truer, more real, “not a tissue of silly make-believe.” Fielding—and Richardson—thus validated this new form of fiction.

Joseph Andrews could be called a picaresque novel in structure, for its plotline is similar to the one-line structure of picaresque fiction, much like Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615), Fielding’s mentor’s book. The plot of the novel progresses by “shuttling,” moving forward by “small oscillations of emotion,” which, in the larger, all-over design, are small parts of a unified whole, episodic in nature. At times, events seem like reversals, followed by forward movement.

In the novel, Fielding employed ironies, unmaskings, conflicts, and reversals. He used coincidences, too, but credibly, indicating one should trust in Divine Providence, the basis of his own creed. One of these coincidences is the peddler, as a burlesque of Sophocles’ Oidipous Tyrannos (c. 429 b.c.e.; Oedipus Tyrannus, 1715), acting as a messenger in the novel: He arrives just as he is needed, and he happens to know the rights of the births of the two young people, the very information that is...

(The entire section is 1015 words.)

Joseph Andrews Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

For ten or eleven years, Joseph Andrews was in the service of Sir Thomas Booby, the uncle of Squire Booby, who was married to the virtuous Pamela, Joseph’s sister. When Lord Booby dies, Joseph at first remains in the employ of Lady Booby as her footman. This lady, much older than her twenty-one-year-old servant and apparently little disturbed by her husband’s death, is attracted to the pleasant-mannered, handsome young man. Joseph, however, is as virtuous as his famous sister, and when Lady Booby’s advances become such that even his innocence can no longer overlook their true nature, he is as firm in resisting her as Pamela was in restraining Squire Booby. The lady is insulted and discharges Joseph on the spot, despite the protests of Mrs. Slipslop, her maid, who is herself attracted to the young man.

With very little money and even fewer prospects, Joseph sets out from London to Somersetshire to see his sweetheart, Fanny, for whose sake he holds firm against Lady Booby’s advances. On the first night of his journey, Joseph is attacked by robbers, who steal his money, beat him soundly, and leave him lying naked and half dead in a ditch. A passing coach stops when the passengers hear his cries, and he is taken to a nearby inn.

Joseph is well cared for until the innkeeper’s wife discovers that he is penniless. He is recognized, however, by a visitor at the inn, his old tutor and preceptor, Parson Adams, who is on his way to London to sell a collection of his sermons. He pays Joseph’s bill out of his own meager savings; then, discovering that in his absentmindedness he forgot to bring the sermons with him, he decides to accompany Joseph back to Somersetshire.

They start out, alternately on foot and on the parson’s horse. Fortunately, Mrs. Slipslop overtakes them in a coach on her way to Lady Booby’s country place. She accommodates the parson in the coach while Joseph rides the horse. The inn at which they stop next has an innkeeper who gauges his courtesy according to the appearance of his guests. When he insults Joseph, Parson Adams, despite his clerical cassock, challenges the host, and a fistfight follows that extends to a tussle between the host and Mrs. Slipslop. When the battle finally ends, Parson Adams comes off looking the bloodiest, since in her excitement the host doused him with a pail of hog’s blood.

The journey continues, this time with Joseph in the coach and the parson on foot, for with typical forgetfulness the good man left his horse behind. Nevertheless, because he walks rapidly and the coach moves slowly, he easily outdistances his friends. While he is resting on his journey, he hears a woman shriek. Running to her rescue, he discovers a young woman being cruelly attacked by a burly fellow. The parson belabors the attacker with such violence that he fells him. As a group of fox hunters rides up, the ruffian rises from the ground and accuses Parson Adams and the woman of being conspirators in an attempt to rob him. The parson and the woman are quickly taken prisoners and led off to the sheriff. On the way, the parson discovers that the young woman he aided is Fanny. Having heard of Joseph’s unhappy dismissal...

(The entire section is 1304 words.)