Henry Fielding Questions and Answers

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Please comment on Henry Fielding's and Samuel Richardson's contribution to the development of English novel.

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Henry Fielding (1707–1754) and Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) were enormously important to the development/evolution of the English novel. When they began writing, the novel was still in its infancy, and even what constituted a "novel" was somewhat unclear, although, for our purposes, we'll use Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605, 1615) as a starting point.

Fielding's major novels were Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews. In the former, considered one of the great 18th century novels, Fielding works on a large canvas, telling the story of his charming, if somewhat roguish, hero. He brought a robust humor, self-awareness (Fielding addresses the reader), and embrace of humanity in all its messiness to the novel, as well as dealing with an archetypal hero's journey. In addition, he was one of the first, if not the first, novelists to parody another writer—in this case Shamela, which was his satire of Richardson's Pamela.

Richardson was a more serious and moralizing author than Fielding, which may be why Fielding gleefully made fun of him in Shamela. Richardson too worked with the hero's journey plot, although the protagonists in his two major works, Pamela and Clarissa, were women whose honor was threatened by devious men. Both novels are examples of the epistolary form, in which the entire story is told through letters. While this never became a very popular form, it did allow Richardson to tell the story from multiple points of view and to offer a greater psychological insight into his character than previous writers. In the hands of later novelists George Eliot and Jane Austen, this look at the inner lives of characters would became more refined, nuanced, and insightful. Incidentally, Clarissa is one of the longest English novels.

Other important English novelists worth including in this discussion are Smollett, Swift, Sterne, and Defoe. You might also want to look at Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel, which deals with both Fielding and Richardson.

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