As Henry Fielding states in his introduction to Amelia, he satirizes nobody in the novel. Amelia, the long-suffering wife of every generation, is charming and attractive; the foibles of her husband still ring true; and Dr. Harrison is a man any reader would like to know. Some of the interest of the novel lies in Fielding’s accurate presentation of prison life and the courts. Having been a magistrate for many years, he is able to present these scenes in a most realistic way, for aside from presenting the virtuous character of Amelia, Fielding wanted to awaken his readers’ interest in prison and legal reform. The novel lacks the extravagant humor of his earlier novels, but the plot presents many amusing characters and complex situations.
Amelia is intended to appeal to a psychological and social awareness rather than to an intellectual consciousness. Between the publication of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) and Amelia, the nature of Fielding’s moral feelings deepened and with it the means and techniques by which he expressed his ethical purposes. Impressed by the social problems he encountered daily in the world around him, he felt the need to promote virtue and to expose the evils that infected England. He abandoned his satirical comic mode and such traits as impartiality, restraint, mockery, irony, and aesthetic distance. Instead, he adopted a serious, sentimental, and almost consciously middle-class tone.
The characters in Amelia give strong indications of Fielding’s intensified moral purposes. They are more fiery and vehement and clearly intended to embody his beliefs more so than was the case in his earlier works. Abandoning the aesthetic distance between himself and his characters, he seems, in Amelia, to live and act directly in them. This results in a new kind of immediacy and closeness between the novel’s characters and the writer’s psychological concerns. The cost of this immediacy is the rejection of almost all formal conventions of characterization. The description of the heroine is typical of this. On a number of occasions, she is described by the emotions that are reflected in...
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