Henry Fielding Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111201546-Fielding.jpg Henry Fielding (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In the early years of his writing career, Fielding—who was later best known for such novels as Tom Jones (1749)— enjoyed considerable success as a dramatist. Between 1728 and 1737, he wrote twenty-seven plays that were staged at Drury Lane, the Little Haymarket, and other theaters. His first plays were traditional five-act comedies, but he soon discovered a talent for mocking English society and government, particularly the royal court and the government of Prime Minister Robert Walpole. Such works as Tom Thumb (1730) and The Welsh Opera (1731) revealed a savagely satiric tone that would surface later.

During the early 1730’s Fielding wrote plays that were primarily entertainments, but even these works—like his earlier plays—differed from the farces of his contemporaries in offering social satire along with burlesque elements. After a three-year stint of writing more traditional burlesque, Fielding return to satire with Pasquin (1736), a nonpartisan, highly political, and extremely funny portrayal of corruption in English politics and society. This play’s success led Fielding to produce The Historical Register for the Year 1736 (1737), a satirical piece whose name and structure both derived from the annual survey so titled. In a series of loosely related scenes, this play satirized a wide range of public figures and institutions. It targeted both Walpole and his opposition; however, when Fielding added an afterpiece to the play specifically depicting Walpole as a scoundrel, the government began to examine his dramas more closely.

During the 1730’s British political satire was widely popular; in early 1737 alone, for example, more than one hundred plays satirized Walpole’s government. As a result, Walpole and his allies introduced a bill in the House of Commons to censor theatrical activity. The Licensing Act became law on June 21, 1737. Fielding’s theatrical career was ended by the law’s provision subjecting all material for the stage to scrutiny by the Lord Chamberlain, who would have the power to approve it for public performance. Denied a venue for the production of his political burlesques, Fielding was forced to abandon his lucrative career as a playwright and impresario. He turned his attention to the law and to a new career as a novelist.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born on April 22, 1707, Henry Fielding grew up quietly in Somerset and Dorset. When he was eleven, however, his mother died, and after a year of turmoil, during which his father remarried and quarreled violently with his mother’s relatives, young Henry was sent to Eton. After making as much as possible of the excellent if strict and structured education offered by this famous school, Fielding chose, about 1724, to enjoy life in London rather than enter a university.

In 1728, his comedy Love in Several Masques was staged at the Theatre Royal. Instead of pursuing a stage career at once, however, Fielding enrolled at the University of Leyden, where he remained for a year, probably studying classical literature. In 1729, Fielding returned to England, where his second play, The Temple Beau, was accepted by the theater in Goodman’s Fields. This coup inaugurated ten years of immersion in the London theater world, a brilliant career in the course of which Fielding became both widely known and respected and widely disparaged and attacked. His third play, a ballad opera called The Author’s Farce, opened at a more prestigious theater, the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, where it met with great success; it was followed immediately by Tom Thumb, a minor masterpiece that Fielding reworked the following year as The Tragedy of Tragedies. This satire on Robert Walpole, a parody of heroic tragedy, is today Fielding’s most widely known dramatic production.

After his spectacular initial success, Fielding’s ability to please the public became less certain. Rape upon Rape was found only acceptable, and its afterpiece, The Letter-Writers, had to be withdrawn. A new and highly political afterpiece, however, The Welsh Opera, played to enthusiastic houses. Already the government was aware of Fielding; the play’s even more outspoken revision, The Grub-Street Opera, was suppressed before it could open.

In 1732, Fielding continued to increase the pressure he had caused by his inflammatory satire with The Lottery, an attack on the combination of financial corruption and public foolishness represented by lottery-ticket jobbers. This play did well, but The Modern Husband, a strong satire on public—rather than political or financial—morals, had a mixed reception, as did The Old Debauchees, which is a much darker work than Fielding’s lighthearted style usually produced. The afterpiece for The Old Debauchees, The Covent Garden Tragedy, was a flat failure and had to be replaced by The Mock Doctor. This ballad opera was the first of Fielding’s two successful adaptations of Molière. The second, a highly successful farce entitled The Miser, was produced the following year, followed by another ballad opera, The Intriguing Chambermaid.

Fielding was now well established as a popular London playwright, a figure to be reckoned with among his literary peers, and a man well able to earn a decent, if uneven, income through his art. At the same time, he had already made enemies among both politicians and literary critics and had himself been the butt of sharp satiric comment.

At this juncture, late in 1734, Fielding married. For information about how he lived, passed his days, dealt with his necessities, and satisfied his tastes—whatever these were—one must rely on generalizations about the period. No Fielding diaries have been found, and very little of his correspondence exists. He and his new wife, the former Charlotte Cradock, lived in the heart of London...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Henry Fielding was born April 22, 1707, in Sharpham Park, Somersetshire, to Edmund and Sarah Fielding. His father, an adventurer, gambler, and swaggerer, was a sharp contrast to the quiet, conservative, traditional gentry of his mother’s family, the Goulds. In 1710, the family moved to Dorset, where Fielding and his younger brother and three sisters (including the future novelist Sarah Fielding) would spend most of their childhood on a small estate and farm given to Mrs. Fielding by her father, Sir Henry Gould.

The death of Fielding’s mother in April, 1718, ended this idyllic life. Litigation over the estate created a series of family battles that raged for several decades. In 1719, Fielding was sent to Eton...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henry Fielding was born at Sharpham Park, his maternal grandfather’s estate near Glastonbury, in Somersetshire, England, on April 22, 1707, the first child in a family of five. His father, Edmund Fielding, was a lieutenant who fought under the duke of Marlborough against the forces of Louis XIV of France. His mother, Sarah, was the granddaughter of Sir Henry Gould, baron of the exchequer; her family had been considered gentry for several generations. Yet Fielding himself was not fully included among this upper class; with his family being considered “poor relations,” he was déclassé. This situation, perhaps, was the genesis of his later contemptuous attitude toward many of the upper class, an attitude exhibited particularly...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henry Fielding was an “innovating master of the first order.” In Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, as in his other novels, he discarded his predecessor’s epistolary method, calling his own books “comic epics in prose”—in effect, the first modern novels, the development of which influenced Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray in the nineteenth century. Though he is hardly an “exalted moralist” or a philosopher, his opinions do shape his novels, in part or in whole, in various episodes. Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones show him to be one of the most thoughtful of novelists. Though satiric, he maintained a somewhat realistic outlook; he is the first novelist to give the impression of frankly and fully recording normal behavior: His characters are “real people” who could step off Fielding’s pages into real life, thus sidestepping the encroachment of the then-prevalent sentimentality.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henry Fielding was probably born at Sharpham Park near Glastonbury, the home of his grandfather, Sir Henry Gould, a judge of the Queen’s Bench. When he was two and a half years of age his parents moved to a home of their own at the village of East Stour in the adjoining county of Dorset. The remarriage of his father, General Edmund Fielding, after his mother’s death in 1718, brought on a bitter family quarrel, partly concerned with money, and as a result of the ensuing lawsuit Fielding and his sisters and brother were made wards of Chancery, with their grandmother, Lady Gould, as their principal guardian. The old lady allowed her grandson far more freedom than was advisable for so high-spirited a boy. He was sent to school at...

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(Novels for Students)

Henry Fielding was born April 22, 1707, at his grandparents’ estate in Somerset, England. He was the first of seven children born to Edmund...

(The entire section is 466 words.)