Henry Fielding World Literature Analysis - Essay

Henry Fielding World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Fielding, a man of his eighteenth century society, was naturally class-conscious, perhaps opinionated, and possibly a bit self-righteous; like many of his contemporaries, he was “conservative, consistent, and orthodox” in his beliefs. His view of a stratified society was hardly unusual, for almost everyone felt that “all government was based on the principle of subordination and the duty of all classes of men is to contribute to the good of the whole.” To Fielding, the homes of the high-placed were no more than prisons: “Newgate [Prison] with the mask on.” He displayed caustic attitudes toward this group in both Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones. His own religious beliefs were integral to his very being. As a magistrate he acted upon these beliefs; he was sympathetic toward his impoverished clients and also accepted a smaller salary. Fielding’s scrupulously honest efforts in time reduced the questionable practices that he had seen. He carried this same honesty into his novels.

Yet Fielding was his own man, a truly independent thinker. Not entirely in sympathy with his contemporary world, he was hypercritical of the mores of every class, satirizing the various odious behaviors of his world in the persons of numerous characters in Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, particularly those that exemplified hypocrisy, which he deemed “an ungenerous behavior,” whatever the class of the person. The upper class provided numerous examples. In Joseph Andrews, he satirizes Lady Booby’s attempt to seduce her much younger, chaste footman, Joseph, an act not only reprehensible but also ludicrous. In Tom Jones, he shows a lady by position as actually no more than a high-born prostitute or pimp.

Fielding did not spare the middle class, either. In Joseph Andrews, he depicted the un-Christian behavior of Parson Trulliber, who laughed at Parson Adams’s swine-and mud-stained clothes, constantly berated his own wife, regardless of who was present, and then spurned Parson Adams’s need of a loan, though he could have spared much more money than what had been requested. The latter was the essence, Fielding thought, of “faith without works,” in his mind typical of a then-current popular religious leader whose ideas Fielding especially detested. Innkeepers, doctors, lawyers, maids, tutors—these became the targets of Fielding’s strong disapproval. “Money called the tune” at the time, an idea Fielding could not support.

The lower class, also, came under Fielding’s satire. While he could be compassionate toward many of this class, he could still deplore their flaws. A “practical idealist,” he gave to the needy, supported the foundling and lying-in hospitals, established subscriptions for old men, and shared his scant income and his plenteous writing talents where he could, even up to the few months before his death. Moreover, unlike his contemporaries, he recognized the dualities of human nature, the constructive-destructive natures of human beings. In Tom Jones, he shows the basically admirable Squire Western and Squire Allworthy as each having the human blemishes of class consciousness. He portrays Tom Jones as a basically decent young man but one who still must learn prudence through a number of devastating experiences, which he eventually surmounts, gaining the necessary wisdom. Even Parson Adams, in Joseph Andrews, shares this duality of nature.

Fielding, then, was indignant at the world that he knew. This feeling led to his satiric view of this world, an irony he reiterated repeatedly on stage, in journals, and in his novels in order to correct and redress the awfulness of existing conditions, high and low. He became, then, in his novels especially, “the most faithful representative of his age: he gave its coarsenesses, its brutalities, and sometimes with too little consciousness of their evils, though no one ever satirized more powerfully the worst abuses of the time.” He found that his witty but serious approach with his “sure and just sense of values” could and did make dents in the general attitudes and behavior.

Fielding also “represents the strong, healthy common sense and stubborn honesty of the sound English nature” in his particular way, with his object “to give a faithful picture of human nature.” Thus, he usually created the illusion of reality, using all ranges of humor—slapstick, situational (based on characters in situations), and the practical joke—to show the various behaviors in his characters that needed correcting. His world appreciated humor in whatever form, and Fielding knew his world very well.

Joseph Andrews

First published: 1742

Type of work: Novel

A parody in the first ten chapters, this novel tells of the adventures of a young man, although centering more on his traveling companion.

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:...

(The entire section is 2976 words.)