Joseph Andrews

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 529

The novel’s story and full title, THE HISTORY OF THE ADVENTURES OF JOSEPH ANDREWS, AND HIS FRIEND MR. ABRAHAM ADAMS, echo the first and greatest of all European novels, the story of Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza (Part One 1605; Part Two 1615). While Cervantes’ novel burlesques the chivalric romances of his day, Fielding’s is a parody of Samuel Richardson’s PAMELA (1740), a sentimental novel depicting the struggle of an honest serving maid to escape seduction by her master.

Joseph, whom Fielding makes a brother to Pamela, resists Lady Booby with the same virtue that enabled his sister to resist Squire Booby. Joseph’s reward is dismissal. Without money or prospects but warmed by his devotion to his sweetheart Fanny, Joseph sets out from London determined to find her. En route he meets Parson Adams, his old tutor and friend. Under dramatic circumstances, they happen to encounter Fanny. Soon all three have a series of quixotic adventures.

Parson Adams is a totally ingenuous country cleric, simpleminded, good-hearted with a strong appetite for meat and drink and a wholesome disdain of selfishness, meanness, and hypocrisy. He is Fielding’s primary vehicle for attacking affectation, and the parson’s quick temper and physical courage make him a formidable adversary. Although he gets himself into one compromising situation after another, his essential goodness always shines through. In a magnificently farcical scene he is discovered asleep in Fanny’s bed after an innocent attempt to protect her virtue.

The exuberance of this earthy and good-natured romance is reflected in its fictive playfulness, its blending of tale, parable, burlesque, parody, farce, and epic. Fielding was flexing creative muscles in this work, laying the groundwork for his brilliantly plotted masterpiece, TOM JONES (1749), often considered the greatest novel of the eighteenth century.


Battestin, Martin C. The Moral Basis of Fielding’s Art: A Study of “Joseph Andrews.” Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1959. Battestin examines the corrective nature of satire in the novel. A particularly useful chapter examines the quest theme in relationship to the novel’s structure.

Dircks, Richard J. Henry Fielding. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Offers a general introduction to the author’s life and work. The third chapter, “Experiments in Prose Fiction,” includes a detailed discussion of themes, characterization, and structure in Joseph Andrews.

Mack, Maynard. “Joseph Andrews and Pamela.” In Fielding: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Ronald Paulson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. Mack examines Fielding’s use of Richardson’s novel Pamela, which inspired Joseph Andrews, noting ways in which Fielding uses the comic mode and his training as a dramatist to create a novel that is far more than a mere parody of Pamela.

Spilka, Mark. “Comic Resolution in Joseph Andrews.” In Henry Fielding: Modern Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Spilka shows how Fielding ties the farcical events at Booby Hall to his themes of vanity and hypocrisy to create an artistic whole.

Wright, Andrew. Henry Fielding: Mask and Feast. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. In three chapters, Wright discusses Fielding’s conscious artistry in the narrative of Joseph Andrews, the novel’s relationship to the epic, and Fielding’s use of characterization.

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Critical Evaluation