ENL 6236 – Eighteenth-Century Novel and Theory                                        Dr. Runge


3/20                 Fielding, Joseph Andrews (intro, books I & II)



In many ways we reach the culmination of the course in this week’s reading:  Fielding.  The theories by Watt, McKeon, Hunter and Warner look forward to Fielding in their various explanations of the early novel.  Seemingly, all paths lead to Fielding.  How does the text hold up under such expectation?  We’ll spend this week discussing the first half of the novel, focusing on the comparison between Fielding and his predecessors, both in style and content.




I.                    The theorists


Test your appreciation of Fielding’s first major novel, Joseph Andrews, against the critics:


Watt:  Realism of assessment (as opposed to realism of presentation)

McKeon:  Extreme skepticism (putting into doubt the claims of Richardson’s naïve empiricism) and Conservative critique (with the danger of recapitulating romance idealism in the absence of an overarching narrative of faith)

Hunter:  Evidence of precursor or contextual discourses – journalism, didacticism, biography

            Incorporation of “novel” features:

The marvelous

Taboo subjects

Exhibitionist or confessional

Promotes loneliness

Categorize different readers

Ask “How do you know X?”


Incorporates other forms of discourse



Warner:  the elevation of novel reading, curing the infection of the absorbed reader of Pamela through theatricality


Theoretical distinctions between Richardson and Fielding:


According to the article in the DLB, Fielding preferred not to call his works novels, which during his day were considered romances.  What evidence does the text of Joseph Andrews provide?  How does this affect McKeon’s argument that the category of the novel had stabilized by the 1740s and that the conflict between Richardson and Fielding is the epitome of the grounds for the dialectic of the novel?


Richardson – moving inwards

Fielding – moving outward


Johnson described the difference between Richardson and Fielding in the following image:  Richardson knew how the watch was made, Fielding could merely tell the hour by looking on the dialplate” (quoted in Battestin, DLB 39.170). 


Coleridge, on the other hand, commented that “coming to Fielding from a reading of Richardson was like throwing open the windows of a sickroom, letting in the sunshine and fresh air and revealing the panorama of England’s pleasant countryside” (quoted Battestin, DLB 39.170).



F. R. Leavis and Ian Watt, as you know, emphasize the success of the Defoe-Richardson tradition of the novel.  What criticism does Watt bring to Fielding’s novels?  To what extent does Fielding interfere with the believability of the report in fiction?  To what extent is this interference a flaw in his art?


On the other hand, McKeon finds that Richardson and Fielding embody two opposed orientations in the same species of narrative – to wit, naïve empiricism-progressive ideology for Richardson and extreme skepticism-conservative ideology for Fielding.  How secure are these categories?  How secure is the identification of each author with the particular orientation?  How useful are these designations for understanding the novel, Joseph Andrews?


How does Fielding’s novel rely on or depart from the novels of amorous intrigue by Behn, Manley, Haywood and others?  Do you see a greater or lesser degree of originality in his work as compared to Richardsons?  (Is this the right question to be asking about these works?) Cf. His claim in the Preface: to be providing “this kind of writing, which I do not remember to have seen hitherto attempted in our language” (3).


To what extent does Warner’s understanding of the novel as “entertainment” help or hinder your understanding of Joseph Andrews?



II.         Assess the following critical commonplaces on Fielding:


Although considered a “comedy of manners,” Fielding’s novels were criticized for the “low” material – “foundlings and footmen.” 


Fielding’s novels were also condemned for the expression of frank sexual appetite.


Evaluate the role of the narrator, especially in light the innovative arguments made by Warner (to wit, that Fielding respected the reader’s radical autonomy and offered a variety of reading models within the text:


Wayne Booth suggests that in Fielding the narrator becomes the most important character.  Agree or disagree?


George Eliot admired Fielding’s easy rapport with his audience, “bringing his armchair to the proscenium and chatting with them ‘in all the lusty ease of his fine English’” (DLB 39.171).


Wolfgang Iser and John Preston locate in the narrator’s manipulation a source of reader response criticism; they suggest that in the process of reading the text, the reader does not merely discover but creates meanings.


How do Fielding’s classical roots for the novel --  the epic, the comic vision of an ordered universe, the rules of tragedy – differ from Richardson’s “writing to the moment.”  What impact do they have on the artistry of the novel? What impact on the interest and significance of the novel?


Compare and contrast Richardson and Fielding in terms of their representation of human nature – how does the method differ?  How does the subject?  (How does this relate to the conflation of form and content that McKeon discusses?)


Traditional neoclassicism is often explained through Imlac’s dissertation on poetry in S. Johnson’s Rasselas:  “The business of a poet . . . is to examine, not the individual, but the species; to remark general properties and large appearances:  he does not number the streaks of the tulip, or describe the different shades in the verdure of the forest.  He is to exhibit in his portraits of nature such prominent and striking features, as recall the original to every mind; and must neglect the minuter discriminations, which one may have remarked, and another have neglected, for those characteristics which are alike obvious to vigilance and carelessness.”


To what extent might this describe Fielding’s art?  How effective is this as a mode of narrative (as opposed to poetry)?  What are the effects of this aesthetic on character?  On plot?  On the resolution of epistemological and social conflict? 


If we understand Christian Humanism to denote a faith in a world divinely ordered and presided over by providence, to what extent might we argue that Joseph Andrews is a model of the Christian Humanist worldview?  How does this compare with Richardson’s perspective? 



III.               Questions on Joseph Andrews


Preface:  What context or critical heritage does Fielding hope to establish for his work in this preface?  How does this compare with Richardson’s own prefatory material?  How does it compare with the prefatory materials of earlier authors?

Fielding emphasizes the ridiculous in this preface.  What is it?  Why is it important?  Why, do you think, does it fail to make an impression on the theorists we have studied?  To the extent of your reading, how well does the preface reflect the practice in the novel?



Given the centrality of questions of pedagogy and didacticism in the history of the novel, how important is Fielding’s opening chapter on the force of examples?  Compare your reaction with Warner’s claims for Fielding’s redirection of the novel.



How important is virtue to this novel?  What does Fielding mean by virtue and how does his ironic presentation affect the representation of it?  Compare the importance of chastity and charity.  How does Fielding’s plotting demonstrate his sense of true virtue?  What role does Biblical allusion and/or allegory play?


Parson Adams becomes Fielding’s spokesperson in favor of good works over the doctrine of Faith.  Read pages 64-5.  This dialogue provides a key to Fielding’s emphasis on virtue.  Why is faith of so little importance?  What do good works have to recommend them?


Fielding’s religious themes have sometimes been referred to as “muscular Christianity.”  In what ways does Parson Adams exemplify this?  Evaluate the significance of his legendary fist and the various battle scenes of the novel.  (Note:  we will spend more time next week assessing the original character and centrality of Adams.)


The evaluate the characters and functions of the following characters: Mrs. Slipslop, Lady Booby, Mr. and Mrs. Tow-wouse, Betty the chambermaid, Parson Trulliber,



IV.              Focus on the Narrator


Some critics feel that Fielding’s response to the inherent rebelliousness of Richardson’s text is a resignation to divine providence.  Note Adams’ response to Fanny’s fear of oncoming strangers in the field: “Be of good cheer, Damsel, and repose thy Trust in the same Providence, which hath hitherto protected thee, and never will forsake the Innocent” (page 110). Given that this same group of delinquents eventually take them to the Justice of the Peace to arrest them as robbers, how trustworthy is Adams’ claim?


Significantly, this sense of faith is precisely what the narrator asks of his readers.  We have to trust that he will introduce us to no evil without providing the means for our recovery. The organization of the book, in contrast to an epistolary narrative like Richardson’s, highlights the artifice that goes into making literature.  As one critic has said of literary conventions, they make us aware of the art in literature; they call attention to the expression of life in literature and not the servile copying of life.


By making us aware of the artistry of his novel, Fielding underscores his moral theme that celebrates the order of divine Providence.  The narrator is a large element of Fielding’s artistry, drawing the reader in and making the reader conscious of the literariness of this “biography.”  George Elliot, for one, envied  Fielding’s comfortable rapport with his audience: “bringing his armchair to the proscenium and chatting with them ‘in all the lusty ease of his fine English’” (DLB 39.171).


Examine  the following excerpts taken from the text, and determine 1) what effect the narrator has on the story and 2) what assumptions he makes about his reader.  Given claims critics have made about educating the reader or elevating the novel, the interpretation of the narrator’s role is very significant.


Book I, chap. i:  “The authentic History with which I now present the public, is an Instance of the great Good that Book [i.e. Pamela] is likely to do, and of the Prevalence of Example which I have just observed: since it will appear that it was by keeping the excellent Pattern of his Sister’s Virtues before his Eyes, that Mr. Joseph Andrews was chiefly enabled to preserve his Purity in the midst of such great Temptations….” (16).


I.v : During the first six Days the poor Lady admitted none but Mrs. Slipslop and three female friends who made a party at Cards: but on the seventh she ordered Joey, whom for a good Reason we shall hereafter call Joseph, to bring up her Tea-kettle” (23).


I.xi :  “It is an Observation sometimes made, that to indicate our Idea of a simple Fellow, we say, He is easily to be seen through: Nor do I believe it a more improper Denotation of a simple Book.  Instead of applying this to any particular Performance, we chuse rather to remark the contrary in this History, where the Scene opens itself by small degrees, and he is a sagacious Reader who can see two Chapters before him” (38).


I.xi:  “The Reader may perhaps wonder, that so fond a Pair should during a Twelve-month’s Absence never converse with one another; indeed there was but one Reason which did, or could have prevented them; and this was, that poor Fanny could neither write nor read, nor could she be prevailed upon to transmit the Delicacies of her tender and chase Passion, by the Hands of an Amanuensis” (39).


I.xv: I know thou wilt think, that whilst I abuse thee, I court thee; and that thy Love hath inspired me to write this sarcastical Panegyrick on thee: but thou art deceived, I value thee not of a farthing; nor will it give me any Pain, if thou should’st prevail on the Reader to censure this Digression as errant Nonsense: for know to thy Confusion, that I have introduced thee for no other Purpose than to lengthen out a short Chapter; and so I return to my History” (55).


II.i:  “But in reality the Case is otherwise, and in this, as well as all other Instances, we consult the Advantage of our Reader, not our own; and indeed many notable Uses arise to him from this Method [of arranging the story into chapters and books]: for first, those little Spaces between our Chapters may be looked upon as an Inn or Resting-Place, where he may stop and take a Glass, or any other Refreshment, as it pleases him. Nay our fine Readers will, perhaps be scarce able to travel farther than through one of them in a Day.  As to those vacant Pages which are placed between our Books, they are to be regarded as those Stages, where, in long Journeys, the Traveller stays some time to repose himself, and consider of what he hath seen in the parts he hath already past through; a Consideration which I take the Liberty to recommend a little to the Reader: for however swift his Capacity may be, I would not advise him to travel through these Pages too fast: for if he doth, he may probably miss the seeing some curious Productions of Nature which will be observed by the slower and more accurate Reader” (70-1).


II.ii “As we cannot therefore at present get Mr. Joseph out of the Inn, we shall leave him in it, and carry our Reader on after Parson Adams, who, his Mind being perfectly at ease, fell into a Contemplation on a passage in Aeschylus, which entertained him for three Miles together, without suffering him once to reflect on his Fellow-Traveller” (75).