Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews Research Paper

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[. . .] Either way, the presence of parody, in defining the distance of Fielding's novel from the bourgeois romance of Richardson, is sufficiently clear; equally evident is the use of parody in the cultural clashes of the mid- eighteenth century over ethics, class, and sexuality. (Dentith 61-2).

Dentith suggests the contradictions in the way that Fielding's response to Richardson views him from a lofty aristocratic height by stigmatizing him as "bourgeois" at the same time that it nervously indicates "conservative" class politics by "mock[ing]" the "class presumption" of Pamela. To some extent we can read the unveiling of Joseph Andrews as having been a gentleman all along as being Fielding's response to Pamela's need to attain respectability and marry into a higher class -- Fielding in response wants to define gentility as something that is possessed almost by nature, or indeed heredity.

In point of fact, Fielding only uses the actual word "gentility" once in the text of Joseph Andrews, in his description of Fanny in Book II chapter 12. Yet the way in which Fielding uses the word is extremely revealing, and possibly supports the interpretation just ventured concerning the notion that gentility is inborn. Fielding uses the word as the culmination of his set-piece character description introducing Fanny to the reader. He offers first a warning: "Reader, if thou art of an amorous Hue, I advise thee to skip over the next Paragraph; which, to render our History perfect, we are obliged to set down, humbly hoping, that we may escape the fate of Pygmalion." (Fielding 120). Then Fielding gives a resume of Fanny's facial features, which hardly seem likely to cause anyone to fall in love with a mere depiction, and indeed seems deliberately anti-romantic:

The Small-Pox had left one only Mark on her Chin, which was so large, it might have been mistaken for a Dimple, had not her left Cheek produced one so near a Neighbour to it, that the former served only for a Foil to the latter. Her Complexion was fair, a little injured by the Sun, but overspread with such a Bloom that the finest Ladies would have exchanged all their White for it: add to these a Countenance in which, though she was extremely bashful, a sensibility appeared almost incredible; and a Sweetness, whenever she smiled, beyond either Imitation or Description. To conclude all, she had a natural Gentility, superior to the Acquisition of Art, and which surprized all who beheld her. (Fielding 119-20).

If Fanny's "natural Gentility" is natural in the sense of being inborn (and coming by nature rather than "the Acquisition of Art"), it is also natural in the sense of being realistic, unadorned. Fanny's virtues here are rustic and hearty, traditionally the opposite of what is thought genteel. It has nothing to do with the false or surface gentility of the fashionable urban elite.

But the suggestion here that there exists a "Gentility" which does come as an "Acquisition of Art," and to which Fanny's "natural Gentility" is "superior." It is interesting to note that the various versions of false gentility given in the novel seem to be defined against Fanny's virtues as enumerated in Book II Chapter 12. As an example we might adduce the way in which Fielding characterizes Beau Didapper, in a precisely similar formal character sketch, of the sort that I quoted above for Fanny. According to Fielding, Beau Didapper had:

lived too much in the world to be bashful, and too much at court to be proud: he seemed not much inclined to avarice, for he was profuse in his expenses; nor had he all the features of prodigality, for he never gave a shilling: no hater of women, for he always dangled after them; yet so little subject to lust, that he had, among those who knew him best, the character of great moderation in his pleasures; no drinker of wine; nor so addicted to passion but that a hot word or two from an adversary made him immediately cool. (Fielding 245)

The beaux of Fielding's day were a species of male fashion-victim who were obsessed with their appearance to the exclusion of all else; the hint of narcissism may be the reason why Didapper is "so little subject to lust." But Didapper's fashionability reminds us of the social critique in Fielding's "dissertation concerning high and low people," in which matters of innate aristocracy are translated into questions of fashion:

High People signify no other than people of Fashion, and low People those of no Fashion. Now this word Fashion, hath by long use lost its original Meaning, from which at present it gives us a very different Idea: for I am deceived, if by Persons of Fashion, we do not generally include a Conception of Birth and Accomplishments superior to the Herd of Mankind; whereas in reality nothing was more originally meant by a Person of Fashion than a Person who dressed himself in the Fashion of the Times; and the Word really and truly signifies no more at this day. Now the World being thus divided into People of Fashion and People of No Fashion, a fierce Contention arose between them, nor would those of one Party, to avoid Suspicion, be seen publickly to speak with those of the other… (Fielding 122).

This of course disguises to a certain extent the class gulf that still existed in the eighteenth century, although Fielding perceived himself to be on the upper end of the class divide, so to a certain degree his critique of the world of "Fashion" is meant to sting: to reassure the reader that fashionability does not make anyone "superior to the Herd of Mankind" is to suggest a critique made from one who knows. There is a hint as to the origin of this critique of the fashionable world lurking in Fielding's interpolated tale of Leonora -- the "unfortunate jilt" who is led by her own obsession with fashion to desert the decent Horatio for the superficial fashionabilty of Bellarmine, who has an impressive carriage. But it is worth noting something crucial about the superficial fashionability of Leonora -- it involves letter-writing. Fielding's narrator in the inset tale calls attention to the letters that Leonora and Horatio exchange and we are given samples: "I will, if you please, repeat you a letter from each of them, which I have got by heart, and which will give you no small idea of their passion on both sides. Mrs. Grave-airs objected to hearing these letters; but being put to the vote, it was carried against her by all the rest in the coach; parson Adams contending for it with the utmost vehemence." (Fielding 82). Upon including the letter Leonora writes to Horatio within the text of the novel, Fielding even includes a footnote: "This letter was written by a young Lady" (83). Leonora's pretense to gentility

When fashion manages to invade even reading and writing in this way, then we may begin to understand that the literary parody of Richardson in Shamela and Joseph Andrews is intended as a direct critique of social standards. Leonora knows how to write a "polite" letter, as does Richardson's Pamela Andrews. Fielding's parody of the style in Shamela is less than polite:

O what News, since I writ my last! The young Squire hath been here, and as sure as a Gun he hath taken a Fancy to me; Pamela, says he, (for so I am called here) you was a great Favourite of your late Mistress's; yes, an't please your Honour, says I; and I believe you deserved it, says he; thank your Honour for your good Opinion, says I; and then he took me by the Hand, and I pretended to be shy: Laud, says I, Sir, I hope you don't intend to be rude; no, says he, my Dear, and then he kissed me, 'till he took away my Breath -- and I pretended to be Angry, and to get away, and then he kissed me again, and breathed very short, and looked very silly; and by Ill-Luck Mrs. Jervis came in, and had like to have spoiled Sport. -- How troublesome is such Interruption! (Fielding 283)

Jenny Davidson singles out the way in this passage whereby "Shamela's use of contractions and the proverb 'as sure as a Gun,' in addition to making a phallic joke, shows up Pamela's essential lack of gentility (and that of her author)" -- her author being Richardson (Davidson 134). We must recall here that Richardson's Pamela is written in epistolary format, after Richardson had worked as a printer's apprentice and studied the "fashionable" letters of the likes of Lord Chesterfield, which in their literary propriety also aimed to present a model of conduct. Bartolomeo outlines the ways in which Fielding will take on this epistolary practice in Shamela to attack Richardon, by "replacing the commendatory letters with which Richardson had… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews.  (2011, April 30).  Retrieved February 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/henry-fielding-joseph-andrews/8323065

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"Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews."  Essaytown.com.  April 30, 2011.  Accessed February 23, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/henry-fielding-joseph-andrews/8323065.