Research Paper: Hogarth's Influence on Fielding KIRAN1976

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[. . .] While comedy generates spontaneous laughter and rarely serves any other person, satire can be highly thought provoking because this is where we laugh at our own follies and not that of some imaginary figure. The same difference lies in cartoons and caricatures too and the fact that Hogarth excelled at caricatures and Fielding at satire says a lot about their bond.

Dolan (1998) highlights this bond in these words: "Hogarth based his art on the conviction that a picture served as the most potent weapon of moral rectitude. Aiming at ethical purpose wedded to naturalistic expression, he took pains to distinguish the delineation of character from caricature in his work. His 1743 etching Characters and Caricatures refers to Fielding's preface to Joseph Andrews, where the novelist claimed that character consisted in the exact copy of nature, while caricature allowed artistic license through distortion and exaggeration."

Both prominent 18th century figures were however heavily criticized for their representation of an immoral society in their works. On the one hand it shows that Fielding had chosen to follow in his friend's footsteps and on the other, it highlights the similarities in their beliefs. Fielding came under severe criticism after publication of Tom Jones which is a novel full of its fair share of prostitutes, hypocrites, scoundrels, virgins, etc. In the same way Hogarth's attempts to highlight negative aspects of famous personalities were widely condemned. This is because Fielding has chosen to walk the same path as his friend Hogarth who was of the view that, "Subverting an enemy through pictorial shorthand often provided a quicker moral lesson than learned sermons droned from a pulpit or polemical treatises published in fine print." (Dolan, 1998)

Closer study of Fielding's writings reveals that the author was more interested in presenting moral truths than theological ideals. In doing so, Fielding drifts from strict moral structure that literature had previously been confined to and moves on to adopt the alternative approach of ethics of pleasure. To perfectly employ this approach, he draws on Hogarth's 1738 engraving "Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn."

Shamela and Tom Jones are excellent examples of grotesque in art. By deliberately distorting important social figures, Fielding was doing with words what Hogarth had achieved through engravings and prints. Critics have confirmed this connection as they write: "Fielding's art (and, by extension, his relationship to reality) ought to be compared with the art of that great caricaturist (and serious artist), William Hogarth. Fielding understood the uses of the grotesque. He particularly understood how the grotesque in art could illuminate the actual. William Hogarth was especially famous in his day for his satirical drawings. He was fond of bold effects and had a special feeling for the grotesque. Given the style and contents of Tom Jones, one feels that there was a spiritual kinship between the two men." (Monarch Notes, 1963)

In short Fielding learnt a great deal from Hogarth and was definitely impressed by the courage and genius of the latter. This connection deepened with each showing tremendous amount of respect and support for other's motives and pursuits. Fielding like Hogarth was not interested in correcting the social and political ills, instead they believed in showing the society its true face which they hoped might lead to some kind of positive transformation. With the same purpose in mind, they decided to adopt similar approaches to achieve their goals.

Fielding's works owe their success to the visual acuity of Hogarth because without his insightful prints and engravings, novels like Shamela, Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews wouldn't have existed. And even if they did, they would have lacked their sharp and meaningful satirical edge that makes them stand out so prominently among 18th century comic works.

Fielding was certainly nothing less than a genius himself and he carried forward the revolutionary work that Hogarth had pioneered. Thus both Fielding and Hogarth will always be remembered for their depiction of contemporary stories which should be studied as sardonic comments on "the manners of the age."(Uglow, 1997)


Dolan, Therese, The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange: Aesthetics and Heterodoxy. Vol. 80, The Art Bulletin, 03-01-1998, pp 188(5)

Works of Henry Fielding: Critical Analyses, Monarch Notes, 01-01-1963.



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Hogarth's Influence on Fielding KIRAN1976.  (2003, March 14).  Retrieved July 22, 2019, from

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"Hogarth's Influence on Fielding KIRAN1976."  March 14, 2003.  Accessed July 22, 2019.