Term Paper: Morality and Ethics in Henry

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[. . .] He is of the view that in English society, if a man refused the sexual advances of a woman, his masculinity was often doubted, whereas if a woman chose to have a lover, she was shunned and considered immoral. At one occasion in the novel, Lady Booby is vexed at Andrews' almost fatuous resistance and angrily lashes out at him, "I must have reason to suspect you. Are you not a man?"

Now that we have seen how the author has ridiculed English society and its moral values, one question that arises in our mind is what exactly was it that Fielding was advocating? True, he is against the kind of moral values English upper class possessed, but does that mean that the author is also against morality in general? Well this is a point worth pondering because this will provide us with a deeper, much-needed insight into the moral side of Fielding's characters.

Though throughout the novel, he has attacked English upper class and its weak sense of morality, it appears that Fielding was not only making a strong statement against feigned morality of his times, but also wanted to present his own brand of virtue and moral values through his characters. This is evident from all the three main characters and their encounter with more sophisticated figures in the novel. For example Abraham Adams is presented as an epitome of innocence and virtue and it is in them that Fielding has incorporated his own brand of moral values. This is evident from the fact that till the very end, Fielding has maintained a sympathetic connection with his three main characters. By constantly putting them in situations where they encounter affectations of the upper class, the author appears to be highlighting the differences that existed between his definition of morality and the one propounded by Richardson. The most important feature of Fielding's version of morality was charity and he maintained that honor is attained with the help of both chastity and good works. In other words, Fielding felt that to stress solely the significance of chastity as the means to morality and honor was something that sprung from flawed thinking of the English society and thus expounded his own theory whereby charity was placed in the same bracket as chastity.

Dr Beth Swan writes, "Fielding is espousing the idea that chastity and charity are complementary: eighteenth-century society tended to concentrate exclusively on chastity as the only necessary virtue but latitudinarians and indeed Christian teaching argues that chastity, a personal virtue, and charity, a social virtue, are both necessary"

When analyzing the sense of morality advocated by Fielding, one wonders if his protagonist can be categorized as a moral being. While Adams fits the Fielding's description of a moral person for he consistently does charity work, we notice that Joseph was a rather passive moral being, this is because just like Pamela, he too was obsessed with religious definition of chastity. Though he is certainly not an immoral person one wonders why Fielding would cerate a character very similar to Pamela when he was obviously against Richardson's pre-occupation with chastity. It is true that at some instances Joseph displays 'good nature' and also engages in charity but these occasions are few and far between while the major part of the book revolves around the subject of chastity as far as the character of Joseph is concerned. For this reason we can conclude, that it was Adams who occupied a more prominent place in Fielding's mind then Joseph even if the novel was named after the latter.

Fielding thus established his own standards of morality and in his attempt to do so, he would often resort to creation of characters that almost appeared unreal. "Adams, Joseph, Fanny, and those who help them are natural, but among those whom they encounter, the proud, vain, hypocritical, and evil are unnatural, or artificial" (Vary, p. 65).

But Fielding's refusal to stick to reality and to present society as it existed is the one thing that sets him apart from other writers of his time who were bent upon presenting a true picture of the society in which they operated. It is important to clearly understand this distinction because this helps us explore the reasons behind the criticism against some of Fielding's unreal characters. His conscious effort to stray away from subjective reality helped Fielding in avoiding the path which likes of Richardson followed in their description of society. "Fielding wanted his characters to be universals, which was why he did not imitate reality with the dogged persistence of Richardson" (Macallister, p. 65).

But for an objective assessment of Fielding's version of morality and ethics, it is important to see what critics said regarding the author's strict control over reality. We need to understand that Fielding did not offer his readers a chance to comment on structure of morality created by him while Richardson cannot be accused of maintaining such dominant control over his version of morality. While Fielding constantly invites us to view and feel the absurdity of English sense of morality, he doesn't give us an opportunity to actually reach our own conclusions. This is one area of Fielding's work, which has been criticized often, though not severely. Many are of the view that while readers are given a chance to enter the world created by Fielding, he never makes the readers doubt the validity or authenticity of that world. The author throughout the book exercises a strict control over every situation and every interpretation as far as morality and ethics are concerned and thus deliberately tries to stop his readers from engaging in subjective judgement and criticism.

Simon Varey in his commentary on the works of Henry Fielding writes, "One of Fielding's innovations, this narrator, who interrupts, digresses, and controls the "history" is prominent. The narrator continually reminds us that he is the author... And discusses his won role, his opinions and his judgements.... By emphasizing [the] role [of the narrator], Fielding can also emphasize the subjects the narrator discusses, and these in turn lead him to outline his primarily satiric conception of character (Varey, p. 58-9)

CONCLUSION

After analyzing Fielding's definitions of morality and ethics from every possible aspect, we notice that though his sense of virtue was more developed than that of the ones he attacked in his novel, still there are some minor flaws in the way he has presented his views in the book. For one, the author has focused solely on the subject of chastity in the first half of the book, which was rather unnecessary and undesirable, if the book's real purpose was to attack English society's flawed thinking. Secondly, the author has given most situations a comical flavor, which is why most readers do not take Joseph Andrew's character seriously. Though these situations often generate spontaneous laughter, still the actual meaning gets lost amid comic interpretation of situations.

But nonetheless, we must praise the author for his superb writing skills and for his sincere desire to bring about a positive change in the self-complacent upper class of the English society. He was more discreet and subtle in his approach to the topic and thus his work generated a more cordial response from the public unlike some other satirical commentaries especially the ones produced by Jonathan Swift.

He was an aristocrat-with an awareness of all that was wrong with the stratified society of his day. He was a man with serious convictions- who understood the importance of a sense of humor. He was a religious man-who wondered about the spiritual and intellectual chaos created by professional men of religion. He is a man of permanent importance to our world." (Monarch Notes, 1963)

References

Simon Varey, Henry Fielding, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986

Maurice Johnson, Fielding's Art of Fiction Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961

Hamilton Macallister, Fielding London: Evans Brothers LTD, 1967

Works of Henry Fielding: Fielding's Life., Monarch Notes, 01-01-1963.

Dr Beth Swan, Joseph Andrews Lecture II Joseph as hero and the novel's socio-legal critique, http://www.chester.ac.uk/english/resources/jalecture2.pdf

Bernard Mandeville, Remarks added to The Fable of the Bees (1714) in 1723,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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