But Cervantes was not the only writer who influenced Fielding. There is, for example, a strong biblical influence on the novel. Yet another influence, though in a strange way, was the work of Homer. Of course Fielding, growing up in the eighteenth century, would have had a classical education, that is, an education based on Greek and Latin; he would have expected many of his readers to be as familiar with classical literature as he was.
Not only does he make numerous references to classical literature Parson Adams, after all, is a special devotee of Aeschylus , but he makes particular use of Homeric style when he describes some of the brawls and battles in his novel. I have referred to Joseph Andrews as a novel, but Fielding called it something different.
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What he meant by these terms has been debated by scholars, but the reason he did not call his work a novel was that the term had not yet come into popular usage. He knew, however, that this work was not like the serious romances that had preceded it. People knew their places—or at least they were supposed to know their places—and earlier romances tended to focus on the upper classes, using the lower classes as the butt of humor.
But as the middle class began to develop, people wanted to read books about people like themselves in situations that they could recognize. Joseph Andrews has its share of upper-class characters, but now they tend to be the butt of humor. His concern is with the comic, by which he would exclude the monstrous. Now Fielding gets to the heart of the matter, for his focus in this book is on the ridiculous, which he describes as growing out of affectation, while affectation is the result of either vanity or hypocrisy.
To be sure, as we read Joseph Andrews , we see many examples of both vanity and hypocrisy, and though Fielding condemns both vices, he does so with such good humor that this work is anything but a tract against sin. What is most interesting about this preface, however, is the way Fielding wrestles with this new kind of literature, the novel.
Fielding may have helped to revolutionize the writing of prose fiction, but he was still a man of the eighteenth century. In fact Fielding was quite self-conscious about what he was doing, as we can see not only from his preface but from his practice in the novel. He means this paragraph:. Now the Rake Hesperus had called for his Breeches, and having well rubbed His drowsy Eyes, prepared to dress himself for all Night; by whose Example his Brother Rakes on Earth likewise leave those Beds, in which they had slept away the Day. Now Thetis that good housewife began to put the Pot in order to regale the good Man Phoebus , after his daily Labours were over.
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Fielding plays such games everywhere in the novel. Fielding knows that he is writing fiction, and he knows that we know it, but he also knows that we have agreed to be taken in by his fictional game, and so he continues to play it. He and we are in on the whole game together. Is the story true? Does it contain truth?
I must briefly digress here. The success of Tom Jones led to the filming of other eighteenth-century novels. Those films should be avoided. Of course, it never works to explain humor, but fortunately most of the things that Fielding found humorous are still humorous.
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Even when he is describing truly deplorable behavior, he manages to make it seem somehow funny, not because he approves of it but because he recognizes its origin in ordinary human failings. He knows that it comes from vanity or hypocrisy and that ultimately it is another example of the ridiculous. In writing Joseph Andrews , he condemns such behavior by laughing at it, not with scorn but with what we might call charity.
He knows that all of us have a share of ridiculousness. One of the most famous scenes in Joseph Andrews is an adaptation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Joseph has been set upon by robbers, who take everything he has, including his clothes, and leave him lying badly injured by the side of the road. The coachman says they are late and have no time to spare for Joseph. An old gentleman, hearing that Joseph has been robbed, fears that the thieves may still be there and urges the coachman to leave. A lawyer explains that they have to try to help Joseph, because if he dies and anyone finds out that they were last in his company, they will be held responsible.
Prompted by this appear to their common self-interest, they agree to help, but then the coachman refuses to take him unless someone pays his fare until the lawyer again threatens him and the lady refuses to ride with a naked man. Of course, no one will lend the wounded and freezing Joseph a coat, until. Only the Postillion, who, like the Samaritan, is someone to be looked down on, shows true charity. The others can behave selfishly, perhaps even murderously, and maintain their respectability because of their social positions, while the postilion, who will later suffer a major punishment for a minor transgression, is alone in demonstrating true charity.
Here we find the hypocrisy and vanity in the sense of emptiness that Fielding spoke of in the Preface. These people are tested, and they fail miserably, as do several other characters in this chapter. There is, for example, the surgeon who is called to help Joseph and who has almost finished dressing, thinking that he is going to help a gentleman or a lady, but who, on hearing that his patient is a poor pedestrian, goes back to bed.
Tow-wouse, who run the inn where Joseph has been deposited. Tow-wouse is inclined to help him, but Mrs. Tow-wouse wants the wounded man thrown out. When Mr. This definition of charity may strike us as idiosyncratic at least , but it is indeed the definition that people seem to use throughout the novel. In fact, a good deal of Joseph Andrews is taken up with an examination of what charity really means as exemplified by the postilion and how society regards it as shown by almost everyone else in this chapter.
Fielding may be focusing his humor on such views, and his presentation does make us laugh, but there is a very serious point to what he is saying, for Fielding was concerned with a contemporary religious debate. I do not need to go into detail here except to say that the debate focused on the relative importance in Christian thought of faith and works: some theologians argued that a Christian needed only faith for salvation, while other argued that works alone might suffice.
As Parson Adams says,. The kind of empty faith that Adams and his creator Fielding are attacking is a perfect target for satire. These clergymen, especially in contrast with the highly devout and charitable Adams, who combines faith and works, are shown to be frauds of the highest caliber.
Adams, of course, is the most interesting character in Joseph Andrews. This innocence does not necessarily imply foolishness, though the good parson is occasionally foolish. What it does imply is that Adams tries to live up to the biblical ideal of perfection and that he therefore believes that everyone else tries to live up to that ideal as well. That Adams is alone in this belief is a condemnation not of his foolishness but of the corruption of a society that claims to rely on biblical ideals but in truth is based on selfishness.
Here lies the resemblance to Don Quixote, another innocent whose innocence illustrates the corruption surrounding him. Like Don Quixote, Adams is never discouraged by the failures he sees in others. His view of the world never becomes jaded, no matter how many rascals he encounters. If Adams were asked for such a loan, he would not hesitate to give it, but Adams and Parson Trulliber, though sharing the same religion, do not share the same principles. Short, fat, and crude, Trulliber is a parson only on Sundays.
The rest of the week he is a hog farmer, and he welcomes Adams only because he thinks Adams has come to purchase some of his hogs. He assumes that Trulliber will happily lend him, or even give him, the money, since such a good deed would receive heavenly approval. Adams understands him to mean that he is happy to lend him the money without any thought of reward, heavenly or otherwise, simply because he has been instructed by Scripture to do so. This scene illustrates a number of points about Joseph Andrews. First, it shows us that though Adams is innocent and trusting, he is also firm about maintaining his principles.
His religion is not just something he talks about; it is something he practices to the best of his ability. But we also see, in this scene and throughout the novel, that Adams is nearly alone in doing so. Certainly his pupils Joseph and Fanny share his convictions, but virtually no one else does. This is another point that the novel is making by means of Adams, that England may call itself a Christian country, but it is so in name only.
He condemns Trulliber and his like by making us laugh at them. The idea that Trulliber calls himself a parson is laughable in itself. The idea that this short, fat, nasty man would attack Adams, whom we already know as a good fighter, is ridiculous. And the idea that being a true Christian means not to strike someone but to take him to law is ludicrous. By providing so much humor in these episodes, Fielding allows us to express condemnation through our laughter. By making these characters so lifelike and by revealing their failings so clearly, Fielding focuses our condemnation on the sins rather than on the sinners.
He makes us wish the characters behaved better rather than wishing that we might see them punished. Adam, of course, for all his nobility, also has his failings. Occasionally, for instance, he takes his principles too far. When Fanny is kidnapped and in danger of sexual assault, while Adams and Joseph are tied to the bed posts at an inn, Joseph weeps and groans and bemoans the situation. It may be perfectly in keeping with the philosophical views of Seneca, Boethius, and Cicero, whom he cites as authorities, but it is hardly consoling. What can I say to comfort you? Again Adams tries to console him by telling him of his duty to accept what God has allowed to happen.
In his weeping and grieving, he totally ignores Joseph, who has been reminding him of his own forms of consolation. So Adams, as good as he is, is not perfect. That news is hardly a revelation.
Adams is a human being, and like all the human beings in this novel—or in the world—he has his failings. He is more principled that most people, but if we cannot expect perfection in him, how can we expect it in anyone? We can laugh at him and admire him—even simultaneously—for he is both funny and admirable, but he shares the human situation with the Trullibers of the world. Like Don Quixote, he reveals the failings of the people he meets, but he is not immune to those failings himself. By creating Adams, Fielding has shown the depth of his human understanding: this character, whose portrayal includes humor, anger, principle, hypocrisy, perceptiveness, and blindness, is an image of how far even the best of us can succeed as we make our way in the world.
If Adams has such flaws, it is no wonder that other characters have them, too.