Henry Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews” (1742)

Illustration from Joseph Andrews (1742)
Illustration from Joseph Andrews (1742)

I return once again to my favourite author, Henry Fielding (1707-1754) and discuss his novel The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of His Friend Mr. Abraham Adams. Written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes, Author of Don Quixote (1742). The title is usually shortened to just Joseph Andrews…(they loved long titles in the 18th century).

(My post on one of Wild’s other novels The Life and Death of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (1743) can be found here)

Joseph Andrews tells the story of its eponymous title character, Joseph. He is the lowly-born footman in the household of Lady Booby. He is a good-looking, kind-natured, and polite young man. Pious and virtuous. He learns music in his spare time and is always endeavouring to improve himself. Although he does not possess a title to the effect, he is de facto a gentleman.

But his virtue and innocence are in danger, for Lady Booby desires Joseph Andrews, and tries to seduce him. He is such a virtuous young man, however, that nothing can tempt him away from the path of virtue. Enraged, embarrassed, Lady Booby dismisses him from service.

After his dismissal from service, Joseph decides to make his way back home in the country to be reunited with his sweetheart, Fanny. On the way many misfortunes befall him. First he gets what little money he has stolen from him by highwaymen (one of my favourite scenes, obviously). He is then stript naked and left for dead. A stagecoach passing by then rescues Joseph and takes him to an inn and Joseph gets better (but not without the doctor mistakenly pronouncing him dead to begin with). While he is recovering, Betty, a chambermaid at the inn takes a fancy to Joseph and attempts to seduce him. Again he resists, because he is such a virtuous young man.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)
Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

Arriving at the inn in the meantime is Joseph’s old friend, Parson Abraham Adams. He was on his way to sell copies of his Sermons in London but, his wife forgot to pack them. He and Joseph have a catch up and decide to travel back to Adams’ parish together because that is where Fanny is from. Further down the line many more slapstick adventures befall Adams and Joseph, and a few more people try to corrupt Joseph’s innocence but he resists temptation. When finally Joseph meets Fanny again, someone comes and ruins their marriage prospects by saying that Joseph and Fanny may actually be brother and sister, but thankfully this turns out not to be correct. The tale then ends happily with the marriage of Fanny and Joseph.

Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews (1742)
Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742)

This is a comedy. But Fielding still has a point to make: out of all of the supposedly “high-born” members of the middle classes and the aristocracy, it is only Joseph, Fanny, and Parson Adams – of no particularly high status in society – who are virtuous people. It is the aristocracy who are corrupt and degenerate; it is the way that Joseph conducts himself in daily life which marks him out as a true nobleman:

He an Air, which to those who have not seen many Noblemen, would give an idea of Nobility.

Moreover, in contrast to the aristocracy, Joseph’s ‘morals remained entirely uncorrupted…he was at the same time smarter and genteeler than any of the beaus in Town’. This is in keeping with Fielding’s own patrician country upbringing, an outlook which stressed the virtues of the country against the moral corruption of those who lived in the town.

There is also some funny and interesting intertextuality at play in Fielding’s novel. Joseph has a sister called Pamela (a virtuous young lady) who is married to Mr. Booby, the brother of Lady Booby. Fielding was quite disparaging of another author, Samuel Richardson. I have previously written of my dislike for Richardson’s works. (Perhaps its Fielding’s influence on me which made me dislike it). Richardson’s novels are unnecessarily long, whereas Fielding’s is light and short in comparison. So in a direct attack on Richardson (whose characters Fielding stole), Fielding assures us that there will be no long, drawn out sequel. Fielding had dedicated an entire work to the piss-take of Richardson’s Pamela the year before when he wrote An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews. So like me he wasn’t Richardson’s biggest fan as you can gather.

I’ve read quite a lot of 18th-century literature, and if you’re going to begin to make your own foray into the 18th-century world, I urge you to start with Fielding’s works…definitely don’t start with Richardson’s!

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Greatness vs. Goodness in Henry Fielding’s “Jonathan Wild” (1743)

Jonathan Wild in 1725 [Source Wikipedia]
Ticket to the Hanging of Jonathan Wild in 1725 [Source Wikipedia]

I have previously written on this blog about London’s first mob boss, Jonathan Wild (1682-1725). He was the Thief Taker General of Britain and Ireland. In the days before the establishment of a police force in England, thief takers were men who were hired by the victims of robberies to effect the return of their stolen goods. In time, he became the master of nearly all the criminals in London.

He was the subject of numerous criminal biographies, including one written by the novelist, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731).

One of the most lengthy treatments of his life, however, was written by the novelist, Henry Fielding, entitled The History of the Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (1743). It is similar to the many criminal biographies of the period, but it is also different in many ways, for this was a satire (which will be explained more fully below).

At the outset, Fielding explains himself to the reader, telling them why he has decided to call this quite reprehensible man ‘the Great’. All the great men of history, he says, are in effect bad people:

Greatness consists of bringing all manner of mischief on mankind, and Goodness in removing it…In the histories of Alexander and Caesar, we are frequently, and indeed impertinently, reminded of their benevolence and generosity, of their clemency and kindness. When the former had with fire and sword overrun a vast empire, had destroyed the lives of an immense number of innocent wretches, had scattered ruin and desolation like a whirlwind, – we are told, as an example of his clemency, that he did not cut the throat of an old woman, and ravish her daughters, but was content with only undoing them.

This is what “great” men do, whilst “good” men do the opposite.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)
Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

Fielding beguiles his readers into thinking that Wild is a hero (in the proper sense of the word – a man to be admired, respected), etc. And Fielding proceeds to write about his ‘hero’ as though he were some illustrious person, exercising all the qualities of “great” men. For example, when he works behind the scenes to have one of his own friends imprisoned in Newgate, Wild immediately goes to visit his friend in gaol, ‘for he was none of those half-bread fellows who are ashamed to see their friends when they have plundered and betrayed them.’

Wild, the ‘Great Man,’ as all great men do, has nothing but contempt for good men. This is shown by his treatment of an old school friend called Mr. Heartfree. Fielding writes that this Mr. Heartfree:

Had several great weaknesses of mind; being too good-natured, friendly, and generous to a great excess. He had, indeed, little regard for common justice…his life was extremely temperate, his expenses solely being confined to the cheerful entertainment of his friends at home.

Of course we, the reader, secretly want to sympathise with Heartfree, especially when Wild moves things behind the scenes to have him committed to gaol and hanged (he does this a few times in the novel).

Towards the end of the novel, however, Fielding tells the reader that they were silly, all along, to admire such a creature as Wild, when he is finally arrested for being a receiver of stolen goods, and Fielding lists the qualities of this “great” man in great detail, so that his readers too would know when they came across “greatness” in a fellow and avoid them. Wild lays down his maxims for being a great man in the following way:

  1. Never to do more mischief to another than was necessary to the effecting his purpose; for that mischief was too precious a thing to be thrown away.
  2. To know no distinction of men from affection; but to sacrifice all with equal readiness to his interest.
  3. Never to communicate more of an affair to the person who was to execute it.
  4. Not to trust him who hath deceived you, nor who knows that he hath been deceived by you.
  5. To forgive no enemy; but to be cautious and often dilatory in revenge.
  6. To shun poverty and distress, and to ally himself as close as possible to power and riches.
  7. To maintain a constant gravity in his countenance and behaviour, and to affect wisdom on all occasions.
  8. Never to reward any one equal to his merit, but always to insinuate that the reward was above it.
  9. A good name, like money, must be parted with, or at least greatly risked, in order to bring any advantage.

This was not merely an attack on Wild, however, for it was also a critique of politicians, and in particular the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745). Walpole was the first Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Great Britain, and, in Fielding’s view, entrenched his power in the world of courtiers and MPs in the same way that Wild set himself up as the master of London’s low-life and thieves. Walpole was regularly lampooned in the press, and even was equated with Robin Hood on occasion. The constant references to “greatness” and “great man” are a reference to Walpole, who in his role as Prime Minister was often derogatorily called “The Great Man”.

Jonathan Wild and Miss Letitia Snap (from the 1799 edition of Jonathan Wild)
Jonathan Wild and Miss Letitia Snap (from the 1799 edition of Jonathan Wild) [Source: http://www.corbould.com/artists/rc/rc_ex.html%5D

To Fielding, there was no difference between the great men in high life and those in low life.

But I think Fielding’s lessons on goodness and greatness have resonance beyond the 18th century. When people think of history, they often do so in terms of a “great man” approach, and they often (I do on occasion) confuse goodness in a man with greatness. They are not the same thing. Napoleon was a great man, but he was not a good man. Fielding says of Caesar similarly that:

When the mighty Caesar, with wonderful greatness of mind, had destroyed the liberties of his country, and with all the means of fraud and force had placed himself at the head of his equals, had corrupted and enslaved the greatest people whom the sun ever saw; we are reminded, as an evidence of his generosity, of his largesses [gifts] to his followers and tools, by whose means he had accomplished his purpose and by whose assistance he was to establish it.

Fielding chose Caesar and Alexander because the Georgians practically idolised the Classical period, but the same could be true of our own day and our veneration of, say, Winston Churchill. The English nation praises him for being a Great Man, but he was not necessarily a Good Man.

The Worst Novel I’ve Ever Read: Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela” (1740)

Frontispiece to Pamela, Vol. 1 (1740).
Frontispiece to Pamela, Vol. 1 (1740).

This post is written tongue-in-cheek (although, in truth, I really do not wish to ever revisit the works of Samuel Richardson ever again!)


I feel bad writing about something like this, like I’m betraying my eighteenth-century roots. Whilst I love the period because it gave us writers like Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, William Godwin, and Mary Wolstonecraft. If you’re an eighteenth-century scholar, you might notice that there’s one significant name missing from that literary pantheon. This is Samuel Richardson. May you never have to come across his work! I hated it.

There. I said it. I hate Samuel Richardson.

I did my undergraduate dissertation on eighteenth-century print culture: periodicals, novels, and satirical prints. I tasked myself with reading the works of some of the literary worthies from that period. So I enthusiastically got stuck into Fielding and Defoe.

But then there was Richardson.

But what did he do that was so bad, you might ask?

He wrote novels. His works weren’t satirical like Pope’s. They were no adventures like in Defoe’s books. They weren’t amusing like Fielding’s. They weren’t whacky like Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (still can’t fathom that one, really). They weren’t radical like Godwin’s and Wolstonecraft’s.

No. Richardson’s works are in a league of monotony that is all their own.

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded was written by Richardson in 1740. Originally published in two volumes, it is what is known as an epistolary novel. Apparently this was quite innovative for the eighteenth century, as no one, surprisingly, had thought of doing it before.

Samuel Richardson
Samuel Richardson

The plot recounts the tale of Pamela, a servant in the household of an upper-class man, Mister B. He falls in love with Pamela, and makes repeated attempts at seducing her. I seem to remember him hiding in her room at some point and watching her undress. I could be wrong of course (please don’t make me look it up, I couldn’t handle opening that book again). She resists these attempts until finally, as the title suggests, her virtue is rewarded and he marries her, having been so impressed by her moral goodness.

The tale literally takes place inside one household. That literally is it.

Here is an example of some of the language in the novel:

LETTER VIII
DEAR PAMELA,
I cannot but renew my cautions on your master’s kindness, and his free expression to you about the stockings. Yet there may not be, and I hope there is not, any thing in it. But when I reflect, that there possibly may, and that if there should, no less depends upon it than my child’s everlasting happiness in this world and the next; it is enough to make one fearful for you. Arm yourself, my dear child, for the worst; and resolve to lose your life sooner than your virtue. What though the doubts I filled you with, lessen the pleasure you would have had in your master’s kindness; yet what signify the delights that arise from a few paltry fine clothes, in comparison with a good conscience?
These are, indeed, very great favours that he heaps upon you, but so much the more to be suspected; and when you say he looked so amiably, and like an angel, how afraid I am, that they should make too great an impression upon you! For, though you are blessed with sense and prudence above your years, yet I tremble to think, what a sad hazard a poor maiden of little more than fifteen years of age stands against the temptations of this world, and a designing young gentleman, if he should prove so, who has so much power to oblige, and has a kind of authority to command, as your master.

Yawn. It literally does not get any better.

Now, whilst the novel was a commercial success, with Pamela motifs appearing all over in prints, and ceramic decorations, not everyone was convinced of this tale of a virtuous young woman who manages to tame a ‘wild’ aristocratic suitor. Least of all was Richardson’s fellow novelist Fielding. Rather than seeing Pamela as a tale of bourgeois virtue winning out against aristocratic immorality, he saw it as a tale of ruthless ambition. Pamela was not virtuous but scheming and manipulative, and wrapped Mr. B. around her little finger. So in 1741 Fielding wrote, and I quote the full long version of the title here:

An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews. In Which, the Many Notorious Falshoods and Misrepresentations of a Book Called PAMELA, Are Exposed and Refuted; and All the Matchless ARTS of that Young POLITICIAN, Set in a True and Just Light. Together with A Full Account of all that Passed Between Her and Parson Arthur Williams; whose Character is Represented in a Manner Something Different from what he Bears in Pamela. The Whole Being Exact Copies of Authentick Papers Delivered to the Editor.

Shamela
Henry Fielding’s Shamela (1741)

Despite having his detractors, such as Fielding (though Fielding never actually claimed authorship), Richardson was encouraged by the commercial success of Pamela into writing another, even longer novel, in the same epistolary style, entitled Clarissa, or The History of Young Lady (1748). Apparently this is Richardson’s masterpiece…it is also said to be one the longest novels in the English language – it was published in 7 volumes!!! At least readers in the eighteenth century got the option of not reading all the way to the end; they could simply decline to read the book any further.

Apparently Richardson’s novel, Clarissa, is our 4th greatest novel, so the Guardian newspaper says (well, it would, wouldn’t it?). Maybe read for yourself and judge.

So there, just know that I’ve read Pamela so you don’t have to.


Read Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) here.

Read Clarissa, or  the History of a Young Lady (1748) here.

…or, you could just read Henry Fielding’s satire, which is much shorter, here.

Criminality in Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838)

Fagin and his Gang - Illustration by George Cruikshank (1838)
Fagin and his Gang – Illustration by George Cruikshank (1838)

The master of the Victorian social novel was undoubtedly Charles Dickens. His novel, Oliver Twist was published in serial instalments in Bentley’s Miscellany between 1837 and 1838 and was perceived by contemporaries to be a Newgate novel [1]. The reason that it was perceived so is because critics felt that it glorified members of the criminal underworld. Dickens’ novel was published alongside William Harrison Ainsworth’s second Newgate novel, Jack Sheppard, in the same magazine; Dickens was Ainsworth’s friend, and the two men even considered collaborating on a novel [2]. Dickens’ tale of an orphan who falls into the clutches of the criminal underworld was set in nineteenth-century London, and the novel attacked the recently passed Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which had expanded the workhouse system. Dickens was ‘one of the people to light a fuse of criticism that was to blow the calculated neglect and casual cruelty of the workhouse system away’ [3].

Dickens’ critique of the workhouse system is less important here than his representations of nineteenth-century criminal underworld figures, and it is Fagin and Bill Sikes that I wish to discuss here. Dickens draws upon gothic literary conventions by representing in his novel two binary camps of good and evil. The ‘good’ camps in the novel are those of Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies. The ‘bad’ camps are those of Bill Sykes and Fagin [4]. The two camps vie with each other throughout the novel to claim the innocence of young Oliver. The first time this is apparent is when Oliver comes into contact with Fagin, a receiver of stolen goods, who runs a criminal gang of young pickpockets. The types of gangs run by Fagin were common in nineteenth-century London. Often they were to be found in some of the common lodging houses, where ‘keepers maintained gangs of professional child thieves and even ran schools for pickpockets’ [5]. Fagin attempts to teach Oliver how to be a thief through a series of childish games:

“Is my handkerchief hanging out of my pocket?” said the Jew.
“Yes, Sir,” said Oliver.
“See if you can take it out, without my feeling it: as you saw them do, when we were at play this morning” [6].

Fagin’s attempts to convert Oliver into a criminal fail and this perplexes him as he has managed to corrupt other young boys prior to meeting Oliver. Oliver is ‘not easy to train…not like other boys in the same circumstance’ [7]. The reason for this is that young Oliver is actually middle class by birth and represented as inherently innocent, and theft is the ‘single specific crime that menaces Oliver’s innocence’ [8]. The reason Fagin’s other boys had been corrupted was because they were members of the ‘criminal class,’ a notion which gained currency between the 1820s and 1830s [9]. According to this idea, there was a dangerous criminal class lurking beneath the working class in the poorest districts of cities [10]. In contrast to Ainsworth’s gentlemanly Dick Turpin in Rookwood, the villains of Dickens’ work were hideous creatures who lived in dirty hovels in the rookery of Saffron Hill, Holborn. Dickens described Fagin and his lair in the following way: ‘the walls of the ceiling of the room were perfectly black with age and dirt…standing over them, with a toasting fork in his hand, was a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villainous looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair’ [11]. For ‘Fagin’ readers would have inferred ‘Satan’; the hook-nose and the toasting fork drawing upon older Christian images of the devil [12]. In contrast to Ainsworth’s Dick Turpin, in Dickens’ work there was ‘no canterings on moonlit heaths, no merry-makings in the snuggest of all possible caverns…none of the dash and freedom with which [highwaymen have] been time out of mind invested’ [13]. Thus the highwayman of old was a product of the pre-industrial, rural England, whilst Fagin was essentially a product of an urbanised society, and represented the worst of that society, being a member of the ‘criminal class’.

Oliver_Twist_08
Bill Sikes and Oliver Twist – Illustration by George Cruikshank (1838)

Dickens’ other criminal character was the house-breaker Bill Sikes. Sikes is described as ‘bad-tempered and uncivil’ [14]. He is also murderous. He kills his lover, Nancy, because he believes that she has ‘peached’ on him:

The robber sat regarding her, for a few seconds, with dilated nostrils and heaving breast; and then, grasping her by the throat, dragged her into the middle of the room…the housebreaker freed one arm, and grabbed his pistol. The certainty of detection if he fired, flashed across his mind even in the midst of his fury, and he beat it twice with all the force he could summon, upon [her] upturned face…The murder…seized a heavy club and struck her down [15].

Sikes is dehumanised in this passage and descends through three gradations. At first he was simply a robber. Robbers can be accepted and even revered to a certain extent in their respective societies (think Robin Hood) [16]. He is then described as a house-breaker. The offence of house-breaking was less palatable to people than was highway robbery, for example, because since the eighteenth century, ‘the perimeter of “the private house” represented a sacred frontier’ [17]. Finally he became a murderer. Murder was reviled because ‘homicide is the most dramatic crime of violence’ [18]. Indeed, the people who cheered highwaymen at public executions were often unanimous in their condemnation of murderers [19]. There is a clear contrast between Ainsworth’s Turpin, who shrinks from shedding blood, and Sikes who spills it. Dickens did not allow the reader to have sympathy with his criminals. The highwayman may have been a romantic figure galloping on the heath in the moonlight, but nineteenth-century slum dwelling criminals were altogether baser creatures; creatures of the newly-emerging criminal class.


[1] Pykett, L. (2003). ‘The Newgate Novel and Sensation Fiction’, p.21
[2] Emsley, C. (1987). Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900. London: Harper, p.84
[3] Tindall, G. (2012). ‘Dickens’ London: Further Twists’. History Today 62(12) [Internet] http://www.historytoday.com/gillian-tindall/dickens-london-further-twists [Accessed 16/07/2014]
[4] West, N.M. (1989). ‘Order and Disorder: Surrealism and Oliver Twist’. South Atlantic Review 54(2), p.43
[5] Chesney, K. (1970). The London Underworld. London: Penguin, p.111
[6] Dickens, C. (1838:1930). Oliver Twist. London: Odhams Press, p.69

[7] Dickens, C. (1838: 1930). Oliver Twist, p.181
[8] Wolff, L. (1996). ‘“The Boys are Pickpockets, and the Girl is a Prostitute”: Gender and Juvenile Criminality in Early Victorian England from Oliver Twist to London Labour’. New Literary History 27(2), p.234
[9] Shore, H. (1999). Artful Dodgers, p.19
[10] Emsley, C. (1987). Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900, p.114
[11] Dickens, C. (1838:1930). Oliver Twist, p.64
[12] Rosenberg, E. (1960). From Shylock to Svengali: Jewish Stereotypes in English Fiction. Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.126
[13] Dickens, C. (1838: 1930). Oliver Twist, p.14
[14] Spraggs, G. (2001). Outlaws and Highwaymen, p.245
[15] Dickens, C. (1838:1930) Oliver Twist, pp.324-325

[16] Hobsbawm, E. (1969) Bandits, p.19
[17] Vickery, A. (2009). Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. Yale University Press, p.33
[18] Emsley, C. (1987). Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900, p.41
[19] Gatrell, V.A.C. (1994). The Hanging Tree, pp.99-100

Eugene Sue’s “The Mysteries of Paris” (1843)

4In the 19 June 1842 issue of the Parisian magazine, Journal des Debats, a new serialised story appeared entitled The Mysteries of Paris, which ran weekly until 15 October 1843.

The novel was written by Eugene Sue (1804-1857), and the plot concerns a man called Rodolphe who moves through the Parisian underworld doing good works, such as saving young girls from procuresses (women who would pimp other women out). In time, it turns out that Rodolphe is actually a very rich man, and heir to a German dukedom.

2The plot was inspired by his political beliefs, for Sue was a socialist, and his rendering of the desperate plight of the Parisian underclasses was intended to inspire sympathy among for them amongst his affluent readers. This is perhaps why Richard Maxwell sees in Sue’s novel the first glimmers of what he calls ‘bleeding heart liberalism’ (think The Guardian newspaper). In addition to having written some fairly successful novels, he took part in the French Revolution of 1848, after which time he was elected to the Parisian Legislative Assembly, however, with Napoleon III’s coup d’etat, he was exiled to Savoy and spent the rest of his days there.

Richard Tennebaum argues that The Mysteries of Paris, along with The Mysteries of London (1845) which it inspired, represented a new genre of fiction: the urban gothic. In these novels the modern industrial city provided the setting for a gothic romance, in contrast to the rural gothic settings of writers such as Matthew Lewis and William Harrison Ainsworth. The City is portrayed in these City Mysteries as a maze where all manner of vice and crime exist, from fashionable high class residences to the slum districts.

Paris1The novel appears to have been well received amongst readers of all classes; and of course G. W. M. Reynolds was quite taken with it, seeing as he produced his own The Mysteries of London, and Sue’s novel was also translated into English as a penny blood, or penny dreadful, and went through several editions. In fact, Sue’s serial kicked off a whole ‘City Mysteries’ genre:

  • Les Vrais Mysteres des Paris by Eugene Vidocq
  • The Mysteries of London by G. W. M. Reynolds
  • The Mysteries of Lisbon by Camilo Branco
  • The Slums of St. Petersburg by Vsevolod Krestovsky
  • The Mysteries of New York by Ned Buntline

It should not be supposed that Sue’s novel, in contrast to the many other penny serials at this time, was aimed at children (penny bloods typically featured boy thieves and highwaymen from the eighteenth century). Instead this is a serial which was read by adults, and indeed, it would be only in the latter part of the 1800s that penny serials would become targeted specifically towards young readers.

Despite being one of the most successful novels of the nineteenth century, and having inspired a host of imitators, there has as yet been no English language film made of it (nor of Reynolds’ Mysteries either). There was one French film made back in the 1960s but, alas, it is extremely hard to get hold of, so I doubt I’ll be watching it anytime soon!

Here are some of the images from the first English edition of the novel:

   

                            


Read the 1887 edition of The Mysteries of Paris here.