Some study questions for Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews

1. What is the effect for you as a reader of Fielding's decision to employ a highly involved (but nevertheless third-person) narrator as his storyteller?

2. What is the purpose of both the preface (the author speaking to the reader) and the opening chapter (the narrator to the reader) each of these introductions? How do they establish tone?
--Why does Fielding separate chapter 1 from the preface? Is the narrator different from the author, or is the narrator actually Fielding himself? How do you decide?

3. At the beginning of chapter 2 Joseph is "esteemed" to be the Andrews' son, yet at the very end we learn he is not their natural son. Has the narrator, then, lied to us in chapter 2, or has he simply avoided telling us the truth? What is the importance of this distinction?
--In light of our discovery about Joseph's actual parentage, what other "facts" in the story are not what we initially take them to be? How important a device is this reversal of our expectations as readers?

4. Are Joseph, Fanny, and Adams "round" or "flat" characters? How do you know?
--Are the characters in the novel generally "types" or are they drawn as real "individuals"?

5. In what ways do the characters in this novel reflect different emphases, different circumstances, and different values from those we associate with most of the characters and settings we have encountered in the other works we've covered so far in this course?
--What's different about the world they inhabit? And what is the same?

6. In what ways do Joseph Andrews and Abraham Adams reflect their biblical forerunners? In what ways do they differ from them?

7. Why does Fielding so insistently stress the chastity of Joseph and Fanny? Is it related to Joseph's claims that he can preserve his "virtue" and control his passions (NAL Signet, pp. 37, 43, 53) [Dover pp. 17-18, 22, 31]?
--Is it possible that these repeated claims are related also to the sort of behaviors we observe in the comedy of manners tradition as represented in the plays of Aphra Behn, William Congreve, and others? If so, what would the relation seem to be?

8. Consider Abraham Adams as:
      a. "hero": in what ways does he conform to and/or differ from our expectations about heroism?
      b. "the moral man" or the archetypal "good man"
      c. the naif (i.e., the naive, simple or uninitiated figure who goes about passing judgment upon the behavior and values of the society that surrounds him)
      d. archetype: if he is an archetypal figure, explain further.

9. In what ways does the narrator reveal his opinions of Adams? From the reader's standpoint, are the narrator's comments and biases helpful or troublesome? Why?

10. What are Parson Adams' chief flaws? What are his chief virtues? And what relation do both bear to the values we associate with early eighteenth-century British culture?

11. It has been said that Fielding creates a new sort of hero in Adams, not the traditional epic hero (Ulysses, Achilles) but the true Christian, the man of moral courage and generous heart. Does this judgment strike you as accurate? Give examples to support your answer, whether it is yes or no.

12. On NAL Signet page 51[Dover p. 29] Mrs. Tow-wouse says, "Common charity, a fart." How typical of the attitudes of the other figures in the novel is her comment?
--A related point: Is Fielding bemoaning the loss of charity in the world in general, or is he in fact pointing out that it does still exist?

13. Mr. Wilson says, "Vanity is the worst of passions, and more apt to contaminate the mind than any other" (p. 183). Is he right? What is his purpose in the novel anyway?

14. Note the apostrophe to Vanity (p. 62) [Dover p. 39]. Remember that vanity is cited as being at the root of the "true ridiculous" (pp. viii-ix) [Dover pp. xi-xiii]. Since vanity is obviously a major theme in the novel, what are its effects upon the characters and situations Fielding describes?

15. In Joseph Andrews the three most virtuous and moral characters appear to suffer the most. What sort of justice is that? Are there any precedents that Fielding and his readers might have known for this sort of beleaguering of decent, virtuous persons? How is it that both "good" and "bad" survive and even prosper?

16. What is the relationship of the "good Samaritan" episode (Book I, chapter 12) to the novel as a whole?

17. Note that Mr. Tow-wouse (Book I, Chapter 12-13), the host of another inn (II, 16) and a peddler (II, 15) all show charity to Adams and company, as had the postilion. Is there any particular significance in the fact that it is generally lower- and middle-class figures like these who are often charitable while the nobility is often vicious? Remember that Mr. Booby is benevolent and Mrs. Tow-wouse is vicious.

18. Is there any particular significance to the fact that so much time is spent on the road, with characters making journeys of various sorts?

19. Fielding says in the preface that he has exhibited vices in the novel for the purpose of arousing the reader's detestation. Give examples. Does Fielding succeed in his efforts?

20. Is this novel realistic? What devices does Fielding employ to try to give the novel a sense of realism and authenticity? And what relation does the ostensible realism of the novel bear to the ostensible realism of works like Alexander Pope's poem, The Rape of the Lock?

21. Why does the titular "hero" of the novel, Joseph Andrews, seem to be overshadowed by Abraham Adams? Why didn't Fielding simply go ahead and title the book after the parson?

Portrait of Henry Fielding

Some Internet Resources

Here is an excellent website with lots of materials by and about Henry Fielding


Brief biography of Henry Fielding.

Electronic text of Joseph Andrews (from Bibliomania)

Electronic Text of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling [1749] (from Bibliomania)

There is a wonderful set of modern detective novels by an author who wrote under the name of "Bruce Alexander" (actual name: Bruce Alexander Cook, 1932-2003) and featuring Henry Fielding's blind brother, the London magistrate Sir John Fielding. These novels contain excellent details about life in London during the middle of the eighteenth century. The novels are excellent "reads," even for those who are not fans of the detective story. Here is a link to a page that introduces the Sir John Fielding mysteries.

Discussions of Fielding's fiction often mention the many thematic and stylistic relationships that exist between his literary works and the visual works of his equally famous friend and contemporary, William Hogarth. We will examine some of these connections in class when we discuss Joseph Andrews, but you may wish to get a better idea of Hogarth's works on your own. He painted many important pictures, and many of those paintings were also prepared and published as black-and-white engravings, as were other subjects that Hogarth created strictly in the black-and-white medium of the engraved print.. For one good site where you can look at some fifty examples of Horath's visual work, click right here.

Stephen C. Behrendt, 7/25/11