Joseph Andrews (Dover Thrift)

by Fielding | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0486415880 Global Overview for this book
Registered by LittleBigDave of Selby, North Yorkshire United Kingdom on 10/26/2008
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by LittleBigDave from Selby, North Yorkshire United Kingdom on Sunday, October 26, 2008
Henry Fielding wrote one of the great comic novels in Tom Jones. Joseph Andrews is similar in nature but falls far short of Fielding's, masterpiece. The book starts out well enough. A handsome, viral young man of low birth (Andrews) is placed in the family of Lord and Lady Booby. The mistress takes a fancy to Andrews and makes him her footman. Lord Booby dies and the lady tries to force her affections on poor Joseph. Being virtuous, as well as attractive to the opposite sex, he refuses her advances and is promptly dismissed. Joseph then sets out to London to meet his true love, Fanny, and along the way joins up with his mentor, Parson Adams, a kind of Don Quixote character complete with a stumbling horse. Before too long Fanny joins the retinue. A good start.

But Fielding gets into trouble because he can't seem to make up his mind as to who his protagonist is. As Joseph begins his journey he is set upon by a group of robbers, beaten, and left naked in a ditch. A coach comes by and the passengers debate whether or not to save him. At last, persuaded that if they did not try they might be liable to be sued for his death they agree to take him up. But a "lady" riding inside the coach refuses to allow a naked man to be placed beside her. There then ensues a debate over who will give their coat to cover Joseph. This depiction is both humorous and a telling commentary of British values in the first half of the eighteenth century. But Andrews it seems is too staid and pure to be the target of the kind low slapstick comedy that Fielding has in mind, thus much of the remainder of the book focuses on the adventures and foibles of the good parson. Joseph is reduced to the role of defender of Fanny and the parson from various assaults on their person and character.

Fielding also goes off on tangents such as the story of Leonora, Mr. Wilson's life history and the tale told by the parson's son toward the end of the book. Fielding's intent is to display some aspects of the social mores of the times, but these asides distract from the flow of the story. At the end of the book Mr. Wilson's history does, in fact, come to play an important part in the story, but the others are mere sidebars to the action. One interesting diversion does occur when Fielding, as an author talking directly to the reader, interjects into the story to provide a rationale for why books are divided into chapters.

Finally, after a series of humorous and often outrageous adventures Joseph, Fanny and Parson Adams return home and face a new series of problems when Lady Booby re-enters the picture and continues her pursuit of Joseph. At his point other characters including Joseph's sister, Pamela and her husband, Mr. Booby (Lady Booby's nephew), a pedlar, an obsequious character, Beau Didapper who lusts after Fanny, the elder Mr. and Mrs. Andrews and finally Mr. and Mrs. Wilson add to the complications. This section of the book is filled with rollicking humor (including a wonderful scene where Parson Adams mistakes Mrs. Slipslop for a man and battles with her in bed and then wanders into Fanny's bed where he is discovered by Joseph), mystery, and problematic situations (including the possibility that Joseph and Fanny are really brother and sister!), until after a tortuous series of events all ends well with even Lady Booby finding love, or at least lust.

I give the book four stars because it really is not on a par with the great comic novels. But it is a fun and enjoyable read. Joseph Andrews is a humorous book and Fielding provides a look at the foibles and character of various English types in his era. The book is well worth reading even though it falls short of the great pieces of satire and humorous literature.

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