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Henry Fielding

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Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) is a novelist credited with founding the Modern English Novel alongside the novelist Samuel Richardson. His novels are comedic and satirical, fitting into the picaresque and Mock-Heroic genres. His most famous novels include The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams (1742), The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), and Amelia (1751).

Did you know Henry Fielding went by the pennames Captain Hercules Vinegar and H. Scriblerus Secundus to remain anonymous? The name H. Scriblerus Secundus was inspired by the Scriblerus club, a literary circle of satirists that featured Jonathan Swift, among others.

The Biography of Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding was born in 1707 in Somerset, England. Fielding's mother died when Fielding was young, leaving him in his grandmother's care after she settled a suit for custody from Fielding's father, Lt. General Edmund Fielding. He grew up in London, attended Eton College, and later studied classics and law at Leiden University. When he went to Leiden, he was quickly sent back to London due to a lack of finances.

Henry Fielding, London Bridge, StudySmarterFielding grew up and worked in London, Pixabay

Back in London, Fielding began to write plays aimed at criticizing the government, specifically the prime minister at the time, Sir Robert Walpole. Fielding's plays belonged to the political satire genre. Due in part to Fielding's inflammatory plays, including the anonymously written The Golden Rump (1737), the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 was passed.

The Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 was a law passed by the British Government that censored what could be said about the British Government in theatrical performances. Any play that was written had to be approved by the Examiner and the Lord Chamberlain. Censorship in theatre remained a practice in England until it was abolished with the Theatres Act of 1968.

Unable to write his political satires, Fielding left the theatre and became a barrister in the British Government. Fielding, his wife, and two children often faced bouts of poverty but were saved by the philanthropist Ralph Allen.

Henry Fielding, Playbill, StudySmarterUnable to perform his play, Fielding wrote many printed plays anonymously, Pixabay

Fielding continued writing political satire in the form of printed plays under pen names to stay anonymous. Fielding wrote anonymously for a periodical called The Craftsman between 1734-1739. The Craftsman was a Tory publication that criticized the prime minister's involvement with corruption.

Tory refers to a political party that opposed liberalism and believed in the monarchy, hierarchy, and natural order. They also defended the Anglican church.

Whig refers to a political party that believed the federal government should support its citizens through infrastructure, economic development, and business.

During the prime ministry of Sir Robert Walpole, Whigs (the opposing party to Tories) and Tories both opposed his rule. Fielding considered himself a Whig even though he wrote for a Tory publication.

Fielding wrote many politically charged pieces throughout the 1730s and 1740s, including his version of the play Don Quixote (1734), The Universal Gallant (1735), and Pasquin (1736). Fielding also worked as a writer and editor for the satirical paper The Champion and as a chief writer of the Whigs under Henry Pellham. After Samuel Richardson, an English novelist, published his successful novel Pamela (1740), Fielding decided to write his novels. His first novel was called Shamela (1741), a parody of Pamela. He published it anonymously under the name Mr. Conny Keyber.

Henry Fielding, writing a novel, StudySmarterFielding's first novel is a parody called Shamela, Pixabay

Fielding then wrote The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams (1742). This novel was unique for Fielding's use of both poetry and dramatic comedy. Fielding wrote a few more novels, such as The Female Husband (1746), before writing his most famous piece, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749).Along with his successful writing career, Fielding continued working in politics. He became London's chief magistrate and was concerned with criminality in London. He is credited with founding the Bow Street Runners in 1749, London's first police force. In 1752, he wrote Examples of the Interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder. In 1753, he wrote Proposals for Making an Effectual Provisions for the Poor, both concerned with reducing corruption in London and providing humanitarian justice to the poor. Fielding suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and gout. He went to Portugal for treatment but died in 1754. He is buried in Lisbon in the British cemetery.

Henry Fielding and the Modern English Novel

Henry Fielding, Modern English Novel, StudySmarterHenry Fielding is one of the founders of the Modern English Novel, Pixabay

Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson are credited with founding the Modern English Novel. Different sources claim different novels as the first true English novel, but most come from the 15th and 16th centuries. Early English Novels were longer stories written in prose that centered around a fictional plotline with fictional characters. Usually, they would be inspired by tales and stories from the past. The Modern English Novel, however, changed English literature. The main characteristics of the Modern English Novel, found in many of Fielding's novels, include realistic settings and plots, characters of all social classes facing real-world issues, extensive use of satire, and the concept of individualism.

Novels by Henry Fielding

Fielding wrote many satirical plays throughout his literary career, but he is most well known for being a contributing founder of the Modern English Novel.

The Modern English Novel focuses on contemporary lives rather than the previous form of writing that relied heavily on fables and the retelling of tales. Characters were depicted as interacting with their everyday realities.

The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams (1742)

The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams (1742) follows the story of a footman named Joseph Andrew and his friend Abraham Adams as they venture to London together. It is a comedic story that follows the pair through many misadventures. The two are challenged with questions of morality, especially the question of chastity in the face of desire. Joseph Andrews is considered a Mock-Heroic and Neoclassical novel that fits into the Augustan Age of Literature.

Learn more about Augustan Age literature below in the section titled "The Writing Style of Henry Fielding."

Mock-Heroic literature parodies the classical notion of a hero. A classical hero has a skill, talent, or quality that sets them apart from the rest of society, which they use to perform brave deeds. Mock-heroes are often foolish characters in the role of a hero or are an exaggerated version of a hero.

Neo-Classical literature is literature written between 1660 and 1798 that tries to imitate and take inspiration from Roman and Greek art, architecture, and literature. Key themes include symmetry, clarity, and rationality.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749)

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), also known as Tom Jones, is Henry Fielding's most famous novel. It follows the story of Tom Jones, an orphan adopted by Squire Allworthy who believes Tom to be his illegitimate child. The novel focuses on the romance between Tom and his neighbor, the virtuous Sophia Western. The bildungsroman and satirical novel fit into the Picaresque genre of literature. The novel, through the character of Tom Jones, evaluates the flaws of human nature and virtue.

A bildungsroman is a genre of literature that follows a character's growth and development throughout life. There is a focus on their psychological, spiritual, and moral growth.

A satirical novel is a type of literature that uses humor and irony to criticize and mock an issue, institution, person, etc.

A Picaresque Novel is a genre of literature that originated in Spain in the mid-16th century. A key characteristic of the genre is a roguish, unlikely hero that comes from a lower-class status and lives in a corrupt society. The plot is less important than the series of adventures the protagonist goes on. Picaresque novels are usually told from the first-person point of view.

Henry Fielding, Comedy, StudySmarterMany of Fielding's novels contain elements of Comedy such as irony and mockery, Pixabay

Amelia (1751)

Henry Fielding's final novel, Amelia (1751), focuses on the newlyweds Amelia and Captain William Booth as they grapple with challenges such as false imprisonment, desire, and debt. The novel is classical and alludes to many works by the Roman author, Virgil, namely his epic The Aeneid (29-19 BCE). The novel contains themes related to gender, such as the intelligence of women. It is a domestic novel that is more sentimental in tone than his other novels, which are satirical and comedic.

The titular character of Amelia is based on Fielding's first wife Charlotte, who died ten years into their marriage. The character of Captain Booth is based on Fielding's irresponsible father, Lt. General Edmund Fielding.

The Writing Style of Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding wrote during a period of literary history known as the Augustan Age.

Augustan Age literature first appeared during the reign of Queen Anne (1707-1714) and lasted until the mid-1740s. Augustan Age literature was marked by advancements in the Modern English novel and an increase in political satire and poetry that focused on the individual's journey. Along with Henry Fielding, other notable Augustan Age writers include Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift.

Henry Fielding spent most of his career writing political satires, Mock-Heroic novels, and Picaresque novels.

Henry Fielding's political satires use humor and irony to criticize the British Government of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and point out flaws in the literary censorship under the current government. Due to the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737, Fielding felt suffocated and unable to freely express his political opinions.

Fielding's satirical play The Grub Street Opera (the last version was written in 1731 but was never performed) was a political satire aimed at pointing out the flaws in the British Government. Fielding criticized both those who supported and opposed the government, leaving his political views out of the discussion. The play also used humor to point out problems with the Grub Street literary community and question the literary trope of working-class women being sexually open and promiscuous.

Fielding was also known for his Picaresque novels. The best examples of Fielding's Picaresque novels include Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews, both of which include unlikely heroes who must use their wit and cleverness to navigate usually corrupt aspects of society.

Fielding's writing style is characterized by a sense of realism using straightforward, plain language. Fielding focused on vivid imagery understandable to all classes of society and avoided using figurative and elevated language. Fielding's use of irony and mockery to create comedic storylines also made his novels and plays more attractive to general society.

The door of the room now flew open, and, after pushing in her hoop sideways before her, entered Lady Bellaston, who having first made a very low courtesy to Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and as low a one to Mr. Jones was ushered to the upper end of the room.

We mention these minute matters for the sake of some country ladies of our acquaintance, who think it contrary to the rules of modesty to bend their knees to a man," (Chapter 4, Book 13, Tom Jones).

In this excerpt from Fielding's Tom Jones, the reader can see Fielding's writing style. Fielding describes humorous details using simple language that is easy to visualize, such as Lady Bellaston having to move through the door sideways because her skirt is too large to fit through it. One can also see the irony of an upper-class woman made to look ridiculous in front of lower-class people by curtseying low in front of Mr. Jones.

Quotes by Henry Fielding

To understand the works of Henry Fielding, it is important to be able to analyze excerpts from his written works. Below are a few quotes that point out key characteristics of his writing style.

Reader, I think proper, before we proceed any farther together, to acquaint thee that I intend to digress, through this whole history, as often as I see occasion, of which I am myself a better judge than any pitiful critic..." (Chapter 2, Book 1, Tom Jones).

In this quote from Fielding's novel, Tom Jones, Fielding shows a high level of self-awareness as an author. Fielding was known for going on lengthy digressions throughout his novel to richen the plotline. In this quote, Fielding is justifying his reasoning for digressing to keep the reader engaged. Readers at the time may notice a shift away from the main plot and lose interest, but by announcing he will digress, Fielding is reassuring the reader that the digression is important for the main plot.

Guilt has very quick ears to an accusation," (Chapter 11, Book 3, Amelia).

In this quote from Fielding's novel, Amelia, Fielding is humorously painting a personified picture of guilt that has ears and is able to listen in on accusations. Fielding meant for the reader to understand that those who have something to hide will be the first to know if they have been accused and will be incredibly defensive. This contrasts with those who are innocent and do not have to worry about any accusations made of them.

This quote uses humor to make a point. What do you think Fielding is trying to say here? Keep in mind the genre, style, and context to help inform you.

A comic writer should of all others be the least excused for deviating from nature, since it may not be always so easy for a serious poet to meet with the great and the admirable; but life everywhere furnishes an accurate observer with the ridiculous," (Preface, Joseph Andrews).

In this excerpt from Joseph Andrews, Fielding wants the reader to know that comedic writers, such as Fielding, should align themselves more with reality and the real nature of life than perhaps a poet might. Fielding believed this because humor and comedy are a way to point out flaws or absurdities in everyday life. There is no need to fabricate stories to make a point.

Henry Fielding - Key Takeaways

  • Henry Fielding was born in 1707 and began his career as a playwright writing political satire, gradually moving to novel writing in the 1740s.
  • Henry Fielding was incredibly involved with politics and many of his satirical plays such as The Grub Street Opera are meant to poke fun at the government.
  • Henry Fielding is credited with founding the Modern English Novel alongside Samuel Richardson. Fielding is known for his novels Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, and Amelia.
  • Henry Fielding's writing style is considered plain, simple, full of irony and mockery, and realistic.
  • Henry Fielding died in 1754 and is remembered as one of the most influential Augustan Age authors.

Frequently Asked Questions about Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding's novels usually centered around an unlikely hero that has to navigate different aspects of society through a series of adventures. The theme of virtue was prominent in many of his novels. 

Henry Fielding is an English novelist, playwright, and barrister from the 18th century credited with founding the Modern English Novel alongside Samuel Richardson. 

Henry Fielding is credited with founding the Modern English Novel alongside Samuel Richardson because of his innovative use of realistic settings, characters, and conflicts as well as his use of satire. 

Henry Fielding's most famous novel is called The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) 

The first novel written by Henry Fielding was a parody called Shamela (1741). 

Final Henry Fielding Quiz

Question

When was Henry Fielding born?

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1707

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What genre did many of Fielding's plays belong to?

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Political Satire

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What Act was passed by the British Government due in part to Fielding's plays?

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the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737

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What did the Theatrical Liscensing Act of 1737 put into effect?

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It censored what could be said about the British Government in theatrical performances.

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What are the two main political parties in the British Government?

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Tories and Whigs 

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What political party did Fielding align himself with?

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The Whigs

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What prompted Fielding to write his first novel, Shamela (1741)?

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Samuel Richardson wrote a successful novel called Pamela (1740). 

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What are the key characteristics of a Modern English Novel found in many of Fielding's novels?

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Realistic settings and plots, characters of all social classes facing real-world issues as well as extensive use of satire and the concept of individualism are all key characteristics of the Modern English Novel. 

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What is the period in which Fielding wrote in called?

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The Augustan Age 

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Which of Henry Fielding's novels is considered a Mock-Heroic and Neo-Classical Novel?

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The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams (1742) 

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Which of Henry Fielding's novels is most well known?

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The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749)

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What are the key characteristics of a Picaresque Novel?

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 A key characteristic of the genre is a roguish, unlikely hero that comes from a lower-class status and lives in a corrupt society.

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What are key characteristics of Henry Fielding's writing style?

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Fielding's writing style is characterized by a sense of realism using very simple and plain language.

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What Roman author is alluded to multiple times in Fielding's novel, Amelia?

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Virgil

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What is the name of the Prime Minister Henry Fielding was incredibly critical of?

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Sir Robert Walpole

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It can be inferred that the author of Tom Jones believes that

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marriage should be based on love

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Allworthy most likely interprets Tom's drinking, fighting, and philandering in book V as

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a sign that he is celebrating Allworthy's illness and possible death

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Tom Jones is regarded as one of the first great

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comic novels

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Tom writes a letter asking Sophia to forget him in Book VII because

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his lack of status and money makes him a bad match for her

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Which of the following has an effect on Tom similar to his discovery that Sophia has left an article of clothing in his room in Book X?

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Sophia's discovery of his marriage proposal to Lady Bellaston

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For which of the following reasons does Partridge decide to help Tom?

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He wants to restore his favor with Allworthy and doesn't realize that Tom has been entirely disowned.

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Which of the following best describes the way the novel is narrated?

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An omniscient narrator selectively reveals events and characters' motivations

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Which of the following is true of Allworthy's attitude towards Blifil throughout the novel?

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He believes Blifil is essentially good until his lies are uncovered at the end of the novel

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Who is Tom's mother?

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Bridget Allworthy

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What best describes the tone of the novel?

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Ironic and satirical

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Why does Lady Bellaston want Sophia to marry Lord Fellamar?

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She is jealous of Sophia and wants to punish her.

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All of the following are major themes addressed in the novel EXCEPT

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Death

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