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on 26 May 2001
Many might consider 'Tom Jones' as the crowning achievement of Henry Fielding's career, but 'Joseph Andrews' is central to discussions on the early development of the novel and also (with the hilarious 'Shamela')to the Fielding/Samuel Richardson debate. Having said that, there are so many editons of 'Joseph Andrews' and 'Shamela' available at the moment that one feels there is little left for editors to add on either count. That is where a volume like this shines through, giving so much more than just the texts themselves and a re-hashed summary of the 'Pamela' debate. The main text follows the established 'Wesleyan' edition of 'Joseph Andrews'(1742) and, in common with all modern editions, gives the short spoof 'Shamela'(1741) too. Joseph Andrews is the chaste and virtuous brother of the titular character in Richardson's 'Pamela'(1740). Dismissed from service for declining the advances of his mistress, he hits the road with his friend Parson Adams and the story follows his adventures thereon as he seeks his true love Fanny. 'Shamela' is a short epistolary work spoofing Pamela's innocence and virtue and turning it into artful cunning to win her Squire's love. Further to these the volume contextualises the pieces with other work by Fielding and samples from other writers, including extracts from Richardson's novel which Fielding openly lampooned. The contemporary responses are useful and enlightening, and the critical essays cover a much wider scope than a single editorial introduction can. A generous and well-rounded package through and through. One of the most comprehensive Norton editions to date.
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Fielding's basic concept is describing 'manners, not men.'
His main characters are two paragons of chastity (Joseph and his girlfriend Fanny) and a model Christian (parson Abraham Adams).
During their tumultuous itinerary, they are confronted with vanity, avarice, envy, ambition, ingratitude, selfishness, intolerance, venality, hate, lust, folly, malice, deceit, rage and all this behind a veil of hypocrisy (Do as I say, not as I do): 'Lord, it is true I never obeyed one of thy commandments, yet punish me not, for I believe them all.'
The overall mentality is calvinist fatalism: 'We must submit to Providence', and 'no accident happens to us without the Divine permission ... the same power which made us, rules over us, and we are absolutely at his disposal, he may do with us what he pleases, nor have we any right to complain.'
There is also a Malthusian accent: 'he shall not settle here, and bring a nest of beggars into the parish.'
Christianity is only a tiny film of varnish: 'that it was possible in a country professing Christianity, for a wretch to starve in the midst of his fellow-creatures who abounded.'
Socially, the few wealthy rule over the many poor. 'The worst consequence of poverty is dependence on the great.'
Another characteristic is the blatant misogyny, through its picture of the lewdness and vulgarity of women (in sharp contrast with Fanny's manners): 'I am no meat for a footman.'
This rich, lively, fresh and satirical text contains anti-novel sparks and many modern ingredients ('a set of jolly companions ... Their best conversation was nothing but noise.')
But the novel as a whole is loosely built (no real plot) and sometimes too scholarly and boring. It ends in a pure Menander-style.
Still, it is a worth-while read.
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