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Comic and bawdy - but with a solid moral core
on 13 November 2011
Written in 1742, seven years before Fielding's better known Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews is a good-natured and rambling prequel which shares many of the qualities of the later book. Initially inspired by Richardson's Pamela, who is the sister to Fielding's eponymous hero, the novel takes off on a Cervantean picaresque road adventure full of mock-epic heroics and bawdy humour, but with a solid moral core.
Unlike the later Tom Jones, Joseph is chaste and, it must be said, little more than a cipher, but his love for Fanny, which drives some of the plotting, is charming in a pastoral way. The centre of the book really belongs to Parson Adams, an innocent abroad, ever-forgetful, shocked by the immorality of the world - and our guiding compass.
Overall Fielding is an optimistic writer, and even his castigation of human nature is witty rather than disgusted, though some of the villains in the book deserve their punishments. Putting Joseph Andrews back into its social context of political ferment and ethical considerations reveals it as a text with a more serious aim than the easy, comic tone might initially suggest.