Joseph Andrews Page under construction.


Richardson's novel Pamela, subtitled Virtue Rewarded, was immensely popular when it appeared in 1740. Richardson tells the story, through letters, of the repeated attempts of Pamela's employee, Mr. B–, to seduce her and then to rape her. Won over by her virtue and genteel delicacy, he marries her even thought she is a mere servant. In the view of many readers, this novel equates "virtue" with virginity and the reward of virtue–or managing to stay a virgin–is marriage, and the focus on seduction/rape ignores the diversity of life and of human motivation.

Fielding satirized Pamela with Shamela (1741), whose heroine is a knowing, ambitious, self-centered manipulator. Then in the next year, he wrote Joseph Andrews, which is a second satire of Pamela. Why Fielding wrote two parodies of one novel is puzzling and a variety of explanations have been offered. What is clear is that, though Joseph Andrews may have started as a satire of Pamela, it quickly outgrew that narrow purpose and has amused generations of readers who never heard of Pamela.

As Fielding indicated on the title page of Joseph Andrews, he was imitating Cervantes's Don Quixote, so that his novel is also a picaresque novel–or novel of the road–and an adventure novel. With the introduction of Parson Adams, who has been called the first great comic hero in the English novel and one of the glories of human nature, it also becomes a novel of character. In keeping with Fielding's bent as a moralist and reformer, the satire extends beyond literary matters to society itself, and Fielding exposes the vices and follies not merely of individuals, but also of the upper classes, institutions, and society's values.


  • Appearance versus reality. Who is truly virtuous, charitable, chaste, knowledgeable, just, etc. and who merely pretends to be and/or has the reputation of being so? Characters say one thing and mean another, or they act at variance with their speech. How, in Fielding's view, can the reader distinguish the person who pretends out of vanity or who is hypocritical from the truly good man/woman?

  • Abuse of power, by individuals, classes, institutions.

  • Inhumanity of individuals and society.

  • Lust versus chastity.

  • The nature of goodness. Fielding admired honesty, integrity, simplicity, and charity, believed that virtue is seen in an individual's actions, but recognized the difficulty of making moral judgments. How is the reader to judge the postilion who gave Joseph his coat but was later convicted of stealing chickens? or Betty, who is charitable and promiscuous? Nor do good men necessarily have harmonious relationships or understand each other, as is seen in Adam's interactions with the Catholic priest and the innkeeper previously hoodwinked by the "generous gentleman."

  • Charity. (This theme is related to the issue of faith versus works.)

  • Vanity. Are there degrees or kinds of vanity? The vanity of a Leonora is destructive, but what is the effect of Adams's vanity (his pride in his worldly knowledge derived from books, his pride in his sermons, and his pride in his excellence as a teacher)?

  • City living versus living in retirement in the country. This was a common theme in eighteenth century literature, as it had been in classical Roman literature. Wilson's story contrasts the useless, aimless, destructive life of London with the idyllic, simple pleasures of living in the country.


The narrator, the I who speaks in the novel, is a fictional persona; the narrator's character shifts from historian to creator, reporter, arbiter of morals and manners to manipulator. The narrator is not to be confused with Fielding, who is writing the novel and for whom the narrator is a device to achieve certain effects:
  • The narrator keeps readers conscious that Joseph Andrews is a fiction. By shifting the narrator's character, Fielding reminds readers that he is telling a story whose truth lies, not in its facts, but in the accuracy with which human nature is depicted. The narrator contributes to what Ian Watt calls the novel's "realism of assessment."

  • The fictional narrator puts distance between the reader and the pain, the suffering, and the cruelty depicted in the novel. Does the distance makes them bearable? Is distance perhaps necessary for the novel to be comic? Does the distance created by the narrator allow for greater irony at times?
            Note: Fielding uses other devices to control distance or the reader's involvement in the novel, for instance, the mock heroic language and epic parallels.

  • The narrator helps unify the novel, which is a succession of unrelated incidents.

  • The narrator contributes to the assurance with which Fielding handles his novel by talking to us in a relaxed, at-ease manner.


Some critics suggest that Fielding wrote for two different kinds of readers: the first set of readers consisted of gentlemen like himself who had a classical education and similar values; the second consisted of everyone else. Only the educated would have appreciated Fielding's subtleties and learned allusions and satire.

Fielding also addresses and manipulates a fictional reader in his novel by attributing certain values or attitudes to that reader. Thus the reader addressed or referred to in the novel and the narrator are both fictional characters Then, of course, there are the actual readers–us. One way that Fielding uses the fictional reader is to make us, the actual readers, aware of our own foibles, vanities, and hypocrisies



Here are some questions you might think about as you read or review the novel:
  • Adams has been called a moral touchstone; that is, through contact with him, other characters reveal, unintentionally and usually unperceived by Adams, their moral natures. Does he serve this function in the novel?

  • In view the number of fights Adams becomes involved in and the farcical incidents he is the butt of (e.g., having hogs' blood dumped on him in one incident and urine in another incident), is Adams's dignity, his basic decency, or his moral authority diminished? or even canceled completely?

  • Does Adams learn from his experiences?

  • The title suggests that Joseph Andrews is the hero of the novel (the original title is The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams). Is he? He is certainly what we would today call the romantic lead.

  • Is this an education novel or bildungsroman? Does Joseph grow or develop on their journey? The importance of a guide or mentor runs through the novel; both Leonora and Mr. Wilson lack a mentor to guide them and to inculcate good values. Does Adams serve as Joseph's mentor (and as a guide to his parishioners)? Does Joseph come to be more understanding or more knowledgeable than Parson Adams upon occasion? and his view more sensible?

  • Are actions the only criterion for revealing a person's true character and moral nature?

  • Does Fielding's practice in his novel conform to the literary theories he offers in the preface and three books? Does he, for example, exclude portrayals of vice, as he announces in the Preface? Does his theory of satire and the ridiculous (which he bases on vanity and hypocrisy) apply to Adams? The ridiculous characters are intended to make readers aware of their own vanities and hypocrisies, but would anyone reading about Slipslop or Peter Pounce identify with either?

  • Does Fielding present characters from the inside, so that the reader knows their feelings and motives, or observe them from the outside? Are the characters presented as they see themselves, as the narrator sees them, or as Fielding sees them?


Many readers and critics find the story rambling and haphazard, its incidents neither connected to the protagonist (whether he is perceived to be Adams or Joseph) nor contributing to the denouement. The two interpolated tales of Leonora and Wilson have no necessary connection to the rest of the novel. And some find the ending unsatisfactory and disappointing.


I offer these quotations to stimulate your thinking, not necessarily because they reflect my views.

Mark Spilka: "Fielding always attempted to show that virtue can be a successful way of life."

Maynard Mack asserts that in comedy the reader's point of view must be continuous with "not the character's but the author's."

According to Andrew Wright, Fielding "elevated the novel... to the level of serious playfulness."

Arthur Sherbo: "Without Parson Adams and Mrs. Slipslop, Joseph Andrews is nothing."

Martin C. Battestin sees in Adams "the Christian hero, the representative of good nature and charity, which form the heart of morality."

F. Homes Dudden is "impressed by the wideness of the gulf which seems to separate the classes–the ‘high people' from the ‘low people..."



Day 7 (W, Sept. 25) Fielding, Joseph Andrews, pp.ix-xiv, 1-58
  Overview of Fielding
  Overview of Joseph Andrews
Day 8 (M, Sept. 30) Fielding, Joseph Andrews, pp. 58-121
Day 9 (W, Oct. 2) Fielding, Joseph Andrews, pp. 121-186
Day 10 (M, Oct. 7) Fielding, Joseph Andrews, pp. 186-248
First paper due

Revised: October 6, 2002