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.