Joseph Andrews as parody of Richardson's Pamela

Henry Fielding’s first prose fiction, Shamela is a parody of, and direct response to, the stylistic failings and moral hypocrisy that Fielding saw in Richardson’s Pamela. Though Joseph Andrews in some way continues the satire of Pamela, it quickly outgrew that narrow purpose. Fielding is no longer concerned with the genuineness or falsity of Pamela’s sexual morality, and what is more, the parodic motive has receded drastically.  

The plot begins with a direct link to Richardson’s novel: Pamela has married Mr. B. (now “Mr. Booby”), and Fielding has endowed her with a brother, Joseph Andrews, who is in the service of Mr. Booby’s uncle, Sir Thomas Booby. Sir Thomas’s wife occupies a role analogous to that of Mr. B. in Pamela, as she soon sets about trying to seduce the physically charming Andrews. Parody, however, is never the only, or even the primary, point of the encounters between Joseph and Lady Booby: though Joseph’s “priggishly self-conscious virtue” raises laughs by transferring Pamela’s signature attributes to a strapping young man, nevertheless Joseph never becomes merely a figure of parody; he is too clearly justified in his opposition to those detestable hypocrites, Lady Booby and Mrs. Slipslop, and his pursuit of virtue has no ulterior motive.

The prime target of the ridicule is not the footman but his mistress, a figure with no derisive implication for Richardson’s novel. 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.

Last modified: Monday, 31 July 2017, 1:08 AM