Henry Fielding : Contribution to Novel

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      His Life : A younger son of an ancient family, Henry Fielding was born in Somersetshire, was educated at Eton, and studied law at Leyden. Lack of funds stopped his legal studies for a time; he took to writing plays for a living, but the plays were of little merit; then, having married, he resumed his studies and was called to the Bar. After some time in practice he was appointed (1748) Bow Street magistrate, a post which brought him a small income ("of the dirtiest money on earth," as he said) and much hard work. His magisterial duties, however, had their compensations, for they gave him a close view of many types of human criminality which was of much use to him in his novels. Fielding himself was no Puritan, and his own excesses helped to undermine his constitution. In the hope that it would improve his health, he took a voyage to Portugal (1754); but he died some months after landing, and was buried at Lisbon.

Fielding himself was no Puritan, and his own excesses helped to undermine his constitution. In the hope that it would improve his health, he took a voyage to Portugal (1754); but he died some months after landing, and was buried at Lisbon.
Henry Fielding

      His Novels : In 1742 appeared Joseph Andrews, which begins in laughter at the namby-pamby Pamela of Richardson. story Joseph Andrews, the hero, is a footman, and the brother of Pamela. Along with a poor and simple curate called Abraham Adams he survives numerous ridiculous adventures. In a short time Fielding forgets about the burlesque, becomes interested in his own story, and we then see a novel of a new and powerful kind. From the very beginning we get the Fielding touch: the complete rejection of the letter-method; the bustle and sweep of the tale; the broad and vivacious humour; the genial and half-contemptuous insight into human nature; and the forcible and pithy prose style. His next works were A Journey from this World to the Next (1743) and Jonathan Wild the Great (1743). Jonathan Wild is the biography of the famous thief and 'thief-taker' who was hanged at Newgate. The story is one long ironical comment upon human action. In it Fielding deliberately turns morality inside out, calling good by the name of evil, and evil by the name of good. In the hands of a lesser writer such a method would at length become teasing, and troublesome; but Fielding, through the intensity of his ironic Insight, gives us new and piercing glimpses of the ruffian's mentality. We give an extract to illustrate Fielding's ironic power, which in several respects resembles that of Swift.

      His greatest novel, Tom Jones (1749), completes and perfects his achievement. In the book we have all his previous virtues (and some of his weaknesses), with the addition of greater symmetry of plot, clearer and steadier vision into human life and human frailty, and a broader and more thickly peopled stage. His last novel, Amelia (1751), had as the original of the heroine Fielding's first wife, and the character of the erring husband booth is based upon that of Fielding himself. This novel, though possessing power and interest, lacks the spontaneity of its great predecessor. The last work he produced was his Voyage to Lisbon, a diary written during his last journey. It possesses a painful interest, for it reveals a strong and patient mind, heavy with bodily affiliation, yet still lively in its perception of human affairs.

      Features of his Novels : (a) Like Richardson, Fielding had a genius for sounding the emotions of the human heart, but his methods are different, Richardson pores over human weaknesses with puckered brow and with many a sigh;. Fielding looks, laughs, and passes on. He does not seek to analyse or over-refine; and so his characters possess a breadth, humanity, and attraction denied to Richardson's. Even a sneaking rogue like Blifil in Tom Jones has a Shakespearian roundness or contour that keeps him from being quite revolting.

      (b) Realism is the keynote of all his work. He had a fierce hatred of all that savoured of hypocrisy, which is seen at its most pungent in Jonathan Wild the Great. His lively, ironical pen has something of the power of Swift, but his mood is tempered by the warmth of his human sympathy. His prime interest is in the depicting of the everyday, life of the ordinary man, and he is particularly striking in his descriptions of low life. Unlike Richardson, he has no heroes, and few out-and-out villains - his characters are men, with all men's weaknesses, and the range of his portrait gallery has not often been exceeded. His work has a masculinity of tone quite different from the relative bloodlessness of Richardson's.

      (c) Fielding is breezy, bustling, and energetic in his narrative. He shows us life on the highway, in the cottage, and among the streets of London. Coleridge truly said that to take up Fielding after Richardson is like emerging from the sick-room on to the open lawn.

      (d) Fielding's humour is boisterous and broad to the point of coarseness - a kind of over-fed jollity. But it is frank and open, with none of the stealthy suggestiveness of Richardson. In dealing with this aspect of Fielding's work (an aspect frequently repulsive to the more squeamish taste of the moderns) we must make allowance for the fashion of his time, which united a frankness of incident with a curious decorum of speech. He had also in him a freakishness of wit, the excess of his grosser mood, which led to fantastic interludes and digressions in his novels. For instance, in describing the numerous scuffles among his characters, he frequently adopts an elaborate mock-heroic style not quite in accordance with later taste. Fielding's comic characters, such as Partridge, the humble companion of Tom Jones, are numerous, diversified, and exceedingly likeable and lively.

      (e) A word must be given to his style, He breaks away from the mannered, artificial style of the earlier novelists, and gives us the good hidden grey of his own period. His style has a slight touch of archaism in the use of words like hath, but otherwise it is fresh and clear. His use of dialogue and conversation is of a similar nature.

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