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Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Joseph Andrews" as a Social Satire


Henry Fielding is widely studied today as one of the chief begetters of the modernist movement in novel and as a master who embodied in realistic prose a panoramic survey of the contemporary society. With the novelty and vitality of both their theory and structure, the writings of Henry Fielding exerted a major influence on the succeeding writers and dominated the English fiction until the end of the 19th century.

Fielding’s brilliant tour de force Joseph Andrews is an astounding encapsulation of the 18th century English social life and manners. It mirrors with rare force and realism, the blemishes of mankind in its true face. The novel, in its entirety, is an impassioned satire on the moral and social ills that beset the 18th century English society. In this novel we are confronted with a chameleonic society that frequently changes its appearance to gratify personal lusts of various kinds. The novel depicts human beings camouflaged in various shades of vanity, hypocrisy and narcissism. Here, Fielding essentially becomes a spokesman of his age and seeks to come out strongly against the affected behaviour of the so-called respectable society of the day.

Fielding's portrayal of the English social life is reinforced by the large canvas of representatives selected from every facets of society. The study of different characters enabled the writer to explore all the unpleasant aspects of life of his time.

Fielding's exploration begins with his survey on the nature and temperament of women of his time. Women of all classes were snobbish and amorous to some extent. The sensuality of women is reflected at its best through the representatives like Lady Booby, Mrs. Slipslop and Betty. Lady Booby feels greatly attracted by Joseph’s manliness and personality and seeks in vain to evoke his sexual response to gratify her sensual appetite. Mrs. Slipslop also follows her mistress’ path and tries to win Joseph as a lover. Even Betty, the sympathetic maid also falls in love with Joseph and seeks in vain to have sexual gratification from him. All these amorous intentions show a fair picture of the amoral side of the 18th century society.

The society that Fielding portrays in Joseph Andrews is extremely inhuman, callous, indifferent, uncharitable and narcissistic. The insensitive hardness of this society is clearly exposed in the stagecoach episode. The passengers, who are unwilling to allow Joseph into the coach on various excuses, show up their selfish and affected/artificial mentality. At that time Joseph was in a pitiable condition; he was badly wounded and was almost naked. So, he was badly in need of sympathy or help from others. Some passengers show some sympathy for him but decline to spare him a garment to cover his naked body. The only person who shows some genuine heartfelt sympathy is the poor coachman, who offers his own coat to the wretched fellow. Here Fielding shows the contrast between the attitude of the rich passengers and that of the poor coachman. Fielding tries to show us that there is a greater spirit of charity in the poor than in the rich. The incident gives ample scope to Fielding for satirising the pretences and affectations of an essentially inhuman society.

Fielding also provides some glimpses of the chaotic, greedy, opportunistic and insincere sides of the 18th century society. The chaotic side is exposed by the robbery incident. It is also revealed by the incident in which a villain attempts to rape Fanny. Human greed is exposed by the characters of the surgeons and the clergymen. The surgeons were extremely selfish and money minded. They refused to treat patients who were unable to pay fees. The clergymen of the time were the most selfish and materialistic. Besides them there are also opportunists who take advantages of others'’ unfavourable situations to gratify their personal desires. For example, the squire who is fond of hunting hares, tries to satisfy his lustful desire for Fanny taking advantages of her poor condition. The insincerity of the society is revealed by the depiction of the justices, who were as dishonest as the clergymen and the squires. Justice Frolick, for instance, goes out of his way to send Joseph and Fanny to prison, only to satisfy a whim of Lady Booby.

In brief, Joseph Andrews is a fine social document that represents an inclusive picture of the 18the century English society. The novel directs its satire not only against particular individuals but also against the follies and vices of the entire society.


3 comments on "Joseph Andrews" as a Social Satire:

ELanor TeLrunya on December 3, 2009 at 12:12 AM said...  

thank you for this helpful article, it really helped me with my examination on Joseph Andrews & 18th Century Literature :)

Anonymous on February 18, 2010 at 7:26 PM said...  

the post is definitely very helpfull...want more posts on 18th century literature.

Anonymous on September 15, 2012 at 11:20 PM said...  

its not right

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