Henry Fielding (1707-1754)


Fielding was born into an aristocratic family in 1707; he went to the University of Leyden in Holland where he studied classics and law. After returning to London he started writing comedies, mostly of satirical nature. After the "Licensing Act" of 1737 which censored his plays (he had satirised Robert Walpole's policy in the comedy The Historical Register for the year 1736) he was compelled to leave the theatre and took up a career in law as a barrister. During the late 1730s and the early 1740s he continued to write satirical articles for "The Champion", the journal he edited three years, and for other newspapers.

Fielding started writing novels with An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews (1741), where he satirised the conventional morality of Richardson's epistolary novels; the next year he published Joseph Andrews a novel of contemporary life and manners. In 1743 The Life of and Death of Jonathan Wild the Great, a mock-heroic satire of political opportunism, appeared; in 1749 he published Tom Jones, and in 1751 Amelia, a novel about social problems. He continued to write satirical novels until 1751. Finally in 1754 he went to Portugal to improve his health, but died soon after his arrival.


While Defoe and Richardson tried to hide the fictional nature of their work under the guise of « memories » and « letters » respectivelly, Fielding created "comic epic novel".

Fielding was the first English novelist to approach the novel form systematically: the reader is never under the illusion that what he is reading is anything but a work of art. With Fielding the novel becomes « epic », even if the mocking one: the characters, who belong to different social classes, have psychological qualities similar to the ones of the epic heroes, but they are travelling to London and not to a mysterious Mediterranean island or across the battlefield of Troy; moreover their action are only frivolous and ridiculous.

The plot of Fielding's novels is made up of a series of episodes having an organic unity. This structure marks a great advance from the more rudimentary sequences of events that can be found in Defoe's novels or more limited perspective of a single story presented by Richardson.


Fielding's characters must behave consistently from beginning to the end and their inner thoughts and anxieties, as is not the vase on Richardson accurate analysis carried out by means of epistolary method, are not the main interest of the writer who wanted describe men not manners, not an individual but a species.

His novels contain a winder variety of characters than those of Richardson: they belong to all classes, and his extensive social panorama constitutes a true, broad picture of the society of the 18th century.


Fielding condemns hypocrisy and rebels against the puritan code of the age that considered respectability synonymous with virtue. He is indulgent with regard to the sins of sex since they are, in his way of thinking, not as serious as those against feelings; moreover, he believes that they are neither wholly good nor wholly bad characters and that man is naturally inclined to goodness.


Fielding uses the third-person narrative technique; the narrator is obtrusive because he intervenes in the narration with warnings, ironic comments and moral reflections about what happens. The tone used is conversational and ironic, the humour and the sharp irony save his works from excessive sentimentality.