By the publication of Tom Jones in 1749, Henry Fielding had asserted that the idealized, morally beyond reproach hero is no longer a viable character in literature. The idea of perfectibility was replaced by human flaw and redemption. Secondly, Fielding moved toward a more inward,introspective, less active view of the hero, that could be subordinated to plot and narrative techniques of great technical range. First, the movement away from idealization in Fielding’s words:
For in this Instance ( Tom Jones ), Life (in the novel) most exactly resembles the Stage, since it is often the same Person who represents the Villain and the Heroe; and he who engages your Admiration To-day, will probably attract your Contempt To-morrow. . . . A single bad act no more constitutes a Villain in Life, than a single bad Part on the Stage. The Passions, like the Managers of a Playhouse, often force Men upon Parts, without consulting their Judgment, and sometimes without any Regard to their Talents.
Secondly, in the Dedication to Tom Jones Fielding moves toward a more inward definition of the hero’s qualities:
. . . no Acquisitions of Guilt can compensate the Loss of that solid inward Comfort of Mind, which is the sure Companion of Innocence and Virtue; nor can in the least balance the Evil of that Horror and Anxiety which, in their Room, Guilt introduces into our Bosoms.
Fielding does not deny the possibility of the heroic life in the real world–a life Ralph Allen, Fielding’s close friend and patron, most clearly exemplifies. But he is now distinguishing between heroes of fiction and heroes of life, rather then lumping them together. ( Larry Laban)
FIELDING, too, has described, though with a greater hand, the characters and scenes which he knew and saw. He had more than ordinary opportunities for becoming acquainted with life. His family and education, first—his fortunes and misfortunes afterwards, brought him into the society of every rank and condition of man. He is himself the hero of his books; he is wild Tom Jones, he is wild Captain Booth; less wild, I am glad to think, than his predecessor: at least heartily conscious of demerit, and anxious to amend.( Thackeray )
Sow the wild oats……Samuel Richardson was one of the innovators of the new realistic fiction in the first half of the eighteenth century. His style was somewhat dull and verbose; but his imagination was capable of projecting itself into lives totally different from his own. He chose a technique- a novel in the form of letters between two correspondents- that would have taxed the genius of the most sophisticated craftsmen in fiction, and a theme: the attack on the chastity of an unmarried girl- that had been made tedious by endless writers of hack romantic literature. His success, therefore, was as staggering as the originality that he revealed. His novel “Pamela” established itself- in spite of absurdities and flat-footed moralizing- as a great work of art and legitimate literature.
The reason for this could be found in Richardson’s careful investigation of the psychology of his characters- their hesitations, anxieties, illusions, and self-doubts, all done with the utmost realism. In his writing, characters no longer illustrated a principle, a humor, or a type, but were unique individuals, deeply concerned with the problems of morality that their age had set for them. And it
both to add a sense of immediacy to these, as well as to intensify the appearance of reality, that Richardson made his heroine a servant girl. Indeed, to suggest that such a girl might not only defend her chastity, but also convert her pursuer to her own moral values gave a startling original twist to his theme. It entranced the middle-class audience….
…I cannot offer or hope to make a hero of Harry Fielding. Why hide his faults? Why conceal his weaknesses in a cloud of periphrases? Why not show him, like him as he is, not robed in a marble toga, and draped and polished in an heroic attitude, but with inked ruffles, and claret stains on his tarnished laced coat, and on his manly face the marks of good fellowship, of illness, of kindness, of care and wine? Stained as you see him, and worn by care and dissipation, that man retains some of the most precious and splendid human qualities and endowments. He has an admirable natural love of truth, the keenest instinctive antipathy to hypocrisy, the happiest satirical gift of laughing it to scorn….( Thackeray )
… Richardson’s moralizing, however, struck his satirical, aristocratic contemporary, Henry Fielding,as ludicrous and absurd. Full of contempt, he produced a parody called “Shamela” and so launched himself on a course as a novelist that would easily surpass Defoe or Richardson. His great books such as “Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, Amelia and Jonathan Wild” drew heavily on his own wide experience of the vicious, tumultuous life of eighteenth-century England.
By his aristocratic ancestry, Fielding would seem to belong, unlike Defoe or Richardson, to the highest circles of English society. In truth, he lived a hand-to-mouth, often debt ridden existence. He was friendly with William Hogarth, the painter, whose savage satires on tawdriness, cruelty and poverty portrayed a world that Fielding knew at first hand.
Fielding’s father, Edmund,a soldier of fortune in Marlborough’s wars, dissipated all the family wealth through gambling. His mother died when he was eleven and Edmund then married an Italian and Roman Catholic, much to his grandmother, Lady Gould’s displeasure. Fielding was packed off to Eton and raised in part by his sisters and grandmother. Edmund went on living his rackety life, running through an additional two lives and burning any money he could grab. As poor a role model as he was, Edmund introduced him to the wild, dissolute, provocative life of London that always held Fielding in his grip- thereby creating dichotomy between illusion and reality that is one of the attractive features of his novels.
G.M. Godden: Much has been written concerning the notorious feud between Fielding and Richardson, a feud ostensibly based upon the fact that Joseph Andrews was, to some extent, frankly a parody of Richardson’s famous production Pamela . In 1740, two years before the appearance of Joseph Andrews that middle-aged London printer had published Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded , achieving thereby an enormous vogue. That amazing mixture of sententious moralities, of prurience, and of mawkish sentiment, became the rage of the Town. Admirers ranked it next to the Bible; the great Mr Pope declared that it would ”do more good than many volumes of Sermons”; and it was even translated into French and Italian, becoming, according to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who did not love Richardson, ”the joy of the chambermaids of all nations.”
That all this should have been highly agreeable to the good Richardson, a ’vegetarian and water-drinker, a worthy, domesticated, fussy, and highly nervous little man,’ ensconced in a ring of feminine flatterers whom he called ’my ladies,’ is obvious; and proportionate was his wrath with Fielding’s Joseph Andrews , of which the early chapters, at least, are a perfectly frank, and to Richardson audacious, satire on Pamela . The caricature was indeed frank. Joseph is introduced as Pamela’s brother; he writes letters to that virtuous maid-servant; and the Mr B. of Richardson becomes the Squire Booby of Fielding. But there can be hardly two opinions as to such ridicule being an entirely justified and wholesome antidote to the pompous and nauseous original.
To Fielding’s robust and masculine genius, says Mr Austin Dobson, ”the strange conjunction of purity and precaution in Richardson’s heroine was a thing unnatural and a theme for inextinguishable Homeric laughter.” To Thackeray’s sympathetic imagination the feud was the inevitable outcome of the difference between the two men. Fielding, he says ”couldn’t do otherwise than laugh at the puny cockney bookseller, pouring out endless volumes of sentimental twaddle, and hold him up to scorn as a moll-coddle and a milksop. His genius had been nursed on sack posset, and not on dishes of tea. His muse had sung the loudest in tavern choruses, and had seen the daylight streaming in over thousands of empty bowls, and reeled home to chambers on the shoulders of the watchman. Richardson’s goddess was attended by old maids and dowagers, and fed on muffins and bohea. ’Milksop!’ roars Harry Fielding, clattering at the timid shop-shutters. ’Wretch! Monster! Mohock!’ shrieks the sentimental
author of Pamela ; and all the ladies of his court cackle out an affrighted chorus.”
Russell A. Hunt:And indeed, it is his opinion of the moral effects of Fielding’s work that is most central to ( Samuel )Johnson’s position. In Henna More’s memoirs occurs the following passage:
I never saw Johnson really angry with me but once, and his displeasure did him so much honor that I loved him the better for it. I alluded rather flippantly, I fear, to some witty passage in Tom Jones: he replied, “I am shocked to hear you quote from so vicious a book. I am sorry to hear you have read it; a confession which no modest lady should ever make. I scarcely know a more corrupt work.” . . .
He went so far as to refuse to Fielding the great talents which are ascribed to him, and broke out into a noble panegyric on his competitor Richardson; who, he said, was as superior to him in talents as in virtue, and whom he pronounced to be the greatest genius that had shed its lustre on this path of literature.