Riotous, sexy and groundbreaking, Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews: The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend Mr. Abraham Adams, published in 1742, was one of the first English novels.
Fielding was melding and parodying the two major forces battling for control of the fiction market at the time – the mock heroic, neoclassical tradition as practiced by Pope and Swift and the popular and populist fiction of the new novelists such as Defoe and Richardson.
Richardson’s Pamela had just taken Britain by storm, and following on the success of Fielding’s parody of the novel, Shamela, the story of Joseph Andrews follows Pamela’s brother in his journey as footman to the rather dippy Parson Adams.
In style and form, it imitates Cervantes’ Don Quixote, with the servant and master undertaking their major journey together, but the sexual adventures of the young Joseph Andrews and his sorely tested chastity provide the real meat of the book’s plot.
Described by Fielding as ‘a comic-romance’, Joseph Andrews is a bawdy and merry book, but it is also wrought through with Fielding’s devotion to the Greek and Roman classics and with his social conscience, which shines through in its fresh approach to the stifling moral hypocrisies of the day.