Henry Fielding died on October 8, 1754
Henry Fielding lived from April 22, 1707 until October 8, 1754. During his life, this Englishman was a novelist and playwright known for his earthy satire and as the author of Tom Jones. As a side note, it is worth mentioning that he and his brother, John Fielding, founded London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners.
In his tale, Joseph Andrews, Fielding believed he had created a new genre of writing. This is in a sense true. There had been a long tradition of epic poetry and that should not be disregarded. This was simply a conversion of that form into prose.
Epics most often feature a conspicuous hero, grand theme, continuous action, high seriousness, and a more lesson wrapped into dramatic language. Joseph Andrews might be considered a sort of Odyssey on the road in that both works involve a tale of journey. In Fielding’s tale, Andrews falls out with a lady and sets out to reach his home meeting a series of misfortunes along the way. The tale is told in a comedic manner and as such it is indeed a comic epic in prose.
To me, what is a bit odd about this claim of originality by Fielding is that he has stated outright that the novel was written “in imitation of the manner of Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote“. Clearly, a review of the work evidences the truth and relevancy of this. Further, I think the case might be made this was more of a picaresque work in that it shows much deference to the literary tastes and tropes of the lower classes of its time period. By this, I mean that it deeply relies on bawdy humor, mysterious parentage and that sort of style. That being said, however, it does have its moments of rich philosophical digressions and has sense of social purpose.
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The preface to Joseph Andrews entitled The Comic Epic In Prose may be read here:
Alternatively, half of this classic work can be heard in its audio book format here: