Although Henry Fielding (1707-1754) wrote many literary works I am going to deal mainly with his major novels, Joseph Andrews, \and Amelia. All of these works contain a strong moral message, but the moral message is not entirely consistent, and is presented in various ways. One of Fielding's main concerns was the question of marriage. His ideas on marriage are concisely summed up by All worthy in his sermon on matrimony: I have always thought love the only foundation of happiness in a married state and in my opinion all these marriages which are contracted from other motives are greatly criminal . To deny that beauty is an agreeable object to the eye would be false and foolish But to make this the sole consideration of marriage, to lust after it so violently as to reject and disdain religion, virtue and sense is surely inconsistent either with a wise man or a good Christian. Although this sermon mainly condemns marriage for reasons of lust, Fielding more commonly condemns marriage for reasons of financial gain or social elevation. The way in which Fielding conveys his philosophy of marriage is different in all four works, and the virtuousness of the virtuous is variable. However, the basic message is fairly consistent.
He was born on April 22, 1707, at Sharpham Park, Somersetshire, the estate of his maternal grandfather. In 1710 the Fieldings moved to East Stour, Dorsetshire. When Henry was 11, his mother died. A suit for custody was brought by his grandmother against his charming but irresponsible father, Lt. Gen. Edmund Fielding. The settlement placed Henry in his grandmother’s care, although he continued to visit his father in London. Henry was educated at Eton. At 17 he attempted to elope with a young heiress but was frustrated by her guardian. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Fielding’s cousin, described him about this time as a high-spirited youth, full of the joy of life, witty and humorous. He was handsome and more than 6 feet in height. Fielding’s first play, Love in Several Masques, was presented in London in February 1728. The following month he entered the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, where he studied classical literature. He returned to London in 1730. For the next 7 years Fielding was active as a playwright and theater manager. He wrote masques, farces, comedies, and burlesques, including the famous burlesque Tom Thumb (1730). In 1734 he married Charlotte Cradock, who was the prototype of his heroines Sophia and Amelia. Two political satires, Pasquin (1736) and The Historical Register for the Year 1736 (1737), so infuriated the Whig government of Robert Walpole that all London theaters, except two protected by royal patent, were ordered closed by the Licensing Act of 1737. Fielding’s career as a playwright was at an end. Fielding then turned to the study of the law and was admitted to the bar in less than 3 years. He continued to oppose the Walpole government by editing a political journal, The Champion (1739-1740), the first of four journals that he edited in his lifetime.
Although Henry Fielding lived in quite modern times, although by family and connections he was of a higher rank than most men of letters, and although his genius was at once recognised by his contemporaries so soon as it displayed itself in its proper sphere, his biography until very recently was by no means full; and the most recent researches, including those of Mr Austin Dobson—a critic unsurpassed for combination of literary faculty and knowledge of the eighteenth century—have not altogether sufficed to fill up the gaps. His family, said to have descended from a member of the great house of Hapsburg who came to England in the reign of Henry II., distinguished itself in the Wars of the Roses, and in the seventeenth century was advanced to the peerages of Denbigh in England and of Desmond in Ireland. The novelist was the grandson of John Fielding, Canon of Salisbury, the fifth son of the...
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