Henry Fielding, (born April 22, 1707, Sharpham Park, Somerset, Eng.—died Oct. 8, 1754, Lisbon), novelist and playwright, who, with Samuel Richardson, is considered a founder of the English novel. Among his major novels are Joseph Andrews (1742) and Tom Jones (1749). Leaving school at 17, a strikingly handsome youth, he settled down to the life of a young gentleman of leisure; but four years later, after an abortive elopement with an heiress and the production of a play at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, he resumed his classical studies at the University of Leiden in Holland. After 18 months he had to return home because his father was no longer able to pay him an allowance. “Having,” as he said, “no choice but to be a hackney-writer or a hackney-coachman,” he chose the former and set up as playwright. In all, he wrote some 25 plays. Although his dramatic works have not held the stage, their wit cannot be denied. He was essentially a satirist; for instance, The Author’s Farce (1730) displays the absurdities of writers and publishers, while Rape upon Rape (1730) satirizes the injustices of the law and lawyers. His target was often the political corruption of the times. In 1737 he produced at the Little Theatre in the Hay (later the Haymarket Theatre), London, his Historical Register. In 1743 Fielding published three volumes of Miscellanies, works old and new, of which by far the most important is The Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great. Here, narrating the life of a notorious criminal of the day, Fielding satirizes human greatness, or rather human greatness confused with power over others. Permanently topical, Jonathan Wild, with the exception of some passages by his older contemporary, the Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, is perhaps the grimmest satire in English and an exercise in unremitting irony. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling was published on Feb. 28, 1749. With its great comic gusto, vast gallery of characters, and contrasted scenes of high and low life in London and the provinces, it has always constituted the most popular of his works. Like its predecessor, Joseph Andrews, it is constructed around a romance plot. The hero, whose true identity remains unknown until the denouement, loves the beautiful Sophia Western, and at the end of the book he wins her hand. Numerous obstacles have to be overcome before he achieves this, however, and in the course of the action the various sets of characters pursue each other from one part of the country to another, giving Fielding an opportunity to paint an incomparably vivid picture of England in the mid-18th century.
11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (pub. 1911)
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.......On an inherited estate in Somersetshire in southwestern England, Squire Allworthy lives comfortably in a magnificent Gothic mansion with his spinster sister Bridget. Allworthy had been married to a beautiful woman who bore him three children, all of whom died in infancy. Their mother then followed them to the grave. The squire does not intend to remarry. If Bridget marries and bears a child, it would become the squire's heir. She has time, for she is still in her thirties. .......One evening, upon his return from a three-month business trip in London, the squire discovers an infant soundly sleeping in his bed and summons his housekeeper, Mrs. Deborah Wilkins, to care for it until the squire gets a nurse for the child. Mrs. Wilkins speculates that the child was born of a neighborhood "hussy" who ought to be punished severely. ......."Faugh! how it stinks!" she says. "It doth not smell like a Christian." .......She recommends that the squire place it in a basket and take it to the local church. But he has already grown fond of the little chap. .......At breakfast the next day, Allworthy informs his sister of the find. She exhibits compassion for the child but not for the...