In the early 1740’ies Samuel Richardson published his novel “Pamela” and sparked a controversy that resulted in Henry Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews”. The weird thing is that the List has decided that “Joseph Andrews” predates “Pamela” and therefore I get to read this reaction novel before the book it is reacting to. That does feel a bit strange and especially the burlesque “Shamela” that introduces the novel is difficult to come to terms with in this context.
Anyway, “Joseph Andrews” follows two characters, the young man Joseph Andrew and the parson Abraham Adams on their journey home from London. Joseph was a footman to the widow Lady Booby, the aunt of Squire Booby in “Pamela”, but when he refused a pass she made on him, she kicked him out and he ventures home toward his home parish. On the way he soon encounters the parson and together they have an incredible number of adventures.
There is a lot of Don Quixote in this story. Most of the encounters has a counterpart in Don Quixote and at times I get the feeling that certain events are mostly there because they are so in Don Quixote. An objective is comical relief and the Parson is supposed to be a somewhat deluded clown that gets himself into all sorts of trouble because of his uncompromising adherence to Christian doctrine at the expense of any situational sense, thus being the Don Quixote of this story. That means that the underlying message is that fundamental Christianity is unpractical and laughable, but inherently good.
I am not sure how to read the “Pamela” response, because as mentioned, I have not read that book yet. What I can see is that Fielding is conservative in his position, but sneaks in a number of progressive ideas. It is as if in order to do a critique of, especially, the rich and the powerful he had to wrap it in a conservative framework. I believe “Pamela” is supposed to be refined in style and “Joseph Andrews” is in many ways crude and direct, as if honesty and simplicity are the virtues it supports as opposed to those of “Pamela”.
“Joseph Andrews” was intended as a comedy and that begs the question if it is funny. Sadly, it is not so, at least not to me. Comedy translates poorly over space and time and the attempts at comedy fell flat on the ground for me. That does not mean it is a complete fail, in many ways this is an interesting read, but frankly I would much rather read the real Don Quixote again.
I am not certain if I would recommend it unless you think that a parson who drinks and eat too much, forget where he is and what he is doing and preach fundamental Christianity to anybody who cares to listen as well as a lot who grows heartily sick of him, is your idea of a great time. To me the parson is a self-righteous ass and Joseph Andrews himself has as much character as a cardboard cut-out.
On to the next. 1742 looks to be a busy year.