Joseph Andrews, or The History of the Adventures of
Joseph Andrews and
of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams, was the first published full-length
novel of the English author Henry Fielding, and indeed among the first
novels in the English language. Published in 1742 and defined by
Fielding as a "comic epic poem in prose", it is the story of a
good-natured footman's adventures on the road home from London with
his friend and mentor, the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams. The
novel represents the coming together of the two
competing aesthetics of 18th-century literature: the mock-heroic and
neoclassical (and, by extension, aristocratic) approach of Augustans
Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift; and the popular, domestic
prose fiction of novelists such as
Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson.
The novel draws on a variety of inspirations. Written "in imitation of
the manner of Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote" (see title page on
right), the work owes much of its humour to the techniques developed
by Cervantes, and its subject-matter to the seemingly loose
arrangement of events, digressions and lower-class characters to the
genre of writing known as picaresque. In deference to the literary
tastes and recurring tropes of the period, it relies on bawdy humour,
an impending marriage and a mystery surrounding unknown parentage, but
conversely is rich in philosophical digressions, classical erudition
and social purpose.
2 Plot summary
2.1 Book I
2.2 Book II
2.3 Book III
2.4 Book IV
3 Stage adaptation
4 Film adaptation
8 External links
Fielding's first venture into prose fiction came a year previously
with the publication in pamphlet form of Shamela, a travesty of, and
direct response to, the stylistic failings and moral hypocrisy that
Fielding saw in Richardson's Pamela. Richardson's epistolary tale of a
resolute servant girl, armed only with her "virtue", battling against
her master's attempts at seduction had become an overnight literary
sensation in 1741. The implicit moral message — that a girl's
chastity has eventual value as a commodity —, as well as the
awkwardness of the epistolary form in dealing with ongoing events, and
the triviality of the detail which the form necessitates, were some of
the main targets of Fielding's parody.
Richardson would continue to be a target of Fielding's first novel,
but the Pamela phenomenon was just one example of what he saw as a
culture of literary abuses in the mid-18th century. Colley Cibber,
poet laureate and mock-hero of Pope's Dunciad, is identified in the
first chapter of the novel as another offender against propriety,
morality and literary value.
The impetus for the novel, as Fielding claims in the preface, is the
establishment of a genre of writing "which I do not remember to have
been hitherto attempted in our language", defined as the "comic
epic-poem in prose": a work of prose fiction, epic in length and
variety of incident and character, in the hypothetical spirit of
Homer's lost (and possibly apocryphal) comic poem Margites. He
dissociates his fiction from the scandal-memoir and the contemporary
novel. Book III describes the work as biography.
As becomes apparent from the first few chapters of the novel in which
Richardson and Cibber are parodied mercilessly, the real germ of
Joseph Andrews is Fielding's objection to the moral and technical
limitations of the popular literature of his day. But while Shamela
started and finished as a sustained subversion of a rival work, in
Joseph Andrews Fielding merely uses the perceived deprivation of
popular literature as a springboard to conceive more fully his own
philosophy of prose fiction.
The novel begins with the affable, intrusive narrator outlining the
nature of our hero.
Joseph Andrews is the brother of Richardson's
Pamela and is of the same rustic parentage and patchy ancestry. At the
age of 10, he found himself tending to animals as an apprentice to Sir
Thomas Booby. It was in proving his worth as a horseman that he first
caught the eye of Sir Thomas's wife, Lady Booby, who employed him (now
17) as her footman.
After the death of Sir Thomas, Joseph finds that his Lady's affections
have redoubled as she offers herself to him in her chamber while on a
trip to London. In a scene analogous to many of Pamela's refusals of
Mr. B in Richardson's novel, however, Lady Booby finds that Joseph's
Christian commitment to chastity before marriage is unwavering. After
suffering the Lady's fury, Joseph dispatches a letter to his sister
very much typical of Pamela's anguished missives in her own novel. The
Lady calls him once again to her chamber and makes one last withering
attempt at seduction before dismissing him from both his job and his
With Joseph setting out from London by moonlight, the narrator
introduces the reader to the heroine of the novel, Fanny Goodwill. A
poor illiterate girl of 'extraordinary beauty' (I, xi) now living with
a farmer close to Lady Booby's parish, she and Joseph had grown ever
closer since their childhood, before their local parson and mentor
Abraham Adams recommended that they postpone marriage until they have
the means to live comfortably.
On his way to see Fanny, Joseph is mugged and laid up in a nearby inn
where, by dint of circumstance, he is reconciled with Adams, who is on
his way to London to sell three volumes of his sermons. The thief,
too, is found and brought to the inn (only to escape later that
night), and Joseph is reunited with his possessions. Adams and Joseph
catch up with each other, and the parson, in spite of his own poverty,
offers his last 9s 3½d to Joseph's disposal.
Joseph and Adams’ stay in the inn is capped by one of the many
burlesque, slapstick digressions in the novel. Betty, the inn's
21-year-old chambermaid, had taken a liking to Joseph since he
arrived; a liking doomed to inevitable disappointment by Joseph's
constancy to Fanny. The landlord, Mr. Tow-wouse, had always admired
Betty and saw this disappointment as an opportunity to take advantage.
Locked in an embrace, they are discovered by the choleric Mrs.
Tow-wouse, who chases the maid through the house before Adams is
forced to restrain her. With the landlord promising not to transgress
again, his lady allows him to make his peace at the cost of ‘quietly
and contentedly bearing to be reminded of his transgressions, as a
kind of penance, once or twice a day, during the residue of his
life’ (I, xviii).
During his stay in the inn, Adams’ hopes for his sermons are mocked
in a discussion with a traveling bookseller and another parson.
Nevertheless, Adams remains resolved to continue his journey to London
until it is revealed that his wife, deciding that he would be more in
need of shirts than sermons on his journey, has neglected to pack
them. The pair thus decide to return to the parson's parish: Joseph in
search of Fanny, and Adams in search of his sermons.
With Joseph following on horseback, Adams finds himself sharing a
stagecoach with an anonymous lady and Madam Slipslop, an admirer of
Joseph's and a servant of Lady Booby. When they pass the house of a
teenage girl named Leonora, the anonymous lady is reminded of a story
and begins one of the novel's three interpolated tales, ‘The History
of Leonora, or the Unfortunate Jilt’. The story of Leonora continues
for a number of chapters, punctuated by the questions and
interruptions of the other passengers.
After stopping at an inn, Adams relinquishes his seat to Joseph and,
forgetting his horse, embarks ahead on foot. Finding himself some time
ahead of his friend, Adams rests by the side of the road where he
becomes so engaged in conversation with a fellow traveller that he
misses the stagecoach as it passes. As the night falls and Adams and
the stranger discourse on courage and duty, a shriek is heard. The
stranger, having seconds earlier lauded the virtues of bravery and
chivalry, makes his excuses and flees the scene without turning back.
Adams, however, rushes to the girl's aid and after a mock-epic
struggle knocks her attacker unconscious. In spite of Adams’ good
intentions, he and the girl, who reveals herself to be none other than
Fanny Goodwill (in search of Joseph after hearing of his mugging),
find themselves accused of assault and robbery.
After some comic litigious wrangling before the local magistrate, the
pair are eventually released and depart shortly after midnight in
search of Joseph. They do not have to walk far before a storm forces
them into the same inn that Joseph and Slipslop have chosen for the
night. Slipslop, her jealousy ignited by seeing the two lovers
reunited, departs angrily. When Adams, Joseph and Fanny come to leave
the following morning, they find their departure delayed by an
inability to settle the bill, and, with Adams’ solicitations of a
loan from the local parson and his wealthy parishioners failing, it
falls on a local peddler to rescue the trio by loaning them his last
The solicitations of charity that Adams is forced to make, and the
complications which surround their stay in the parish, bring him into
contact with many local squires, gentlemen and parsons, and much of
the latter portion of Book II is occupied with the discussions of
literature, religion, philosophy and trade which result.
The three depart the inn by night, and it is not long before Fanny
needs to rest. With the party silent, they overhear approaching voices
agree on 'the murder of any one they meet' (III, ii) and flee to a
local house. Inviting them in, the owner, Mr. Wilson, informs them
that the gang of supposed murderers were in fact sheep-stealers,
intent more on the killing of livestock than of Adams and his friends.
The party being settled, Wilson begins the novel's most lengthy
interpolated tale by recounting his life story; a story which bears a
notable resemblance to Fielding's own young adulthood.
Wilson begins his tale in the first edition of 1742.
At the age of 16, Wilson's father died and left him a modest fortune.
Finding himself the master of his own destiny, he left school and
travelled to London where he soon acquainted himself with the dress,
manners and reputation for womanising necessary to consider himself a
‘beau’. Wilson's life in the town is a façade: He writes
love-letters to himself, obtains his fine clothes on credit and is
concerned more with being seen at the theatre than with watching the
play. After two bad experiences with women, he is financially crippled
and, much like Fielding himself, falls into the company of a group of
Deists, freethinkers and gamblers. Finding himself in debt, he turns
to the writing of plays and hack journalism to alleviate his financial
burden (again, much like the author himself). He spends his last few
pence on a lottery ticket but, with no reliable income, is soon forced
to exchange it for food. While in jail for his debts, news reaches him
that the ticket he gave away has won a £3,000 prize. His
disappointment is short-lived, however, as the daughter of the winner
hears of his plight, pays off his debts, and, after a brief courtship,
agrees to become his wife.
Wilson had found himself at the mercy of many of the social ills that
Fielding had written about in his journalism: the over-saturated and
abused literary market, the exploitative state lottery, and regressive
laws which sanctioned imprisonment for small debts. Having seen the
corrupting influence of wealth and the town, he retires with his new
wife to the rural solitude in which Adams, Fanny and Joseph now find
them. The only break in his contentment, and one which will turn out
to be significant to the plot, was the kidnapping of his eldest son,
whom he has not seen since.
Wilson promises to visit Adams when he passes through his parish, and
after another mock-epic battle on the road, this time with a party of
hunting dogs, the trio proceed to the house of a local squire, where
Fielding illustrates another contemporary social ill by having Adams
subjected to a humiliating roasting. Enraged, the three depart to the
nearest inn to find that, while at the squire's house, they had been
robbed of their last half-guinea. To compound their misery, the squire
has Adams and Joseph accused of kidnapping Fanny, to have them
detained while he orders the abduction of the girl himself. She is
rescued in transit, however, by Lady Booby's steward, Peter Pounce,
and all four of them complete the remainder of the journey to Booby
On seeing Joseph arrive back in the parish, a jealous Lady Booby
meanders through emotions as diverse as rage, pity, hatred, pride and
love. The next morning Joseph and Fanny's banns are published and the
Lady turns her anger onto Parson Adams, who is accommodating Fanny at
his house. Finding herself powerless either to stop the marriage or to
expel them from the parish, she enlists the help of Lawyer Scout, who
brings a spurious charge of larceny against Joseph and Fanny to
prevent, or at least postpone, the wedding.
Three days later, the Lady's plans are foiled by the visit of her
nephew, Mr Booby, and a surprise guest: Booby has married Pamela,
granting Joseph a powerful new ally and brother-in-law. What is more,
Booby is an acquaintance of the justice presiding over Joseph and
Fanny's trial, and instead of Bridewell, has them committed to his own
custody. Knowing of his sister's antipathy to the two lovers, Booby
offers to reunite Joseph with his sister and take him and Fanny into
his own parish and his own family.
In a discourse with Joseph on stoicism and fatalism, Adams instructs
his friend to submit to the will of God and control his passions, even
in the face of overwhelming tragedy. In the kind of cruel
juxtaposition usually reserved for Fielding's less savoury characters,
Adams is informed that his youngest son, Jacky, has drowned. After
indulging his grief in a manner contrary to his lecture a few minutes
previously, Adams is informed that the report was premature, and that
his son had in fact been rescued by the same peddler that loaned him
his last few shillings in Book II.
Lady Booby, in a last-ditch attempt to sabotage the marriage, brings a
young beau named Didapper to Adams’ house to seduce Fanny. Fanny is
unattracted to his bold attempts of courtship. Didapper is a little
too bold in his approach and provokes Joseph into a fight. The Lady
and the beau depart in disgust, but the peddler, having seen the Lady,
is compelled to relate a tale. The peddler had met his wife while in
the army, and she died young. While on her death bed, she confessed
that she once stole an exquisitely beautiful baby girl from a family
named Andrews, and sold her on to Sir Thomas Booby, thus raising the
possibility that Fanny may in fact be Joseph's sister. The company is
shocked, but there is general relief that the crime of incest may have
been narrowly averted.
The following morning, Joseph and Pamela's parents arrive, and,
together with the peddler and Adams, they piece together the question
of Fanny's parentage. The Andrews identify her as their lost daughter,
but have a twist to add to the tale: When Fanny was an infant, she was
indeed stolen from her parents, but the thieves left behind a sickly
infant Joseph in return, who was raised as their own. It is
immediately apparent that Joseph is the above-mentioned kidnapped son
of Wilson, and when Wilson arrives on his promised visit, he
identifies Joseph by a birthmark on his chest. Joseph is now the son
of a respected gentleman, Fanny an in-law of the Booby family, and the
couple no longer suspected of being siblings. Two days later they are
married by Adams in a humble ceremony, and the narrator, after
bringing the story to a close, and in a disparaging allusion to
Richardson, assures the reader that there will be no sequel.
Joseph Andrews, a stage adaptation of the first and fourth books of
the novel, was written by
Samuel Jackson Pratt
Samuel Jackson Pratt and performed on 20
April 1778 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The role of Fanny was
played by Mary Robinson.
The novel was adapted for the screen in 1977 by Tony Richardson, Allan
Scott and Chris Bryant. Richardson directed the critically
well-received work, with
Michael Hordern as Adams,
Peter Firth as
Joseph, and Lady Booby played by Swedish-born Ann-Margret, who
Golden Globe nomination for the role. The tag line (‘The
story of a young, English footman who served the Lady Booby but loved
the little Fanny’) suggests how it captures some of the source
material's bawdy humour. It was released on region 1 DVD in 2003.
^ Oxford Journals, November 1967
A contemporary New York Times review of the 1977 film adaptation
Requires free subscription
Cleary, Thomas R. (26 June 2002). "Henry Fielding: The History of the
Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams". The
Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Adams,
New International Encyclopedia
New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York:
Fielding, Henry. Joseph Andrews. Ed. Paul A. Scanlon. Peterborough:
Broadview Press, 2001. ISBN 978-1-55111-220-6. 
Lang, Bernhard. The Triumph of Chaste Love – Fielding. In: Bernhard
Lang, Joseph in Egypt: A Cultural Icon from Grotius to Goethe. New
Haven: Yale University Press 2009, 153–176.
The Wesleyan Edition of the Works of
Henry Fielding is the standard
collection of Fielding's texts. Reliable paperback editions
Joseph Andrews with Shamela and Related Writings.
Homer Goldberg. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987)
ISBN 9780393955552. Based on the Wesleyan text (see above).
Includes selections of critical essays and contextual material.
Joseph Andrews and Shamela. Edited by Judith Hawley.
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999) ISBN 9780140433869. The copy text
of this edition is based on the second edition released on 10 June
Joseph Andrews and Shamela. Edited by Thomas Keymer.
(Oxford: World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, 2008)
ISBN 9780199536986. Based on the Wesleyan text.
Battestin, Martin The Moral Basis of Fielding’s Art: A Study of
Joseph Andrews. (Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1959) [no
Homer The Art of
Joseph Andrews (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1969) [no ISBN].
Watt, Ian The Rise of the Novel. (London: Pimlico, 2000)
Full text of
Joseph Andrews from Project Gutenberg
Joseph Andrews, Volume 1
Joseph Andrews, Volume 2
Joseph Andrews public domain audiobook at LibriVox
Love in Several Masques
The Temple Beau
The Author's Farce
Rape upon Rape
The Tragedy of Tragedies
The Letter Writers
The Welsh Opera
The Grub Street Opera
The Modern Husband
The Old Debauchees
The Covent Garden Tragedy
The Mock Doctor
The Historical Register for the Year 1736
Novels and Narratives
Essays and Misc.
The Covent-Garden Journal
The Golden Rump
The Golden Rump (play, attributed)
Actor Rebellion of 1733
Licensing Act 1737
Paper War of 1752–1753
BNF: cb119683256 (data)
^ a b Fielding, Henry (1999). Hawley, Judith, ed.
Joseph Andrews /
Shamela. Penguin. ISBN