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Joseph Andrews as a Picaresque Novel Essay

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 and magistrate Henry Fielding and among the first novels in the English language. Henry Fielding along with Samuel Johnson is considered to be the founder of English novel. Henry Fielding was in fact a satirist and initially he was known for his satirical works on the political corruption of his times. His work shows the realistic approach towards portraying the picture of the contemporary society. Fielding’s first venture into prose fiction was the effect of Samuel Richardson’s” Pamela” and Fielding himself defined his novel Joseph Andrews as comic epic poem in prose. Published in 1742, Joseph Andrews is the story of the adventures of a very chaste, good natured footman Joseph and his dear friend and mentor the idealist Parson Adams who is not only an honest man but a man of character upright.

Joseph Andrews was initially written as a parody of Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela” but as the story develops and grows we realize that the story is entering into another genre and is naturally following a different pattern. As the events unfold and the ripple effect of the occurrences spans through we feel that the genre the novel is entering into is somewhat picaresque. The picaresque tradition belongs to Spain and is derived from the word “Picaro” meaning rouge or a villain or a rascal. The word picaro started to first appear in Spain with the current meaning in 1545. In 1554 the novella “Lazarillo de Tormes” is credited with founding the genre and the expression Picaresque novel was coined in 1810. Before giving arguments to support whether or not Joseph Andrews is a picaresque novel, it becomes necessary here to first get a clear idea as to what a picaresque novel is and what are the paradigms and parameters that define a particular style of writing as picaresque.

There are some qualities that distinguish the picaresque novel or narrative form, all or some of which may be employed for effect by the author. These are; A picaresque narrative is usually written in first person as an autobiographical account. The main character is often of low character or social class. He or she gets by with wit. There is almost no plot. The story is told in a series of loosely connected adventures or episodes. (4)There is little if any character development in the main character. Once a picaro, always a picaro. His or her circumstances may change but rarely result in a change of heart. The picaro’s story is told with a plainness of language or realism. Satire might sometimes be a prominent element.

The behavior of a picaresque hero or heroine stops just short of criminality. Carefree or immoral rascality positions the picaresque hero as a sympathetic outsider, untouched by the false rules of society. The characters are numerous in number and so are the events of the novel. Taking these salient features of a picaresque novel into consideration I will build and finally establish the argument whether Joseph Andrews is a picaresque or not. In the very introduction of novel, Henry Fielding acknowledged his debt to Miguel de Cervantes, a Spanish novelist, poet and playwright whose “Don Quixote” is the best known example of a picaresque novel. As we read the novel we realize as if the author is directly addressing his reader and he is relating the events to us in first person narration.

This style of autobiographical writing is maintained throughout the book. Fielding also presents a different case to his readers at the start of the each part of the book. For example in book I chapter I he defends the practice of writing a biography. He also highlights the discrepancy between appearance and reality by mocking Colley Cibber who in his autobiography called Fielding a “broken wit”. Then in Book II chapter I he tells his readers the purpose of dividing his novel into books and chapters. Likewise in Book III chapter I he reminds his readers of the purpose of his novel and dismisses historians. The realism is quite obvious here which satisfies and fulfills the purpose of the very first property of a picaresque novel.

Then comes the second paradigm of a picaresque according to which the main character is usually of low character or low social class and very witty. Mr. Andrews though being a very moral and chaste person is of course not of low character but definitely belongs to a lower class being the son of poor parents and brother of Pamela the chaste maid servant of Booby family. And Joseph is not without wits at all. He is a simple honest person who after understanding the malice of intentions in Mrs. Slipslop’s and Lady Booby’s minds, immediately decides to quit the job and return to Fanny. In the events that follow we also see that he has got more brains than Mr. Adams who is a dreamy idealist whose doctrine is” good begets good” and “evil begets evil”. But Joseph, in spite of being very respectful and submissive towards Parson Adams, never fully believes in his doctrine and is very much able to see through things clearly and judge people in a better way.

For example Joseph is able to gauge the character of the squire who makes generous but false promises to people but Parson Adams does not and also Joseph contradicts parson’s idea of private education being better than the public. This shows that though Joseph considers Parson Adams his mentor and values his advice yet he has his own understanding and is not following blindly whatever is coming his way. Another property of a picaresque hero that Joseph is utterly not having is the rascality. He is facing adventures, he is meeting wicked people, he is also in love with a girl but he never indulges in any ill means or shows any sort of wickedness or rascality in the face of all the hardships that are befalling him. Thus he is untouched by the false rules of the society. A prominent picaresque element of this genre is the looseness of the plot which is very much obvious in the case of “Joseph Andrews” plot construction. Looseness of the plot is so dominant that it seems as if the whole plot is going haywire and is following a haphazard path as if one is on a roller coaster ride not in terms of speed but in terms of abruptness.

The writer starts with one thing and before concluding it he takes up an entirely new dimension and starts talking about something entirely different and irrelevant. He takes it to an extent that reader loses the account of the events and is left confused. Sometimes Fielding introduces a character without a rational explanation of its sudden arrival at a particular place. For example the arrival of Mrs. Slipslop at the Dragon’s inn all of a sudden is quite out of the blue. And sometimes there are certain things which the reader is compelled to assume without any rational reasoning. Meeting of Fanny and Joseph is also quite odd and abrupt. Likewise the story of Leonora and Horatio is again something which is utterly irrelevant to the plot and adds to its looseness. Arrival of Mr. Peter Pounce to Booby Hall without her mistress Lady Booby and his appearing at the scene of Fanny’s abduction is also unjustified.

The overflowing list of adventures, brawls, quarrels, irrelevant and unnecessary events, unexplainable occurrences signify the looseness of the plot and its insignificance in connection to the actual story but at the same time they are fulfilling the requirement of the picaresque narrative style. The character development of the protagonist Joseph Andrews is somewhat flat. Actually he is shown as a chaste and honest person till the very end of the novel. There are no sharp turnings and giving ins to the circumstances at any point in the story for Joseph Andrews and this makes his character a stereotyped one. He could have made at least one mistake and that would have given a real twist to his character as well as to the story. The mistake could have been giving in to the chambermaid Betty at Tow Wouse’s or may be once to Lady Booby but he is shown to be a chaste one at all times. Thus there is almost no character development in Joseph’s case and his every next action is quite easily calculated and predicted by the reader.

The only thing that changes about him is his being the son of Harriet Hearty and Mr. Wilson and not of Mr. and Mrs. Gaffer which also relieves him of the tag of being Pamela’s brother. His chastity and his immoveable love for Fanny are the two strongest sides of his character that are being talked about throughout the novel. In the book I, after giving an account of who Joseph Andrews is and how he became friends with Parson Adams, Joseph Andrews is taken to London with Lady Booby. Here we get a glimpse of society’s ways and the element of satire and realism sets off. Fielding’s plainness of language that is his realism as well as his satirical vein shows its reflection throughout the span of the novel. Fielding’s satire is pungent. Malice, selfishness, vanities, hypocrisies, lack of charity, all is ridiculed as human follies. Different strata of the society are shown through the picaresque mode. The travelers meet hunting squires, mean innkeepers, corrupt landladies, drinking parson, philosophers, lawyers and surgeons, beggars, peddlers and robbers and rogues. Particular social evils prevalent in the day, and follies and foibles of human nature in general are effectively exposed.

In case of women, Lady Booby, Mrs. Slipslop, Betty, all these women are shown to have the unbridled lust for the opposite sex. Lady Booby is mourning her dead husband while playing cards and is rather happy for having another opportunity to have a new lover. The clergymen are shown to have no moral values rather they are indulged in the worldly affairs and are crafty and callous. There are vicious and inhuman squires. There is no concept of charity among the higher or so called privileged class. They cannot help a poor fellow who is robbed and stripped by the ruffians. A parson cannot help a man of his own fraternity with some shillings. A surgeon shows no sympathy for the poor footman. The in keeper on finding out that Adam is not the real kin of well to do Mr. Tulliber, refuses to give any charity which she was ready to part with earlier when she mistook Adams for being the rich man’s real brother.

A very cruel realism and satire is shown when Pamela also becomes an accomplice of Mr. B in persuading Joseph to do away with the idea of marrying poor Fanny which is so ironic since Pamela herself belonged to that class to which Fanny belonged and had herself succeeded in marrying a person of a higher prospect. A blurry kind of humor also arises when Fielding tells us of the man talking of courage and bravery but he runs away at the mere mention of the danger, and of the catholic priest who after giving a wholesome lecture on the evils of money ends up in asking for some money from Parson Adams.

Poor Adam’s forgetfulness is both humorous and serves as a reason for new adventures and encounters with new characters. Sometimes this humor is also shown in a slapstick style for example in the head over heels tumbling down of Adams and in the ridiculous fight at the Tow Wouse inn where Mrs. Slipslops also joins in and pulls the hair of the inn keeper’s wife. Also the mention of Mrs. Slipslop’s hairy chin and in the midst of the night Adams being half naked and falling on her in a mere confusion and of the new suitor of Fanny, “Beau Didapper” when he crawls into Mrs. Slipslop’s bed mistaking her for Fanny is very much humorous. Here, again Mrs. Slipslop takes advantage of this opportunity to satisfy her ego and yells at the top of her voice as if she is being raped by Didapper is quite hilarious.

Thus pungent satire and to an extent sufficient amount of humor is there to categorize this novel as fulfilling this characteristic feature of a picaresque. This novel is a gallery of characters, another very important feature of a picaresque mode. The travelers meet squires, in keepers and their wives ,landlords and land ladies, gentlemen and gentlewomen, parsons and their wives, ruffians, postillion, horsemen, coachmen, people in the neighborhood, priest, chambermaids, accountant, gamester, player, poet, philosophers, lawyers, justice, surgeon, beggars, peddlers.

And to one’s surprise, this steady train of characters contributes in these adventures very actively and each one has a part to play which also justifies the looseness of the plot. The hero travels from place to place encountering thieves an ruffians, rescuing damsels in distress, fighting duels, falling in love, being thrown in prison, and meeting a vast section of society. The opportunity of representing a large section of society gave the author the power of exploring the follies of the widest possible range of humanity. By introducing this gamut of good and bad, virtuous and vicious characters Fielding explores and satirizes the discrepancies in the human affectation and pretences.

The central journey in the Joseph Andrews is not just for the purpose of wandering as it is in a picaresque. Joseph is not a wanderer. He is on a noble journey homewards and there is a cause and an objective behind this journey that Joseph has taken up. It is the need that has made him set out even in the darkening hours. He is rather compelled to leave England and go to his beloved due to the circumstances that arose. Yet the whole journey is fabricated in the utter manner of a picaresque narration. It is in the chapter ten of the book one that picaresque element enters the novel when Joseph is shown to set out on his journey in the borrowed coat. From here begin his misadventures and finally he is shown to meet and marry his beloved. This picaresque element is maintained till the end of the book III in terms of being adventurous.

From book IV onwards satire and realism is more prevalent than the adventure. There is a tug of war going on in terms of emotions between Lady Booby and Joseph who does not want to leave Fanny come what may and lady Booby does not to leave alone Joseph come what may. In this quest, most surprisingly and coincidently, he comes to discover his true identity in terms of his real parentage. Interpolated stories and Coincidences are there which make up the fine ingredients of a picaresque novel. In this concluding paragraph, on the basis of above mentioned arguments and textual evidences, I would establish this statement that Joseph Andrews is a Picaresque Novel.

There are certain sections where picaresque tradition is not strictly being followed and it seems as if the author is subtly preaching moral values and is hence being didactic. Also, Henry Fielding might himself call it a comic epic poem in prose and whatever the motive behind writing it he may describe, be it anti-Pamelism or whatever, but when we look at it in a broader perspective we can clearly make out that it has the rambling and discursive narrative which enable to it to have all the elements of a picaresque in it and therefore making it a Picaresque Novel.


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