In his novel, Joseph Andrews, Henry Fielding uses various type characters to create a satire on the vices of men, finding that, “The only source of the true Ridiculous…is affectation,” which “proceeds from one of these two causes, vanity or hypocrisy…” (Fielding 10). These two chief vices reveal themselves through the words, actions, and lifestyles of several of Fielding’s characters, some in more harmless forms than others, and often coming hand in hand.
A shining example of hypocrisy is displayed while Mr. Adams is travelling with a gentleman who gives a bold discourse on courage and “the infamy of not being ready at all times to sacrifice our lives to our country.” During his lecture, the screams of a woman are heard, and Mr. Adams reaches for a weapon to assist. The gentleman is shocked and, trembling, says, “This is no business of ours; let us make as much haste as possible out of the way, or we may fall into their hands ourselves” (115). As Adams dashes off to the woman’s aid, the “man of courage” escapes to his own home, “without once looking behind him,” where the author leaves him to “contemplate his own bravery, and to censure the want of it in others” (115).
However, Mr. Adams is not himself altogether virtuous, and, although perhaps more harmless, demonstrates a revealing combination of vanity and hypocrisy. Adams is frequently found making a vain display of his learning and evaluating the quality of others’ educations, often speaking in Latin and chastising others for not behaving according to the Scriptures. He makes himself ridiculous with his high opinion of his accomplishments. When the character Wilson relates his life’s tale, Adams searches for a sermon he wrote on the subject of vanity, declaring it so admirable that he would walk five miles to fetch it. He claims he had “never been a greater enemy to any passion than that silly one of vanity (181),” thus exposing his own hypocritical tendency for vanity.
Fielding also makes an intentional display of vanity by inserting a story within the story: “The History of Leonora.” Leonora is a beautiful young lady, heir to a fortune, with a “greedy appetite of vanity, with the preference which was given her by the men to almost every other woman…”(84).
Not long after Leonora has settled on a suitor to marry than her love is tested by the appearance of a fine stranger arriving in a “dear coach and six.” She ultimately concedes to his enticing riches, denying her former lover, but her father refuses to pass on his fortune while he lives, and her new lover leaves. Thus the vanity of Leonora leaves her alone as the miserable subject of ridicule.
One hypocritical character who enters, perhaps solely for the purpose of his ironic behavior, is the Roman Catholic priest encountered by Mr. Adams at an inn. The gentleman gives a lecture on the value of riches, saying, “Do not riches bring us solicitude instead of rest, envy instead of affectation, and danger instead of safety?” (214). But, no sooner has he finished his speech on the evils of riches, than he asks Adams for a loan to pay for his lodgings, and subsequently asks the host to pay his debt later.
The host points out the hypocrisy, saying, “I thought by his talking so much about riches, that he had a hundred pounds a least in his pocket” (216). But the scene is not complete without Adams adding his own hypocrisy; he chides the host for his suspicions and then retires to bed without a thought as to how he will pay his own debt.
Through these instances and many others, Fielding purposefully and humorously exemplifies the vices of vanity and hypocrisy. His ridiculous, flawed characters, their actions and lifestyles, and even the stories they tell are ripe with patterns of these traits, to the point of absurdity. But it is the painfully ridiculous that Fielding uses to bring hypocrisy and vanity to the reader’s attention and show what vices they truly are.