Oh my! What an hysterically funny story. Henry Fielding (1707-1754) was
just getting popular and successful as a playwright, having twenty-five plays produced in seven years. Unfortunately, many of them were scathing political
satires, and in 1737, Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole was instrumental in getting the Licensing Act passed which effectively censored Fielding's plays
and put an end to that segment of his writing career.
But it didn't stop his humor, and he simply vented it through another medium, that of novels. In 1740, Samuel Richardson wrote an extremely popular novel called Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded. It is about a maidservant who is pursued in a lewd manner by the son of her late Lady. She manages to escape his advances until he finally realizes he loves her and marries her. I read the synopsis on Wikipedia, and, though I don't think it was meant to be funny, it sure sounds silly. Project Gutenberg has it available as a free ebook, so I will read it.
In any case, Fielding apparently thought it was good for a laugh, too, because in the following year, a satire, signed as "Mr. Conny Keyber" was published called An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews. (Actually several satires were written on Richardson's novel.) Joseph Andrews was written by Fielding then in 1742. Here, Joseph is the virtuous one, in keeping to the same highly moral standards as his sister, Pamela, "whose virtue is at present so famous." So now it is he who has to constantly resist the advances of the ladies, though I use that term loosely, because they are a bunch of screeching, clawing, cats who get into fist fights and call each other slut, whore, and bitch. This book will keep you chortling the whole way through!
The novel is not so much one continuous story, but lots of little events, eh, adventures, eh, calamities, really, that seem often to have little connection to each other or to the main plot of the book, which there may not even be. In addition, there are many little digressions off the main road.
We are first given a bit of history on Joseph Andrews. Though from a family of no particular merit, except of course, being the brother of the famous Pamela, Joseph is also set apart from the others in his extremely fine qualities, not only his virtue, but his knowledge, strength, extraordinary physical beauty, a highly musical voice, and, oh gosh—what a guy—the epitome of perfection. He is made an apprentice for Sir Thomas Booby, but soon, at age seventeen, Lady Booby demands him as her footman.
And just as virtuous, is the curate, Abraham Adams, who holds Joseph in highest esteem, and acts as a support. Though Adams is a very scholarly man, along with his piousness, gentle heartedness, honesty, and courage, he is a bit of a scatterbrained dipstick, especially when it comes to understanding people because he cannot fathom their wickedness and ulterior motives. But most of the rest of the characters in this tale are horrible, just awful—the worst examples of humanity one can imagine.
And so it becomes Adams and Andrews against the rest of the world, and though they take a beating, both literally and symbolically, they always end up quite OK.
The heart of the story begins as the Boobys leave the country and set off to London. There, Sir Thomas dies, and Lady Booby puts the moves on Joseph. But she has competition in the form of her chambermaid, Mrs. Slipslop, a forty-something year old spinster (Mrs. does not refer to marriage in this time period). She has been the picture of "virtue" except for a, um, youthful indiscretion. However, she is also liar and gossip, and when she realizes her lady is in love with Joseph, she tells him he has gotten one of the servants pregnant. Lady Booby, in her anger and passion fires both.
And so Joseph begins the long walk home, with almost no money and barely the clothes on his back, and it is the journey that provides the hilarious adventures for most of the rest of the tale. First, he is accosted by robbers, who not only take the little money he has, but take his clothes and beat him up. He is found, naked. and here is where we really encounter the selfishness of most of the characters in which he is surrounded. A coach comes along during the night and hears him groan:
The postilion, hearing a man's groans, stopt his horses, and told the coachman he was certain there was a dead man living in the ditch, for he heard him groan. "Go on, sirrah," says the coachman, "we are confounded late, and have no time to look after dead men." A lady, who heard what the postilion said, and likewise heard the groan, called eagerly to the coachman to stop and see what was the matter. Upon which he bid the postilion alight, and look into the ditch. He did so, and returned that there was a man sitting upright, as naked as ever he was born.— "O J—sus!" cried the lady; "a naked man!" Dear coachman, drive on and leave him."
But when they find he had been robbed, they are afraid they will be
blamed, so they take him to the inn, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Tow-wouse. Their servant, Betty, is the only one with compassion, and she takes care of him.
With good luck, Mr. Adams also happens to show up here, on his way to London, where he thinks he can sell his sermons to a publisher and finally make some
money, because the parish of the Boobys hardly pays him a living.
(Unfortunately, he later finds that his wife has packed him shirts and shoes rather than his manuscript.) In any case, he and Joseph then take off for home, where just about everything that can happen to them does. They both are constantly being attacked, robbed, abused, and find themselves in one catastrophe after another. And even more amazing, the love of Joseph's life, Fanny, to whom he hastens to return, and who is also a servant of the Boobys, has taken what little money she has, and left in search of Joseph. As Adams walks through the night (he and Joseph are temporarily separated), he hears a woman struggling from a man who is trying to accost her, and beats him up. It is Fanny he has rescued, but some hunters come along and think they have tried to rob the man Adams beat up, who was attempting to rape Fanny. They take them before a corrupt judge who condemns them without even hearing their story.
But, of course, all turns out right, and the three, to Joseph's elation, are reunited, and so they continue home. The story continues with outrageous twists and turns, which become even more hysterical upon the return of both the trio and the Booby household. But, hey, this is a comedy, and comedies always have happy endings. This one is particularly clever, too. And that is all I will tell you. You must read the book yourself!
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