Joseph Andrew as a Work of Satire
Joseph Andrew was written by Fielding to satirise some of the more commonly found social follies and foibles in the contemporary society. Irony and satire are closely related literary terms. Fielding was avowedly writing a book in which he was to hold the mirror up to human folly. As such, it was inevitable that his humour should involve satire and irony. But most of the times, his satire is mild and amusing rather than vituperative and bitter.
In essence, Fielding was strongly against the type of morality which he felt was propounded by Richardson. He advocated basic human kindness, charity and warmth of heart rather than an adherence to a rigid code of rules. So he satirise the so-called social morality and its various facets.
Satire on Pamela:
As Fielding started off with writing a parody of Pamela, so he portrays her with colours of satire. The most pungent satire is contained in the words of Pamela when Joseph reminds her that she herself had not been born a lady, and thus could not have complained about his marrying Fanny.
The illustrious and virtuous Pamela smugly says; “She was my equal, but I am no more Pamela Andrews; I an now this gentleman’s lady, and as such am above her—I hope I shall never behave with an unbecoming pride;” The satire against social climbers, who are so ready to ignore their origins, is obvious. Indeed, Fielding does not leave an opportunity to satirise Richardson’s Pamela.
Satirical representation of Moral vision:
In order to understand Fielding’s mocking up of contemporary morality, it is important to understand the moral outlooks of Fielding and Richardson. (Brathwaite, 1970) Henry Fielding puts together an extraordinary endeavor in Joseph Andrews to change Pamela’s “over pronounced morality” (Cruise, 536) and transform it with real satirical representation of so-called prevailing morality. The later was held to be highly moral. His Pamela was accepted as the most edifying book after The Bible. His Clarissa is obsessed with the idea of morality that she makes it a rule to do a certain number of good things every day, and in case she fails to reach that number, she will carry over he balance to next day, which to modern sensibility looks childish. Besides, Richardson always equates morality with chastity and makes chastity a saleable commodity from which material benefits are bound to accrue.
This, Fielding felt a very narrow concept of morality, so he satirise this type of social and religious morality. For Fielding, to be moral is to be virtuous; to be immoral is to be harbour vice. But virtue is not just chastity. It is more a matter of one’s inner being. So Fielding attacks this concept of morality and satirise it. Fielding makes fun of Christian morality that stress on ritualism and only eulogize charity but its adherents do nothing for active practice of charity. Although everyone in the novel says that one mark of good man is to that it gives him real joy to help others. But in reality, As Fielding shows, no one cares about this tenet of Christianity. Mrs. Tow-wouse forbids her husband to lend a shirt to Joseph who has been stripped naked and half-killed. Parson Trulliber, who preaches charity as a virtue, refuses to lend a few pennies to Adam and condemns him as a vagabond. Fielding satirizes this paradoxical behavior and conduct about charity in its highest form when one of the characters, Peter Pounce, says that the distress of mankind are mostly imaginary, and “it would be rather folly than goodness to relieve them”.
He Satirizes various forms of social egoism:
He found that man entertained very false motions of social respectability and his vanity and egoism led him to many ridiculous situations. There was blatant display of hypocrisy around almost everywhere. Prevailing notions about social respectability do not correspond to their general behaviour. So they took recourse to posing and pretension, making themselves guilty of duplicity of conduct.
Lady Booby is manifested as genteel and respectable outwardly. It would be extremely degrading for her to express her love to hr footman. But she can at-least lean on his arm when she is tired (and this happen almost every minute) and there is no harm in taking him by the hand while getting out of her coach and pressing it very hard for fear of stumbling. The contrast between the virtue that Lady Booby pretends to and the vice that er real intentions point clearly to her social egoism. Fielding satirise this type of social egoism in a very subtle manner as demonstrated by above-mentioned example. He often felt amused at the incongruities and inconsistencies evident in the actions of the people and mocks them satirically to expose the vanity and egoism in a subtle but mild way. Another satirical manifestation of same social egoism as expressed in first example can be seen in Mrs. Slipslop’s efforts to seduce Joseph.
The ladies and gentlemen traveling in the coach that comes to a halt when the postilion hears the cries of Joseph are respectable. The ladies are shocked at Joseph’s nakedness, but this does not prevent them from costing stealthy glances at his well-built body. Here the social egoism is ridiculed as passengers make them contemptuous of the poverty and nakedness but it (social egoism) does not any to offer him a coat or blanket. And the only person that helps him is the postilion who has absolutely no pretension either to virtue or to social superiority and who, we are told, is later punished or sent to Australia for some minor crime that is probably committed out of hunger. Immediately afterwards another robbery takes place, and a small bottle of wine is found in the purse of a lady who has most vociferous claims to virtue.
Here Fielding does not restrict himself to the mild and placid type of satire but it becomes ruthless due to the demands of the situation. This transformation from mild satire to harsh satire is due to fact that social egoism manifested in the first example is limited to sentiments and one’s own psychological make-up whereas in the second example, it turns out to be malignant and hateful. This pattern of satire of social egoism continues throughout the novel.
Professional Ineptitude and indifference:
Henry Fielding points out and makes fun of the professional incompetence among people. The professional classes in general show a mark inefficiency and indifference. They do not take their work seriously. Parson Barnabas thinks nothing of going to deliver a funeral sermon without preparing for it. He shows greatest interest and expertise in drinking punch than in his theological knowledge. He cannot resist the temptation of a drink even though the person he is supposed to minister to may be on the verge of death. The surgeon’s knowledge of medicine is scanty. The surgeon is more interested in law then medicine. He goes against the very basic essential of his professional calling when he refuses to examine Joseph because he would not be able to pay his fee.
Parson Trulliber takes more interest in his hogs than in his parishioners. Parson Trulliber is more of a hog-dealer than a “shepherd which he is enjoyed to be as a Christian’s priest. The rural magistrate thinks nothing of callously committing possible offender to jail with a proper hearing. The justice knows nothing of law. Colonel Courtly, Esquire Fickle, Sir Oliver Hearty, Sir Thomas Booby, –all are illustration of the corrupt and selfish politicians of the day. Each one is engaged in self-aggrandizement and power. Each is totally indifferent to the welfare of those who voted him to power. Lawyer scout is hardly a lawyer. He is more effective in preventing the course of law than as a supporter and practitioner of it. He feels that there should be an act to hang or transport half of the poor people, for the land had too many of them. So Fielding manifests that ignorance, indifference and ineptitude govern the professional class in general and he satirise it effectively and masterfully by showing their petty habitual formation and behavioral incompetence.
Vanity and profligacy of the affluent town society:
Fielding has not given too much satirical attention to the social follies and idiocies of town and has more concentrated on countryside as plot of the novel demanded it so. But the little he describes of town society. He describes it masterfully with perfect satire. He gives us its posing and pretensions, its vanities and degree of degeneracy. This society has certain ridiculous priorities. The stories of Mr. Wilson and Leonara as well as Joseph’s short sojourn in London provide us with a satirical expression about the vulgarity, degeneration of morals, the vanity and hypocrisy that have infested town society. Fielding statirise that these leisure classes have nothing to do constructively and scandal mongering is common pursuit and occupation of the elite class. Mrs. Tittle and Mrs. Tattle are apt enough names for the ladies of London.
Mrs. Slipslop as a satirical figure:
Robert Alter (1968) says in his work Fielding and the nature of the Novel;
Mrs. Slipslop, with her reddened skin, her udderlike breasts, her pimply face, swollen nose, and porcine eyes, with her pretensions to learning and her fierce determination to repay herself for all her years of cautious celibacy, is clearly a Hogarthian satiric figure, in both visual and moral terms. (118)
Although Mrs. Slipslop has an insignificant position in the novel and its action yet her characterization is most powerful illustration of satirical agenda of the novel. She is an epitome of all the evil prevailing in the cotemporary society. She is egotistic, conniving, lustful, and hypocritical. So her satirical representation typifies the sardonic representation of that society.
Salient Features of his Satire:
Satire is achieved through exposure of the follies and foibles and never through castigation. Satirical humour is directed toward follies and social classes and never toward a particular individual. If a particular character is mocked, he was taken as a representative of that class. Satire against customs and manners and morals of the contemporary society and humanity at large, is moderate, humane and tolerant. Humour is utilized as tool for satire. Pagliaro sums up the satire in Joseph Andrew in this way that satire in this novel is more of a Chaucerian and Shakespearian genre-benign, tolerant, and genial. It arises naturally and never contrived. It is not bitter though it can be poignant. (Pagliaro 1998, 137) It is not the virulent raillery of Swift and he (Fielding) “seeks to transform ridicule from an instrument of satire or a gesture of the burlesque into a feature of the comic”. (Lund 2006, 97)
Alter, Robert. Fielding and the nature of the novel. Publisher: Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press. 1968.
Brathwaite, Lionel Winston. The novel of nature and the novel of manners: an inquiry
into Johnson’s view of the novels of Richardson and Fielding. University of
Cruise, James. “Precept, Property and ‘Bourgeois’ Practice in Joseph Andrews.” Studies
in English Literature, 1500–1900. 37. 535–552. 1997
Lund, Roger D. “Augusten Burlesque and the Genesis of Joseph Andrews” Studies in Philosophy
103.1 (2006): 88–119
Pagliaro, Harold. “The Novels and Other Prose Fiction.” Henry Fielding: A Literary Life.
New York: St. Martin’s Press.136–151. 1998.
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