Summary and Analysis
The death of Sir Thomas Booby confines Lady Booby to her house for a period of mourning, but she soon begins to pursue Joseph. Calling him to her bedside, she cunningly tries to arouse his passions, but fails. She cannot understand Joseph's innocence and his failure to understand her. Joseph, somewhat perturbed, writes a letter to his sister, Pamela. He thinks that Lady Booby is perhaps pursuing him, but charitably ascribes this to distraction over the death of Sir Thomas. In any case, he anticipates his dismissal and advises Pamela of his return to the Booby country-seat. After sealing the letter, he runs into Mrs. Slipslop who has long nursed a secret passion for Joseph. Provoked by Joseph's inability to understand her advances, she is about to seize her prey when her mistress's bell rings. Joseph is temporarily saved.
Fielding, drawing the reader's attention to the different manifestations of love in Lady Booby and Mrs. Slipslop, returns the reader to the vacillations of Lady Booby, now pouting. By this time, Mrs. Slipslop is also piqued at Joseph and vilifies his character, even claiming that Betty, the chambermaid, is with child by him. Lady Booby orders Slipslop to discharge them both and Slipslop, realizing that she has gone too far, tries to backtrack — but it is too late. Yet Lady Booby, warmed by the same passion for Joseph as is Slipslop, countermands her orders several times. Finally she resolves to see Joseph and to insult him before discarding him. This chapter closes with a wry apostrophe from Fielding to love's deceiving power of metamorphosis.
Fielding describes Joseph's physical charms and comments that this description might induce all ladies to "bridle their rampant passion for chastity." Continuing with his story, Fielding shows us Lady Booby, seemingly scolding Joseph for his conduct, then embarking on another attempt at seduction, but utterly confounded by Joseph's sense of virtue. A reference by Joseph to the chastity of his sister, Pamela, completely undoes Lady Booby. She then dismisses Joseph from her household and, more mortified than ever, rings violently for Slipslop — who has been listening at the keyhole.
Lady Booby instructs Slipslop to see that Joseph is paid off and dismissed, but Slipslop is surprisingly pert in her replies. After a verbal parrying by the ladies, Slipslop remarks: "I know what I know," and Lady Booby realizes that her reputation now lies with Slipslop, whom she has just dismissed as well. She tells her steward, Mr. Peter Pounce, to turn Joseph out of the house that evening, but recalls Slipslop to see if she can patch things over. She quickly achieves a reconciliation with Slipslop, but the fact that her reputation is now in the hands of this gossipy servant tortures Lady Booby. Even more disturbing is the maelstrom of emotions concerning Joseph.
Joseph now understands the full drift of his mistress and unburdens himself in another letter to his sister. He is then called downstairs to receive the small remainder of his wages from the dishonest Peter Pounce. Stripped of his livery, he borrows a frock and breeches from one of the servants and leaves the house. Although it is seven o'clock in the evening, the moon is full, so Joseph resolves to begin his journey back to the country immediately.
The mock-heroic description of the amorous Mrs. Slipslop as a "hungry tigress" is an excellent example of Fielding's use of the burlesque in his diction. The larger context of the pursuit of Joseph, however, offers ample illustration of the "only source of the true Ridiculous" — affectation. The affectation of Lady Booby is more dangerous than Slipslop's because it involves deceit and hypocrisy. The hint to this is given by her casual though outwardly correct — behavior after the death of Sir Thomas. Resting on the seventh day from her mourning — or from her cards — she calls for Joseph, and falsely attributes his lack of forwardness to secrecy and designing modesty; she judges Joseph's actions by her own. In a series of leading questions, Lady Booby sounds out Joseph, but just as the simple Parson Adams failed to understand the affected language of Slipslop, so the straightforward Joseph fails to understand the innuendoes of Lady Booby, who characteristically interprets his innocence as pretense.
The danger of Lady Booby's behavior lies in the turbulence of the conflict between passion and reason; she knows neither herself nor the true nature of Joseph, nor can she put into practice the principle of self-control. Joseph's tempting virginity still festers in her and we are thus prepared for her even more extravagant vacillations in Book IV. Her jealousy of Betty, the chambermaid, also suggests the jealousy she is to feel when she learns about Fanny. The mortification which Lady Booby feels at the revelation of Joseph's unshakable virtue is a result of her vanity. Above all, she is concerned for her reputation; she desperately wants Joseph but only if their affair can be kept secret. Her tremendous hypocrisy is exactly what Fielding most scorns. To illustrate this, he has mockingly inverted the situation of Richardson's Pamela; here it is the women who are sexually rampant.
If there is danger in Lady Booby's deceit, there is nothing more than ostentation in the open pursuit of Joseph by Mrs. Slipslop. Her vanity complements the hypocrisy of Lady Booby and, between the two of them, we have a perfect spectacle of affectation, the source of the true ridiculous. It is ludicrous that such a grotesque cripple as Slipslop should be casting eyes of affection on Joseph. The comedy is emphasized by Slipslop's manner of speaking; just as she thinks herself eminently suited for the handsome Joseph, so she considers her language learned and refined. In reality, her affected speech limps as brokenly as her ugly frame.
Between these two women, Fielding places the unassailable virtue of Joseph, who lives up to his biblical namesake, the proverbial master of chastity. The change from "Joey" to "Joseph" emphasizes the link. In a book concerned with the discrepancy between appearance and reality, Joseph, like Adams, reveals none at all between his honest face and his honest nature.
The confrontations are worthy of a playwright, and Fielding brings out the full dramatic effect of this particular triangle in its several permutations. He even draws attention to this himself, with such insertions as his remarks on love, and the reference to the arguments in Westminster reminds one of the author's presence.
The two letters which Joseph writes to his sister represent one of the novel's last links with Richardson's Pamela. Already Joseph Andrews is developing major themes of its own. In this section, the honesty, self-control, and chastity of Joseph predominate, but the theme of true charity emerges in the contrast between the greedy Peter Pounce, who strips Joseph of his livery, and the generous servant who provides Joseph with a frock and breeches. Later acts of charity often center on the metaphor and parable of clothing the naked and needy person.
As Joseph leaves London, "a bad place, [where] there is so little good fellowship, that the next-door neighbours don't know one another," the epic journey toward the Booby country seat and Joseph's self-knowledge begins in earnest.