Joseph Andrews By Henry Fielding Summary and Analysis Book III: Chapter 1

Summary

In contrasting biographers with those "romance-writers who entitle their books "The History of England" . . . etc.," Fielding states that biographers always grasp the human truth, if not the truth of the details of an age or a country. But, while praising biographers, he observes that they copy nature instead of creating their own originals "from the confused heap of matter in their own brains." Taking Don Quixote as an example, Fielding claims that there is a timeless quality about such works and applies this principle to Joseph Andrews, in which he claims to describe "not men, but manners; not an individual, but a species." Thus Fielding avoids libeling an individual and, by satirizing timeless human traits, he holds up a mirror to us all.

Analysis

In the introduction to Book III, Fielding reminds the reader of the purpose of this novel. He dismisses historians, who emphasize the trappings of mankind, and "authors of immense romances," who spin out their own fantasies; in contrast, he praises the creative approach remarkably similar to that proposed by the poet Imlac in Chapter 10 of Dr. Johnson's Rasselas:

"The business of a poet," said Imlac, "is to examine, not the individual, but the species; to remark general properties and large appearances; he does not number the streaks of the tulip, or describe the different shades in the verdure of the forest. He is to exhibit in his portraits of nature such prominent and striking features as recall the original to every mind . . . He must write as the interpreter of nature and the legislator of mankind, and consider himself as presiding over the thoughts and manner of future generations, as a being superior to time and place."

Such an approach enables Fielding to address his remarks to men of all times, and although the "streaks of the tulip" may be missing the portraits are nonetheless taken from life. In asserting that he has described no more than he has seen Fielding echoes his remark in the preface that life everywhere furnishes an accurate observer with the ridiculous. This cool and chiseled appraisal of the purpose and direction of the novel carefully placed midway and reinforcing the arguments of the preface again indicates Fielding's control of his craft.

He describes what he sees, not what he imagines, his glance encompasses earth rather than heaven. Nonetheless his nose is not so close to the mire (which Parson Adams falls into) that he misses the heavenly qualities of true charity, toward which our moral sense is directed.

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