27. Henry Fielding - Joseph Andrews (1742)
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Francisco: I must warn you that this is one of those stupid mistakes on the book list, this book comes on the list before Samuel Richardson's Pamela, seeing as this is not the first, but the second spoof of Pamela by Fielding, Pamela should really come first. Fortunately you don't need to have read Pamela to appreciate the book. I am reading Pamela now and it throws some light on Andrews, but nothing major. Shamela, Fielding's first spoof of Pamela does require previous knowledge of the book, in case you are interested or have the Penguin edition with Shamela and Joseph Andrews.
Well, as you can see in the frontispiece above this is a novel done in the imitation of Cervantes. As in most imitations it isn't nearly as good as the original. It starts off as a male version of Pamela, but it soon becomes an adventure story in the style of Don Quixote, where Andrews is the Quixote to Parson Adams' Sancho. It is an interesting book in the way that it attempt to transpose the ideas in Quixote to English reality.
I found that it took me a few dozen pages to get used to Fielding's writing, as soon as I did it became a quite enjoyable book. There are some particular speeches, about Good Works versus Faith for example which are very interesting and well worth the price of admition. The humour is never as sharp as that of Cervantes or even Swift however and the book loses points for that.
Vanda: Unlike my husband up there, I loathed this book. Dull, dullstown, dullsville, dullscontinent. Dear god, was it dull, uninteresting, unwitty, not funny at all, while trying desperately to amuse. I tried and tried to read it fast, to skim over some bits, and not even that was possible, with Fielding's confounded writing style that makes this absolutely impossible. It took me a while to finish it, because I simply was not interested at all in the characters, and the desperatly-trying-to-be-satirical-and-failing-miserably writing just got consistently on my nerves.
Seriously, you have better things to do with your time. It's a short book, but it takes too long to read to justify a tick in the list of books you've read. The plot is all rather pointless, and the writer's attempt at emulating Cervantes is nothing if not laughable. Why it was kept in the new list is absolutely beyond me. There have been books I haven't liked, but have usually understand their inclusion. With this one, I'm just plain baffled.
The impetus for the novel, as Fielding claims in the preface, is the establishment of a genre of writing ‘which I do not remember to have been hitherto attempted in our language’, defined as the ‘comic epic-poem in prose’: a work of prose fiction, epic in length and variety of incident and character, in the hypothetical spirit of Homer’s lost (and possibly apocryphal) comic poem. As becomes apparent from the first few chapters of the novel in which Richardson and Cibber are parodied mercilessly, the real germ of Joseph Andrews is Fielding’s objection to the moral and technical limitations of the popular literature of his day. But while Shamela started and finished as a sustained subversion of a rival work, in Joseph Andrews Fielding merely uses the depravation of popular literature as a springboard to conceive more fully his own philosophy of prose fiction.