A Henry Fielding Companion

A Henry Fielding Companion

A Henry Fielding Companion

A Henry Fielding Companion

Synopsis

Best known as the author of Joseph Andrews (1742), Tom Jones (1749), and Amelia (1751), Henry Fielding was one of the most important pioneering English novelists, and his works continue to hold a central place in the literary canon. This reference book is a comprehensive guide to his life and writings. The volume is organized in several broad sections devoted to his residences, family and household, historical figures and literary influences, works, themes, and characters. Each section provides entries for individual items, many of which are accompanied by bibliographical references. The volume begins with a brief introductory essay and chronology and concludes with extensive bibliographical material. The sectional organization of the book invites study of particular aspects of Fielding's career, while an index provides convenient alphabetical access to the entries.

Excerpt

Henry Fielding was among the more remarkable figures of his time -- an innovator of genius as a dramatist and novelist and a magistrate who addressed serious social problems and invented the modern metropolitan police. He was remarkable as well for his sociable virtues. Few of his contemporaries -- perhaps not even the great Samuel Johnson himself -- were more agreeable companions or spoke so well and so wittily. His friend George Lyttelton, who knew them all, declared to the moralist James Beattie after Fielding was gone that Fielding "had more wit and humour" than Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and the other wits of his time put together (Beattie 1783: 571).

In the space of a few years in the 1730s Fielding became the most dominant playwright in London since John Dryden (Hume 1988: ix). Indeed, no less a judge than George Bernard Shaw declared without irony that Fielding was "the greatest dramatist, with the single exception of Shakespeare, produced in England between the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century" (Shaw 1909: xiii). Fielding achieved this success in part by experimenting with new concepts and new forms of comedy and satire and in part by adapting to the modern stage the "Old Comedy" of his favorite Aristophanes, who impudently ridiculed reallife characters. In this, Fielding was regrettably too successful: his politically charged satires Pasquin (1736) and The Historical Register (1737) were so popular, and so galling to the government, that they precipitated the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737, which closed Fielding's theater and ended his career as dramatist (Liesenfeld 1984). Indeed, the censorial powers it gave to the Lord Chamberlain would remain in force for 230 years and were invoked to stop productions of plays by, among others, Shaw and Henrik Ibsen, Samuel Beckett, and Tennessee Williams.

Silenced by an act of Parliament, Fielding entered the Middle Temple in November 1737 in order to prepare himself for the bar, to which he would be admitted less than three years later. But expenses were heavy -- for law books . . .

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