Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding, 1707–54, English novelist and dramatist. Born of a distinguished family, he was educated at Eton and studied law at Leiden. Settling in London in 1729, he began writing comedies, farces, and burlesques, the most notable being Tom Thumb (1730), and two satires, Pasquin (1736) and The Historical Register for 1736 (1737), which attacked the Walpole government and provoked the Licensing Act of 1737. This act, setting up a censorship of the stage, ended Fielding's dramatic career and turned him to the less inhibited form of the novel. In that genre he achieved his greatest success, beginning with his first novel, Joseph Andrews (1742), which started simply as a burlesque of Samuel Richardson's sentimental novel Pamela but developed into a great comic creation. He followed with Jonathan Wild (1743), the history of a superman of crime, which has been called the most sustained piece of irony in English. His masterpiece is Tom Jones (1749), a novel recounting the wild comic adventures of the good-hearted though highly fallible foundling, Tom Jones. In Tom and his guardian, Squire Allworthy, Fielding presents his concept of the ideal man, one in whom goodness and charity are combined with common sense. Because of its memorable characters and episodes, the brilliance of its plotting, and the generosity of its moral vision, Tom Jones is considered one of the greatest of English novels. Amelia (1751), his last novel, is a somewhat sentimental story about a young wife's devotion to her feckless husband, in which Fielding exposes numerous social evils of his day. Fielding had begun his serious study of law in 1737 and in 1740 was called to the bar. After spending several years as a political journalist, he was appointed justice of the peace for Westminster in 1748 and for Middlesex in 1749. A fearless and honest magistrate, he worked arduously in the administration of justice and the prevention of crime. Broken in health, he resigned his office in 1753 and the following year sailed for Portugal, where he died. His last work was the amusing journal Voyage to Lisbon (1755).

See biographies by W. L. Cross (3 vol., 1918, repr. 1963), F. H. Duddon (1952, repr. 1966), and J. Uglow (1995); studies by M. Johnson (1961), R. Alter (1969), R. Paulson, ed. (1962 and 1971), P. Lewis (1987), and A. J. Rivero (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Henry Fielding: Selected full-text books and articles

A Henry Fielding Companion By Martin C. Battestin Greenwood Press, 2000
The Novels of Fielding By Aurelien Digeon George Routledge & Sons, 1925
Librarian’s tip: This is a book of literary criticism
Tom Jones By Henry Fielding; John Bender; Simon Stern Oxford University Press, 1996
The Embodiment of Characters: The Representation of Physical Experience on Stage and in Print, 1728-1749 By Jones Deritter University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Who She Was and What She Was: Female Characters and Physical Experience in Tom Jones"
The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding By Ian Watt University of California Press, 1957
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VIII "Fielding and the Epic Theory of the Novel," and Chap. IX "Fielding as Novelist: 'Tom Jones'"
Trials and the Shaping of Identity in Tom Jones By Loftis, John E Studies in the Novel, Vol. 34, No. 1, Spring 2002
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Grub-Street Opera By Henry Fielding; Edgar V. Roberts University of Nebraska Press, 1968
Grub Street and the Ivory Tower: Literary Journalism and Literary Scholarship from Fielding to the Internet By Jeremy Treglown; Bridget Bennett Clarendon Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Fielding, Grub Street, and Canary Wharf"
Theatrical Fielding By Lockwood, Thomas Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. 32, No. 2, Fall 1999
Henry Fielding's Theory of the Comic Prose Epic By Ethel Margaret Thornbury University of Wisconsin, 1931
The Columbia History of the British Novel By John J. Richetti; John Bender; Deirdre David; Michael Seidel Columbia University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: "Fielding and the Novel at Mid-Century" begins on p. 102
Henry Fielding By Elizabeth Jenkins A. Swallow, 1948
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.