Henry Fielding 1707–54

  • Ian McGowan
Part of the St. Martin’s Anthologies of English Literature book series (AEL)


Fielding, the son of a general, was educated at Eton beside such future statesmen as the elder Pitt. He studied abroad at Leyden (1728–9) and returned to London to write many farces and dramatic satires (The Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great, 1731; The Historical Register for 1736). The political censorship of the 1737 Licensing Act ended his theatre career, although he carried some of its techniques into his fiction. In Shamela (1741) he ridiculed the dubious morality and dramatic style of Richardson’s novel; Joseph Andrews (1742), a more positive account of Pamela’s ‘brother’, and Tom Jones (1749), offered his view of the novel as ‘a comic epic poem in prose’; Amelia (1751) is more domestic and pathetic in treatment. Fielding had meanwhile taken to journalism, including the anti-Stuart The Jacobite’s Journal, and continued to attack hypocrisy in his ironic celebration of the thief-taker, Jonathan Wild the Great (1743). Having read for the bar, he became Justice of the Peace for Westminster and then Middlesex (1749), and as Bow Street magistrate worked with his half-brother, Sir John, to stamp out street disorder and legal corruption, and promote the welfare of the poor. The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon (1755) is a surprisingly lively account of an unsuccessful attempt to throw off his fatal illness.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 1989

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  • Ian McGowan

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