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Henry Fielding (22 April 1707 – 8 October 1754) was an Englishmarker novelist and dramatist known for his rich earthy humour and satirical prowess, and as the author of the novel Tom Jones.

Aside from his literary achievements, he has a significant place in the history of law-enforcement, having founded (with his half-brother John) what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, using his authority as a magistrate.


Fielding was educated at Eton Collegemarker, where he established a lifelong friendship with William Pitt the Elder. His younger sister, Sarah, also became a successful writer. After a romantic episode with a young woman that ended in his getting into trouble with the law, he went to Londonmarker where his literary career began. In 1728, he travelled to Leidenmarker to study classics and law at the University. However, due to lack of money he was obliged to return to London and he began writing for the theatre, some of his work being savagely critical of the contemporary government under Sir Robert Walpole.

The Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 is alleged to be a direct result of his activities. The particular play that triggered the Licensing Act was The Vision of the Golden Rump, but Fielding's satires had set the tone. Once the Licensing Act passed, political satire on the stage was virtually impossible, and playwrights whose works were staged were viewed as suspect. Fielding therefore retired from the theatre and resumed his career in law and, in order to support his wife Charlotte Cradock and two children, he became a barrister.

His lack of money sense meant that he and his family often endured periods of poverty, but he was also helped by Ralph Allen, a wealthy benefactor who later formed the basis of Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones. After Fielding's death, Allen provided for the education and support of his children.

Fielding never stopped writing political satire and satires of current arts and letters. His Tragedy of Tragedies of Tom Thumb (for which Hogarth designed the frontispiece) was, for example, quite successful as a printed play. He also contributed a number of works to journals of the day. He wrote for Tory periodicals, usually under the name of "Captain Hercules Vinegar".During the late 1730s and early 1740s Fielding continued to air his liberal and anti-Jacobite views in satirical articles and newspapers. Almost by accident, in anger at the success of Richardson's Pamela, Fielding took to writing novels in 1741 and his first major success was Shamela, an anonymous parody of Samuel Richardson's melodramatic novel. It is a satire that follows the model of the famous Tory satirists of the previous generation (Jonathan Swift and John Gay, in particular).

He followed this up with Joseph Andrews (1742), an original work supposedly dealing with Pamela's brother, Joseph. Although also begun as a parody, this work developed into an accomplished novel in its own right and is considered to mark Fielding's debut as a serious novelist. In 1743, he published a novel in the Miscellanies volume III (which was the first volume of the Miscellanies). This was The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great. This novel is sometimes thought of as his first because he almost certainly began composing it before he wrote Shamela and Joseph Andrews. It is a satire of Walpole that draws a parallel between Walpole and Jonathan Wild, the infamous gang leader and highwayman. He implicitly compares the Whig party in Parliament with a gang of thieves being run by Walpole, whose constant desire to be a "Great Man" (a common epithet for Walpole) should culminate only in the antithesis of greatness: being hanged.

His anonymously-published The Female Husband of 1746 is a fictionalized account of a notorious case in which a female transvestite was tried for duping another woman into marriage. Though a minor item in Fielding's total oeuvre, the subject is consistent with his ongoing preoccupation with fraud, sham, and masks. His greatest work was Tom Jones (1749), a meticulously constructed picaresque novel telling the convoluted and hilarious tale of how a foundling came into a fortune. Charlotte, on whom he later modelled the heroines of both Tom Jones and Amelia, died in 1744. Three years later Fielding – disregarding public opinion – married Charlotte's former maid, Mary, who was pregnant.

Despite this, his consistent anti-Jacobitism and support for the Church of England led to him being rewarded a year later with the position of London's Chief Magistrate, and his literary career went from strength to strength. Joined by his younger half-brother John, he helped found what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners in 1749. According to the historian G.M. Trevelyan, they were two of the best magistrates in eighteenth-century London, and did a great deal to enhance the cause of judicial reform and improve prison conditions. His influential pamphlets and enquiries included a proposal for the abolition of public hangings. This did not, however, imply opposition to capital punishment as such—as evident, for example, in his presiding in 1751 over the trial of the notorious criminal James Field, finding him guilty in a robbery and sentencing him to hang. Despite being now blind, John Fielding succeeded his older brother as Chief Magistrate and became known as the 'Blind Beak' of Bow Street for his ability to recognise criminals by their voice alone. In January 1752, Fielding started a biweekly periodical titled The Covent-Garden Journal, which he would publish under the pseudonym of "Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt. Censor of Great Britain" until November of the same year. In this periodical, Fielding directly challenged the "armies of Grub Streetmarker" and the contemporary periodical writers of the day in a conflict that would eventually become the Paper War of 1752-1753.

Fielding's ardent commitment to the cause of justice as a great humanitarian in the 1750s, coincided with a rapid deterioration in his health to such an extent that he went abroad to Portugalmarker in 1754 in search of a cure. Gout, asthma and other afflictions meant that he had to use crutches. He died in Lisbonmarker two months later and his tomb in the city English Cemetery (a.k.a. "Os Cyprestes") may be visited, which also has the St. George's Church (Anglican church for Lisbon) inside the cemetery.

File:Henry Fielding c 1743 etching from Jonathan Wild the Great.jpg|Henry Fielding circa 1743 etching from Jonathan Wild the GreatFile:Henry Fielding grave.jpg|Henry Fielding gravesite which contains Anglican church of St. George nearby in the cemetery.File:Entrance to English Cemetery - Lisbon.jpg|Entrance to the Lisbon English Cemetery where Henry Fielding's gavesite is located.File:St George church.jpg|St George church is the Anglican church for Lisbon. Fielding gavesite is about 150 feet away.

Literary style

Whereas Defoe and Richardson both attempt to hide the fictional nature of their work under the guise of 'memoirs' and 'letters' respectively, Henry Fielding adopted a position which represented a new departure in terms of prose fiction—in no way do his novels constitute an effort to disguise literary devices. In fact, he was the first major novelist to openly admit that his prose fiction was pure artifice. Also, in comparison with his arch rival and contemporary, Richardson, Fielding presents his reader with a much wider range of characters taken from all social classes.

Fielding's lack of psychological realism (i.e. the feelings and emotions of his characters are rarely explored in any depth) can perhaps be put down to his overriding concern to reveal the universal order of things. It can be argued that his novel Tom Jones reflects its author's essentially neoclassical outlook—character is something the individual is blessed with at birth, a part of life's natural order or pattern. Characters within Fielding's novels also correspond largely to types; e.g. Squire Western is a typically boorish and uncultivated Tory squire, obsessed with fox hunting, drinking and acquiring more property.

So Fielding's comic epic contains a range of wonderful—but essentially static—characters whose motives and behaviour are largely predetermined. There is little emotional depth to his portrayal of them, and the complex realities of interactive human relationships that are so much a part of the modern novel are of negligible importance to him. Perhaps the character we come to know best is the figure of the omniscient narrator himself (i.e. Fielding) whose company some of his readers come to enjoy.

In popular culture

In Joe Wright's 2007 film adaptation of "Atonement" (novel by Ian Mcewan), Cecilia admits to Robbie that she "prefers Fielding anyday; he's much more passionate" as opposed to the other 18th century Romantic writers."

Partial list of works


  1. Words, Words, Words, From the Beginnings to the 18th Century, La Spiga languages, 2003


The first collected edition[1681] of Fielding was Works (London, 1762); other editions are those edited respectively by Scott and Roscoe (Edinburgh, 1840), by Browne (London, 1871), by Gosse (New York, 1898), and by Saintbury (New York and London, 1902). Fielding's first biographer was Arthur Murray, whose essay on Fielding's life and genius was introduced in the first collected series. (See above). The best life is that of Martin Battestin and Ruthe Battestin, Henry Fielding: A Life (London & New York: Routledge, 1989).
  • Lawrence, Life and Times of Fielding (London, 1855)
  • Leslie Stephen's admirable essay on Fielding in Hours in a Library (London, 1874-79)
  • Linder, Henry Fielding's Dramatische Werke (Dresden, 1895)

A survey of Fielding scholarship and criticism by H. George Hahn, "Henry Fielding: An Annotated Bibliography" (Metuchen, NJ and London: Scarecrow Press, 1979).Full and excellent critical introductions to each of Fielding's important works will be found in G. E. Saintbury's edition of the Works (ten volumes, London, 1898).

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