Write a note on Richardson and Fielding as novelists.
Comparisons between Richardson and Fielding are inevitable given that both of them produced their major works in the 1740s.
Richardson is the author not only of Pamela(1740) but also of Clarissa(1747–1749), an even more ambitious and controversial work. Clarissa may be the longest novel in the English language: A recent paperback edition is 1,500 pages long. Unlike Pamela, Clarissadoes not have a happy ending. The story turns on an act of rape and ends with the death of the heroine. This fact makes it one of a handful of early English novels ending in tragedy.
Fielding is the author of two great novels: Joseph Andrews (1742), an unauthorized sequel to Pamela, and Tom Jones (1749), universally regarded as his masterpiece. Fielding’s novel begins with the discovery of an infant boy—later named Tom Jones—in the bed of a country gentleman. The aim of the story is twofold: first, to discover the truth about Tom’s origins and, second, to trace his moral development. Although Tom is good-natured, he lacks prudence. As he journeys through the English countryside and into London, he succumbs to many temptations. By the end, Tom has realized his mistakes and won the heart of the beautiful and virtuous Sophia Western. He has also been identified as the nephew of the gentleman in whose bed he was first discovered.
Richardson and Fielding are in many ways polar opposites. Richardson is the perfect representative of the rising middle class. The son of a cabinetmaker, he had little formal education and was apprenticed to a printer at the age of 17. By his early 30s, he was running his own successful printing business and, by his late 40s, publishing his own writings and assembling his own literary salon. Richardson was nothing if not upwardly mobile, and when Pamela became a commercial success, he also became the target of considerable abuse.
As we might expect, the works of these writers are also strikingly different. Whereas Richardson is invariably serious and solemn, Fielding is witty, ironic, and occasionally bawdy. Richardson occasionally pokes fun at Pamela, but he usually treats her predicament seriously, suggesting that her life depends on the preservation of her virtue. Although Fielding does not approve of Tom’s indiscretions, which include drinking and brawling, he refuses to judge his hero too harshly, making it clear that Tom never means to hurt other people.
The two authors also relate to their readers in different ways. In Pamela, we experience an intimate connection to Richardson’s central character, largely because the story is told through her letters and diaries. In Tom Jones, we view the characters from a distance, eventually discovering that our most important relationship is to the novel’s worldly and learned narrator.
Finally, although both stories end in marriage, the authors do not endorse the same social values. In Richardson, with the promotion of Pamela into the gentry, the emphasis is on social mobility and the eventual reconciliation of class conflicts. In Fielding, the stress falls differently. As Tom Jones comes to a close, its wayward hero is revealed to have been a gentleman all along. Whereas Richardson marries a rich man to a poor girl, creating an image of a new social harmony, Fielding marries a rich man to a rich girl, reinforcing existing class divisions.
The differences between these endings do not stop there, for each author seems to understand his ending in a different way. Richardson seems torn between providing a strong sense of closure and acknowledging the difficulty of the social issues he is attempting to surmount. The marriage of Pamela and Mr. B is followed by a number of scenes in which Pamela’s new position is threatened, not only by her husband, but also by his family and friends. The novel itself is followed by a sequel, known as Pamela in Her Exalted Condition, in which Mr. B hovers on the brink of an affair with a beautiful countess.
Thus, although Richardson is eager to present his readers with a perfect comedic ending, he also fears that such an ending would be unrealistic. For his part, Fielding exhibits no such conflicts, assuring us that his hero and heroine “preserve the purest and tenderest affection for each other” and explaining that “such [was] their beneficence to those below them, that there is not a neighbour, a tenant, or a servant, who doth not most gratefully bless the day when Mr. Jones was married to his Sophia.”