Henry Fielding (1707–1754) with his great rival, Samuel Richardson, was one of the two early masters of the English novel. Born in Somerset and educated at Eton, he had aristocratic connections on his father’s side. Fielding enjoyed great success in two fields, literature and the law. His first significant literary achievements came as a playwright. He had a particular gift for satire, directing most of his barbs at Sir Robert Walpole, the Tory prime minister—but his dramatic career was halted by the Licensing Act of 1737, which imposed strict censorship on most of the theaters in London. Fielding responded to this crisis by preparing for the bar exam and turning his attention to prose fiction. In the early 1740s, he produced two hilarious parodies of Richardson’s Pamela (1740): Shamela (1741) and Joseph Andrews (1742). Joseph Andrews is Fielding’s first great novel, as well as his earliest effort to create what he called a “comic epic in prose.” It paved the way for the even greater achievement of Tom Jones (1749), which contains the first serious reflections on the art of fiction in English. Fielding also served for five years as a magistrate or judge in London, gaining additional fame as the founder of the “Bow Street Runners,” the first modern police force in the city’s history. His younger sister, Sarah, was a successful novelist in her own right, with her most successful work, The Adventures of David Simple, appearing in 1744.
[Courtesy: Professor Timothy Spurgin]