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Joseph Andrews Summary and Analysis

by Henry Fielding

Book I, Chapters VII through XII.

Summary.

Chapter VII.

Fielding presents “the different Operations of this Passion of Love in the gentle and cultivated Mind of the Lady Booby, from those which it effected in the less polished and coarser Disposition of Mrs. Slipslop.” Lady Booby, ashamed of her passion for Joseph Andrews and detesting Joseph for having aroused it, determines to dismiss him from her service. She rings for Slipslop and confers with her regarding Joseph’s character. They both agree that he is “a wild young Fellow,” with Slipslop accusing him of all the usual vices, including that of having impregnated the chambermaid. Lady Booby sends Slipslop out of the room with an order to dismiss Joseph; she quickly calls Slipslop back, however, and reverses the order, then changes her mind a couple more times before finally resolving “to see the Boy, and examine him herself” and then send him away for good. While Lady Booby prepares for “this last View of Joseph (for that she was most certainly resolved it should be),” Fielding apostrophizes Love, complaining of its power to make people deceive themselves.

Chapter VIII.

Fielding requests the reader’s sympathy on behalf of Lady Booby, pleading as an extenuating circumstance the great physical beauty of Joseph Andrews, which Fielding now describes in some detail. Joseph is now twenty-one years old and possessed of “an Air, which to those who have not seen many Noblemen, would give an Idea of Nobility.”

Joseph appears in all his splendor before Lady Booby, who accuses him of all the vices Mrs. Slipslop attributed to him. Joseph is taken aback and insists that he has “never offended more than Kissing.” Lady Booby, having observed that kissing often leads to other activities, asks him: “[I]f I should admit you to such Freedom, what would you think of me?” When Joseph resists all her insinuations, she demands to know what standing he has, as her social inferior, to insist upon his own virtue when she has cast aside her own. Joseph replies that he cannot see “why, because I am a Man, or because I am poor, my Virtue should be subservient to [a lady’s] Pleasure.” Lady Booby finally loses all patience when Joseph makes reference to the virtuous example of his sister, Pamela Andrews, who has endured the lascivious attentions of Sir Thomas’s nephew while a maid-servant in his household. She dismisses Joseph in a rage and then rings for Mrs. Slipslop.

Chapter IX.

Lady Booby orders Slipslop, who was listening at the door, to have the steward pay Joseph his wages and send him away. Slipslop opines that if she had known how Lady Booby would react, she would never have reported Joseph’s behavior. After sending Slipslop out of the room and then calling her back again, Lady Booby censures her for impertinence, whereupon Slipslop says darkly, “I know what I know.” Lady Booby promptly fires her, and Slipslop departs the room, slamming the door behind her. Lady Booby then begins to worry about her reputation, which she perceives is in the hands of Slipslop, who no longer has any incentive to be discreet; after a time she calls Slipslop back again and reinstates her. She still regrets, however, that “her dear Reputation was in the power of her Servants,” both Slipslop and Joseph; worse still is the fact that “in reality she had not so entirely conquered her Passion,” so that she still vacillates regarding whether or not to reinstate Joseph.

Chapter X.

Joseph, who now understands “the Drift of his Mistress,” composes a letter to his sister Pamela. In it he reflects on a lesson of Mr. Abraham Adams, “that Chastity is as great a Virtue in a Man as in a Woman,” and attributes his own dedication to virtue to Mr. Adams’s guidance and Pamela’s letters. He marvels, “What fine things are good Advice and good Examples!”

Before he has finished his letter, Lady Booby’s steward, Mr. Peter Pounce, summons him to receive his wages. Pounce has made a lucrative racket out of holding back the servants’ wages, advancing them the wages he has held back, and charging outrageous interest on the money he has advanced. Joseph, in order to acquire musical instruments, has had to ask Pounce for advances, and his wages are much diminished as a result. He borrows some clothes from another servant, since he must leave his livery behind, and sets out at seven o’clock in the evening.

Chapter XI.

Joseph heads not to his parents’ home, nor even to his sister Pamela’s, but back to Lady Booby’s country seat, where he will reunite with his sweetheart, Fanny Goodwill. Joseph and Fanny have known each other since early life and have long desired to marry, though they have taken Mr. Adams’s advice in putting off the day until “a few Years Service and Thrift” will have augmented both their experience and their finances. In the past year they have not corresponded with each other, for the very good reason that Fanny is illiterate.

A hailstorm forces Joseph to take shelter at an inn with a lion on its sign-post and a master named Timotheus. While Joseph is waiting for the storm to pass, another traveller enters the inn, and Joseph recognizes him as the servant of a neighbor of Sir Thomas. Once the storm has abated, Joseph and this traveller set out together.

Chapter XII.

Joseph and his companion reach another inn at about two o’clock in the morning; the other man stays at the inn for the night, while Joseph proceeds on foot. Before long Two Ruffians confront him in a narrow lane and demand his money. When Joseph asks to be able to keep a few shillings, they demand his clothes as well; when he objects that the clothes belong to a friend of his, they attack him with pistol and stick. Joseph takes care of the stick handily but receives a blow on the head from the pistol. The Ruffians go on beating the senseless Joseph, strip him naked, and leave him for dead.

Joseph regains consciousness just as a stage-coach approaches. The postillion hears Joseph’s groans, and the coach stops, whereupon the passengers begin to debate whether or not to aid the injured man. A young lawyer advises helping him in order that none of the passengers should be liable for negligence. Other passengers resist this advice, but the lawyer eventually prevails. Joseph, however, perceives that there are ladies in the coach and refuses to approach unless someone gives him “sufficient Covering, to prevent giving the least Offense to Decency.” No one wants to lend a garment to Joseph, until the Postilion finally volunteers his great-coat.

The Two Ruffians stop the coach and demand the passengers’ money, which they promptly receive. As the coach moves on, one of the gentlemen lightens the mood by telling dirty jokes that offend no one but Joseph. They arrive at an inn, where Betty the servant-maid prepares a bed for him. The coachman fetches a Surgeon who, upon learning that Joseph is “a poor foot Passenger” and not a gentleman, goes back to bed.

In the morning the master of the inn, Mr. Tow-wouse, orders Betty to give Joseph one of Mr. Tow-wouse’s own shirts. Mrs. Tow-wouse objects to this proceeding, however, and upbraids both her husband and the servant-girl. While Mr. and Mrs. Tow-wouse are arguing, Betty give Joseph a shirt belonging to the Hostler, who is one of her sweethearts. The Surgeon also visits Joseph and pronounces his wounds likely mortal.

Analysis.

If Fielding’s universe is a providential one, the society that he depicts is incongruously violent. Joseph’s journey out of London soon brings him into contact with two savage highwaymen, but ferocity exists even in the household of Lady Booby. Fielding suggests an element of violence in Lady Booby’s feelings for Joseph: she flies “into a violent Passion” when ordering him to leave her room, then wonders aloud, “Whither does this violent Passion hurry us?,” then rings the bell for Slipslop “with infinite more Violence than was necessary.” She swerves between extremes of emotion, and this emotional volatility arises, like other manifestations of violence, from her high social status. As Hamilton Macallister observes, Lady Booby may do almost anything she wants -- except marry Joseph, because to do so would be beneath her. Unable, therefore, to reconcile what she wants with what she is, she experiences desire as degradation, with a consequent impulse to punish both herself and the object of her desire. Thus follows, in Macallister’s words, “the whole gamut of the passions: pride followed by contempt, disdain, hatred of Joseph, revenge.” Lady Booby indeed endures more intense and protracted emotional pain than any other character in the book, and Fielding presents her pain in detail; yet the novel does not encourage sympathy for Lady Booby, and indeed virtually no readers feel any. She is a personality spoiled by privilege: as her status is unconditional, her power is irresponsible; her inability (or refusal) to control her emotions results from her exemption from accountability and, being a function of her selfishness, does not call forth sympathy.

Mrs. Slipslop has violent hankerings as well, and they emerge most obviously in the famous mock-epic simile in which Fielding compares her to “a hungry Tygress” craving the “Lamb” Joseph. Fielding thus makes Slipslop’s violent tendencies more explicit than Lady Booby’s, but interestingly, one of the effects of this explicitness is to make Slipslop seem less threatening than her mistress. The mock-epic simile is inherently belittling, as the burlesque diction measures the distance between the heroic subjects of true epic and the ignoble subjects of the present comedy. This mockery is consistent with Fielding’s whole presentation of Slipslop, which is entirely trivializing. His physical description of her sets the tone: she is a forty-five-year-old virgin, short and corpulent, florid and pimply, with small eyes, a large nose, bovine breasts, and legs of uneven length. Many readers have detected something cruel in the zest with which Fielding enumerates the physical disadvantages of this middle-aged spinster, but such sympathy is perhaps misplaced: in Fielding’s scheme of character, Mrs. Slipslop is simply not a feeling subject. She is a character type rather than a naturalistic personality; she does not exist in everyday life, rather she represents a category of women who do. With characters such as Slipslop -- and the majority of Fielding’s characters exist on this plane of typicality -- Fielding imposes a distance between the reader on the one hand and the characters and their actions on the other. Many modern readers, accustomed to considering psychological realism one of the great virtues of the novel, will regret Fielding’s objectification of his characters, but as Macallister observes, “if we lose by this, we also gain. We see the characters in their context; not only their social context but their moral context.” By fixing characters by their eternal qualities in this way, Fielding’s distant, omniscient, and judgmental narrator offers “a picture of society that is wider, more comprehensive,” than that of the novelist who treats characters as realistic, developing, and morally ambiguous subjects.

Two characters Joseph encounters on his journey appear to be types of the pursuit of violence for its own sake. They are of course the Two Ruffians who beat and strip Joseph and steal his money. In rendering this episode, Fielding again does not encourage the reader to identify with any of its participants, not even with the victimized hero Joseph. The matter-of-fact way in which he describes the violations does not focus our attention on Joseph’s experience of pain; rather, its effect is much different: “[B]oth [Ruffians] together fell to be-labouring poor Joseph with their Sticks, till they were convinced they had put an end to his miserable Being: They then stript him entirely naked, threw him into a Ditch, and departed with their Booty.” By leaving subjective experience entirely out of his account, Fielding heightens the absurdity of the incident until the violence feels gratuitous: these violent acts are not motivated, they have no emotional context or significance, they simply are. As Simon Varey comments, the scene depicts “mindless, antisocial hostility”: the thieves’ “primary and ostensible purpose is to take money and property,” but in their assault on Joseph they “display a level of violence that their situation does not require or justify.” As Varey goes on to argue, Fielding sees violence as pervading every level of society and existence, manifesting itself with varying degrees of explicitness: an erratic Lady, a lecherous old maid, a pair of armed robbers. The Two Ruffians represent only one of the most egregious outbreaks of a prevalent dynamic: “[a] violent Storm of Hail forced Joseph to take Shelter in [an] Inn” in Chapter XI, and this same meteorological situation will recur throughout the novel because in Fielding’s world, even the weather is violent.

If violence exists on many levels and in many degrees, crime does as well: when Fielding reveals that the Postilion who has given Joseph his coat “hath since been transported for robbing a Hen-roost,” the less-than-subtle message is that what is truly criminal in this scene is the indifference displayed by the other, more genteel stage-coach passengers toward their fellow-man. The stage-coach scene is one of the most famous in the novel because it presents the complex interactions of hypocrites: a Lady begins to take pity on Joseph but, on learning that he is naked, finds propriety the more urgent principle, and a lawyer finally convinces the group to tend to Joseph by appealing not to their humanity but to their self-interest. When Joseph refuses to approach in a condition that would offend the ladies, none of the well-to-do passengers will risk soiling their garments with his blood. In striving to isolate themselves from the wretched and the criminal, then, the passengers reveal themselves to be the real malefactors.

Following Joseph’s encounters with the Ruffians and the hypocritical stage-coach passengers, and indeed completing the experience, is the introduction of Mrs. Tow-wouse, wife of the keeper of the inn where the coach eventually stops. As she rebukes her husband for having offered a shirt to the naked Joseph, demanding, “[W]hat the devil have we to do with naked wretches?,” she becomes, in the words of Richard J. Dircks, “a spokesman for the purely pragmatic, unsympathetic, and uncharitable view of life” that is an attribute of all of the least appealing characters in the novel. Fielding insinuates her basic affinity with the Ruffians, and her essential difference from Joseph, through his representation of her voice: her aggressive use of such epithets as “Slut” and “scabby Rascals,” her recourse to such threats as “I will throw the Chamber-pot at your Head,” and, in a later chapter, her “loud and hoarse” voice, all are aural manifestations of her harsh nature. As Varey notes, Fielding often uses voice quality to reflect character, and Mrs. Tow-wouse contrasts strongly with Joseph, who once failed to frighten birds and dogs because the animals heard only the sweetness that was in him both a vocal tone and a moral one.

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