Joseph Andrews Summary and Analysis

Book I, Chapters XIII through XVIII.

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Summary.

Chapter XIII.

Mr. Tow-wouse and the Surgeon visit Joseph Andrews, who tells them the story of his encounter with the Two Ruffians. Joseph then asks the Surgeon about the prospects for his recovery, and the Surgeon advises him to settle his worldly affairs. Mr. Tow-wouse accordingly sends for Mr. Barnabas, the clergyman, who approaches Joseph’s room only after having taken Tea with the landlady and Punch with the landlord. Mr. Barnabas then goes back for another drink and returns to find Joseph apostrophizing his sister, Pamela Andrews, and extolling the value of sexual purity. The clergyman concludes that Joseph is delirious and excuses himself from further interference.

The Surgeon returns and declares that Joseph is in fact not delirious but in command of his senses. They send for Mr. Barnabas again, and the clergyman urges Joseph to repent of all his sins and resign himself to leaving the world. Joseph is generally compliant but hedges when it comes to Fanny Goodwill, saying that he will have difficulty resigning himself to the divine will if the divine will proposes to separate him from his beloved. He agrees, however, to “divest himself of all human Passion, and fix his Heart above,” if the clergyman will only help him to do it. Mr. Barnabas recommends “Prayer and Faith.” He then urges Joseph to forgive the Two Ruffians “as a Christian ought,” but he gives no further specifics as to what the Christian manner of forgiveness entails. Mr. Barnabas soon wraps up the visit and returns to the parlor, where the punch has been waiting for him. There he reports to Mrs. Tow-wouse that Joseph has expressed a desire for tea; Mrs. Tow-wouse does not want to spare it, however, so Betty the chambermaid goes out to buy some tea for Joseph herself.

Chapter XIV.

In the evening, “a grave Person” arrives at the inn and sits down by the kitchen fire. There he hears Mrs. Tow-wouse and Betty discussing their injured guest, whom Betty now believes to be a gentleman on the basis of his fine skin. The grave person feels compassion for the injured guest and questions the Surgeon about him. The Surgeon uses medical jargon to rebuff the inquiries of the grave person, who claims to have some little expertise in surgery and whom the Surgeon seems to consider impudent.

Meanwhile, some young men from the neighborhood arrive at the inn with one of the Ruffians. Betty informs Joseph, who asks her to look out for a token he received from Fanny, a piece of gold with a ribbon. A search of the Ruffian reveals the gold piece, which Betty conveys to an ecstatic Joseph. Some other young men recover a bundle of Joseph’s clothes in a ditch, and the grave person, recognizing the livery as that of the Booby household, goes upstairs to meet the injured guest. A happy reunion thus takes place between Joseph and Mr. Abraham Adams.

Back in the kitchen, the mob that apprehended the Ruffian finds that it has no real evidence to prove his involvement in the robberies. Mr. Barnabas and the Surgeon argue over whether the recovered goods belong to the lord of the manor or to some other party. The Ruffian nearly makes allies of Barnabas, the Surgeon, and Tow-wouse, but Betty intervenes to inform everyone of the gold piece, which would seem to prove the Ruffian’s guilt. They resolve to keep the Ruffian overnight and take him to the Justice in the morning.

Chapter XV.

Betty tells Mrs. Tow-wouse that Joseph, who appears to be on familiar terms with Mr. Adams, may be “a greater Man than they took him for”; as a result, Mrs. Tow-wouse begins to feel better about having extended charity to him. Mr. Barnabas and the Surgeon approach Joseph, wanting to use his gold piece as evidence against the Ruffian, but Joseph will not give it up and Mr. Adams supports him.

Mr. Adams explains to Joseph that he is on his way to London to publish some volumes of sermons. He encourages Joseph to take a light meal, which Joseph accordingly does. In the morning Mr. Barnabas and the Surgeon come to the inn to help convey the Ruffian before the Justice. They are both quite zealous in bringing the Ruffian to justice, and in order to account for their zeal Fielding explains that these two gentlemen have long competed to perform the function of lawyer in the parish, since there is no proper lawyer in it. Fielding concludes the chapter with an apostrophe to vanity, eventually admitting that the reason for this passage is merely “to lengthen out a short Chapter.”

Chapter XVI.

The Ruffian turns out to have escaped during the night. The Constable who was guarding him comes under suspicion of having aided his escape, not so much because his name is Tom Suckbribe as because, “not having been concerned in the taking of the Thief, he could not have been entitled to any part of the Reward, if he had been convicted.”

Joseph rises but still is not well enough to travel. Mr. Adams, having bought meals for himself and Joseph, is running low on money and attempts to borrow three guineas from Mr. Tow-wouse, leaving as a pledge a volume of his sermons. The landlord declines this plan, disappointing Mr. Adams, who has run out of ideas. Mr. Adams goes off to smoke his pipe, and meanwhile a coach and six drives up, carrying a young fellow and a coachman named Jack, who insult each other lustily as they settle themselves in the inn. Meanwhile, the footmen from the coach go to the kitchen, where they discuss having seen “Parson Adams smoaking his Pipe in the Gallery.” Mr. Barnabas, overhearing them, decides to sit down Mr. Adams to a bowl of punch, now that he knows him to be a fellow man of the cloth. Mr. Adams accepts the invitation, and the conversation comes around to the volumes of sermons that he wishes to publish. Mr. Barnabas warns him that he knows from experience that no one read sermons anymore.

When the punch is gone, Mr. Adams goes upstairs to check on Joseph, who is sitting down to a loin of mutton. The Surgeon enters and attributes Joseph’s recovery to the powers of a medicine that, as it happens, Joseph has not touched. Joseph takes another three days to recover from his wounds, then resolves to set off again the next day, urging Mr. Adams to continue on to London. Mr. Adams still expects great things of his sermons, so he agrees to Joseph’s plan. In the evening they repair to Joseph’s room and spend “a considerable time in Prayer and Thanksgiving.”

Chapter XVII.

Mr. Barnabas sends for Mr. Adams so that he can meet a London Bookseller who has recently arrived. Mr. Adams is delighted with the opportunity to make some cash without leaving the inn. The Bookseller does not indulge Mr. Adams for very long, explaining that most sermons do not sell well and concluding, “I had rather be excused.” He offers, however, to take the manuscript to London with him and send his opinion of it to Mr. Adams shortly. They go on to discuss the publishing trade and which genres sell the best, and the Bookseller remarks that, far from objecting to the publication of sermons per se, he is happy to publish the abnormally lucrative sermons of the Methodist George Whitefield. Mr. Adams and Mr. Barnabas then argue over the merits and demerits of Whitefield: Barnabas finds Whitefield’s advocacy of clerical poverty offensive, whereas Adams shares Whitefield’s objection to “the Luxury and Splendour of the Clergy” but cannot accept “the detestable Doctrine of Faith against Good Works.” Adams imagines a soul in Whitefield’s scheme appearing before God on the last day and pleading, “Lord, it is true I never obeyed one of thy Commandments, yet punish me not, for I believe them all”; he even suggests that “a virtuous and good Turk, or Heathen, are more acceptable in the sight of their Creator, than a vicious and wicked Christian, tho’ his Faith was as perfectly orthodox as St. Paul’s himself.” The Bookseller, suspecting that Mr. Adams’s doctrines would not sit well with the bishops and thereby would suffer on the market, once again begs to be excused from the project. Mr. Adams goes on to express further low-church opinions on the nature and purpose of Sunday service, whereupon Mr. Barnabas rings for the bill, eager to flee the company of such a heterodox clergyman.

A great commotion erupts somewhere else in the inn: “Mrs. Tow-wouse, Mr. Tow-wouse, and Betty, all lifting up their Voices together.” The landlady is heard to accuse her husband of “abus[ing] my Bed, my own Bed, with my own Servant”; she also threatens violence against Betty and calls her a derogatory name that Fielding makes a great show of rendering, delicately, as “She Dog.” Betty objects to the slur, and Mrs. Tow-wouse brandishes the spit; Mr. Adams, however, intervenes and prevents the assault.

Chapter XVIII.

Fielding enumerates Betty’s personality attributes, which include “Good-nature, Generosity and Compassion,” but also lasciviousness. He then summarizes her sexual history, which is less promiscuous than it might have been. She has been attracted to Joseph since his arrival, but just today she made a move, which Joseph rebuffed. Lustful and wrathful, Betty considered stabbing Joseph, “devouring him with Kisses,” and committing suicide; without resolving these issues, she went to her master’s room to make his bed and, finding him there, received his advances in lieu of Joseph’s. Mrs. Tow-wouse walked in at the end of the encounter, and the uproar of the last chapter ensued. Mrs. Tow-wouse discharges Betty and brings her husband back under her thumb.

Analysis.

Fielding bestowed on his exemplary parson, Mr. Abraham Adams, a resoundingly biblical and paternal name: the Adam of Genesis was the father of mankind, while Abraham was the father of the people of Israel (and by extension, in the Christian tradition, of all the faithful). Nor does Parson Adams fail to live up to his namesakes: as a dedicated clergyman and the spiritual advisor of our young hero, he serves as the novel's moral touchstone, which is to say that other characters reveal their own moral quality through their responses to him. The goodness of Joseph Andrews shows through in his love and admiration of Adams, while the parson's endless tribulations at the hands of others -- in the words of one critic, Adams "is laughed at, maligned, physically bruised, confined, dismissed, humiliated, and repeatedly made a butt for abuse" -- are an index of society’s alienation from Christian values. Mr. Adams, of course, is not without his own flaws, which include forgetfulness, naïveté, and mild vanity; all of these cause him to look foolish from time to time, and Fielding does not shrink from joining in the laughter. The novelist's leading idea, however, seems to be that anyone who exemplifies Adams's virtues of poverty and charity will inevitably appear foolish by worldly standards.

Mr. Adams is, to begin with, physically eccentric: tall, thin, and strong, he is proud of his athleticism but careless of his appearance, and Fielding never tires of recording his sartorial lapses. Thus, in Chapter XVI, we learn: "He had on a Night-Cap drawn over his Wig, and a short great Coat, which half covered his Cassock; a Dress which, added to something comical enough in his Countenance, composed a Figure likely to attract the Eyes of those who were not over-given to Observation." (This is in fact one of the less ridiculous chapters in Fielding’s chronicle of Mr. Adams’s toilette.) Mr. Adams’s sartorial incompetence is only one aspect of his inability to adapt himself to his surroundings: he is totally unworldly, constantly losing track of his money or engaging to spend money he does not have; he is perfectly humorless, with no sense of how others, such as the mocking Surgeon, perceive him; he is endlessly gullible; and he is optimistic to a fault, as in his serene faith that his sermons will find a publisher and take London by storm. All of these foibles have a common denominator, namely Mr. Adams’s childlike innocence; seen in its proper context, then, Adams’s physical shabbiness should only enhance our sense of his moral dignity.

All of Fielding's novels are crawling with clergyman characters, and Joseph Andrews presents several who serve as contrasts to the paragon Mr. Adams. In these chapters, Mr. Barnabas shows himself to be perfectly sociable and impeccably orthodox but not much interested in bettering the lot of his fellow-man: refreshing himself first with tea and then with punch before approaching the bedside of the injured Joseph, he is clearly one of those clergymen who looks on his vocation more as a platform for socializing than as a sacrificial commitment. Barnabas's moral inadequacy is further limned in the discussion of George Whitefield that emerges from Adams's fruitless negotiations with the Bookseller. Mr. Barnabas's objection to Methodism has to do with its emphasis on clerical poverty: Barnabas sees no reason why a clergyman in the Church of England should not be able to amass as much luxury as anyone else, whereas both Adams and Fielding consider poverty an ideal for the clergy, at least insofar as temporal concerns should not interfere with a clergyman's charitable ministrations. Mr. Adams's objection to Methodism, which is also Fielding's objection, has to do with its emphasis on faith over charity or good works: he gives his opinion "that a virtuous and good Turk, or Heathen, are more acceptable in the sight of their Creator, than a vicious and wicked Christian, tho' his Faith was as perfectly orthodox as St. Paul's himself." For Adams, a man's formal religious commitments matter far less than his active benevolence. Hearing this moral scheme, Mr. Barnabas exits the scene and the novel in a manner that confirms his moral worthlessness: ringing the bell "with all the Violence imaginable" in order to make his escape from Mr. Adams, he exiles himself from the circle of approved characters.

Fielding does not expect the clergy alone to practice charity; rather, it is a standard that he sets for the citizenry at large. Betty the chamber-maid is an interesting case in point because Fielding's presentation of her conduct reveals that, despite all the uproar in the novel over the virtue of chastity, he in fact prizes charity much more highly. When Joseph arrives at the inn, Betty distinguishes herself through her willingness to assist him in his need: when Mrs. Tow-wouse refuses to supply Joseph with either a shirt or a cup of tea, Betty takes it upon herself to procure these items for him. Her other distinguishing characteristic, however, is her sexual promiscuity: she has been "not entirely constant to [her sweetheart] John, with whom she permitted Tom Whipwell the Stage-Coachman, and now and then a handsome young Traveller, to share her Favours"; she also has "a Flame in her," namely venereal disease, "which required the Care of a Surgeon to cool." This sexual voracity aligns her with Lady Booby and Mrs. Slipslop, especially insofar as it prompts her to make an attempt on Joseph's purity, and yet Fielding does not subject Betty to anything like the level of criticism that we have seen in the previous two cases. As Simon Varey notes, the scene in which Betty throws herself at Joseph perhaps makes Joseph look a bit ridiculous, as he leaps away "in great Confusion" and tells her priggishly that "he was sorry to see a young Woman cast off all Regard to Modesty"; by contrast, Betty's subsequent impulses toward recrimination, while they do not reflect well on her, nevertheless do not encourage readers to laugh at her in the manner of Lady Booby's mood swings or Mrs. Slipslop's satirical embodiment as the "hungry Tygress." In keeping with the Preface's definition of "the true Ridiculous," Betty never seems ridiculous because she has no affectation; unlike Lady Booby and Mrs. Slipslop, she never sets herself above other people or pretends to be sexually virtuous. Moreover, "[s]he had Good-nature, Generosity and Compassion," as her previous behavior toward Joseph has demonstrated. Perfect sexual continence outside marriage, then, appears in Fielding’s moral scheme to be similar to doctrinal orthodoxy, laudable in a person who is otherwise benevolent but hardly the most important moral quality.

Fielding even seems to suggest that there may be a connection, psychologically speaking, between the disposition to perform acts of charity and the disposition to enjoy sex: anyone who remembers that Mr. Tow-wouse dispatched Betty to give one of his own shirts to Joseph before Mrs. Tow-wouse intervened should not be surprised, after the chambermaid's rejection by Joseph, to find Betty and Mr. Tow-wouse once more in league together against his wife. Mrs. Tow-wouse, too, occupies a familiar role, that of standing on the sidelines and carping at her husband and the maid. Fielding's physical description of Mrs. Tow-wouse is revealing: it reads in part, "Her Lips were two Bits of Skin, which, whenever she spoke, she drew together in a Purse. Her Chin was peeked, and at the upper end of that Skin, which composed her Cheeks, stood two Bones, that almost hid a Pair of small red Eyes." It is a withered, pinched, sour countenance, and one may conjecture that Mrs. Tow-wouse is scarcely more pleasant as a bedmate than as a giver of alms and succor. Fielding admires honesty, straightforwardness, and fellow-feeling, no less in sexual relations than in normal social interactions. Unlike his literary foil Richardson, he is never coy about sex, as will soon be evident in respect of Joseph and Fanny, who despite (or because of) their goodness are hardly less frank about their mutual attraction than are Betty and her many lovers.