Joseph Andrews

Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters I through V.

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Summary.

Chapter I.

At the start of Book II, Fielding addresses the authorly practice of dividing literary works into books and chapters. He compares the chapters of a book to the stages of a physical journey, with the white spaces between them standing for inns and resting-places. At the ends of chapters, Fielding suggests, the reader should pause to consider what he has read, just as a traveler considers the “curious Productions of Nature.” The “Contents prefixed to every Chapter” parallel the inscriptions over the gates of inns indicating what entertainment the traveler can expect. Fielding goes on to claim Homer as a precedent in dividing a literary work into books, with Virgil and Milton following him.

Chapter II.

Mr. Abraham Adams and Joseph Andrews are about to part ways, but the curate decides against London when it appears that he has in fact left his manuscript sermons at home. Mr. Adams, looking on the bright side, interprets the disappointment as a providence intended for his good. When the inn bill comes, Mr. Adams has only a shilling to spare, and he would have been even worse off if a servant belonging to the coach and six had not lent him a guinea. He and Joseph set off together for the country seat of the Booby family, planning to take turns riding the horse. While Mr. Adams starts on foot, however, the Hostler detains Joseph at the inn, demanding payment for the horse’s board. Joseph refuses to pay with Fanny Goodwill’s gold piece, so the dispute bogs down. Meanwhile, Mr. Adams has forgotten all about Joseph during a meditation on Æschylus. After a time he remembers his companion and gradually begins to wonder what is keeping him. He sits down to read some Æschylus, and when Joseph still does not appear, he enters a nearby alehouse.

Chapter III.

In the alehouse, Mr. Adams overhears two travelers discussing Joseph’s quandary; he resolves to return to the inn, though he has no real plan for making the payment. A rainstorm prevents him, however, and he stays for a beer with the two travelers, who give him their separate opinions about a neighboring gentleman landowner: one considers the gentleman a cruel tyrant and an arbitrary Justice of the Peace, and the other considers him reasonable and just. Confused, Adams applies to the Host, who explains to him that the two travelers were opposing parties in the only cause the Justice has decided recently; the Host then gives his opinion that “neither of them spoke a Syllable of Truth.” Mr. Adams expresses to the cynical Host his religious horror of lying.

A stage coach arrives carrying Mrs. Slipslop, who has paid for Adams’s horse during a stopover at the inn. Joseph then arrives on the horse, and he and Mr. Adams settle between them that the curate should continue the journey in the stage coach while Joseph continues on horseback. In the carriage, Mr. Adams and Mrs. Slipslop discuss the recent developments in the Booby family. Slipslop reports that Lady Booby has acted ”like a Madwoman” since the departure of Joseph, and when Mr. Adams expresses his regret over her decline, Slipslop suggests that he knows less about the family than he thinks: Lady Booby, she says, was the stingy one, and Sir Thomas would have been more generous to the poor in the parish if his wife had let him. Mr. Adams remarks that Mrs. Slipslop once took the opposite view of the Boobys. Soon another lady in the carriage informs her fellow passengers that “yonder lives the unfortunate Leonora,” and their entreaties soon induce her to relate the story of Leonora.

Chapter IV.

Leonora was the daughter of a wealthy gentleman and the possessor of many superficial charms. At eighteen, while she was living with an aunt in the north of England, she began a flirtation with a sardonic young lawyer named Horatio. Horatio soon conceived “the most violent Passion for Leonora” and proposed marriage to her, which proposal Leonora initially resisted but ultimately accepted. The lovers then exchanged some letters and set the date for the wedding. When the happy day was two weeks off, Horatio had to attend the sessions for their county, leaving Leonora alone to gawk at a passing coach and six and exclaim, “O, I am in love with that Equipage!” The owner of the coach and six, a Frenchified cavalier named Bellarmine, admired Leonora conspicuously at that evening’s assembly. Leonora found herself the happy target of every woman’s hatred: “She had before known what it was to torment a single Woman; but to be hated and secretly cursed by a whole Assembly, was a Joy reserved for this blessed Moment.” Leonora danced the night away with Bellarmine, despite her earlier resolution not to dance while Horatio was away.

The next day Bellarmine proposed to Leonora, who referred him to her father and then worried, though briefly, that she had wronged Horatio. Her primary motive in changing fiancées was financial: “How vast is the difference between being the Wife of a poor Counsellor, and the Wife of one of Bellarmine’s Fortune!” She further rationalized the action by reasoning that if Horatio mourned the loss of his beloved, “Bellarmine may be as miserable for me too.” The next morning her Aunt advised her to accept Bellarmine, arguing that “there is not any thing worth our Regard besides Money.” Leonora accepted this reasoning, and she and Bellarmine settled it between them that he would seek her father’s consent soon. After supper the lovers sat chatting about French and English clothing when Horatio appeared unexpectedly, triggering “a long Silence.” Horatio finally broke the ice, whereupon Leonora played dumb about their engagement. Staggered, Horatio exclaimed, “I am in a Dream; for it is impossible I should be really esteemed a common Acquaintance by Leonora, after what has passed between us!” Some sparring ensued between Horatio and Bellarmine concerning the role each occupied with respect to Leonora, but the lady’s Aunt soon entered and updated Horatio about “a small Alteration in the Affections of Leonora.” The lawyer would have dueled the cavalier then and there, had not the ladies prevented it. Horatio soon took his leave.

Leonora awoke the next morning to the news that “Bellarmine was run through the Body by Horatio, . . . and the Surgeons had declared the Wound mortal.” The Aunt advised Leonora to go back to Horatio, but Leonora claimed that she must have time to grieve before strategizing; she then argued that Horatio would never forgive her and that it was all the fault of the Aunt. A cheerful note from Bellarmine, however, reconciled the ladies to each other and dispelled all thoughts of returning to Horatio. Leonora’s passion for Horatio revived “with greater Force after its small Relaxation than ever,” and she planned, against the advice of her Aunt, to visit Bellarmine during his recovery.

Before the lady in the coach can finish her story, however, the coach arrives at an inn for dinner, “sorely to the dissatisfaction of Mr. Adams,” who has been listening avidly.

Chapter V.

At the inn, Mr. Adams encounters Joseph, who is in the kitchen recovering from a riding accident with the aid of the Hostess. The surly Host enters and, finding his wife tending to a mere footman, curses at her and directs her to attend the more genteel guests. Mr. Adams has sharp words with the Host, and Joseph intervenes to advise the Host to have more respect for the socially superior Mr. Adams. A brawl ensues, and when the Host goes down for the count, the Hostess dashes a pan of hog’s blood in Mr. Adams’s face. Mrs. Slipslop arrives and assaults the Hostess, whose cries bring three more guests to the kitchen. The Host, recovering, reproaches his wife for having wasted the hog’s blood and says that she deserved the beating she received at the hands of Mrs. Slipslop. One of the other guests, who happens to be one of the litigious gentlemen who gave an opinion of the Justice of the Peace in Chapter III, urges the Host to bring legal action against Mr. Adams; the Host, however, has seen neighbors ruin themselves through frivolous lawsuits. The other litigious gentleman, meanwhile, urges Mr. Adams to bring legal action against the Host; Mr. Adams, however, admits to having struck the first blow, and he recoils from the suggestion that Joseph, being the only bystander, could support him in lying on this point. Mr. Adams asserts with some dignity the integrity of his character and his office, and the two litigious gentlemen cease meddling to congratulate themselves on having effected a reconciliation between the two parties.

As the coach is preparing to leave again, Mrs. Grave-airs snobbishly resists admitting Joseph, a mere footman but too injured to go on horseback, into the coach. Mrs. Slipslop advocates for Joseph, and the argument continues until Mrs. Grave-airs notices her father, who has just arrived and who invites her to ride on with him. The Coachman then reveals to Mr. Adams that Mrs. Grave-airs’s father is now the steward in a prominent household and has servants himself, but that he is low-born and once worked as a postilion. Mr. Adams passes this information along to Mrs. Slipslop, expecting that it will please her, but she regrets having antagonized a family of upper servants in the neighborhood and fears that the story might get back to Lady Booby. Once the coach has departed, all the female passengers begin to disparage Mrs. Grave-airs for trying to act above her station. Mrs. Slipslop speaks feelingly on behalf of Joseph, wondering aloud how any “Christian Woman” could object to the sight of Joseph. The other ladies grow anxious about the turn Slipslop’s conversation seems to be taking, so one of them suggests that they hear the end of the story of Leonora.

Analysis.

The action of Book II starts with Mr. Adams finding himself in what will become a highly characteristic predicament: he lacks the funds to pay the bill he has racked up at the inn. Mr. Adams, like Fielding himself at the time of composing the novel, is constantly in debt; fortunately, however, the same unworldliness that leads to these bouts of insolvency prevents him from despairing. Instead, he asks trustingly for help, for as he himself would never refuse a request for financial assistance, he always expects that others will lend him the money he needs. In this particular instance, the people around him reward his faith: a servant from the coach and six springs Adams and Joseph from the inn, and later Mrs. Slipslop (albeit with a less than virtuous motive) releases the parson's horse and Joseph along with it.

No less characteristic of Adams is his having forgotten his manuscripts at home; as the episode of his wading needlessly through a stream suggests, Mr. Adams is prone to these errors because he is both literally and figuratively short-sighted. The detail of his sitting down to read the works of the classical tragedian Æschylus gives a clue as to the literary influences behind Fielding's characterizing him in this way. Mr. Adams resembles Cervantes's Don Quixote in having a vision that is naïve in a peculiarly bookish way: as Homer Goldberg observes, Adams's continual horror at the wickedness of others arises not only from his own natural goodness, which he tends to project onto others, but also from his assumption that "the noble sentiments of the ancient poets and philosophers . . . delineate human nature as it is, rather than as it might or ought to be." Thus, the story moves from examples of Adams's absent-mindedness (with respect to money, manuscripts, and moving water) straight to an incident in which a couple of worldlings display a less exalted side of human nature: while stopping at the next inn, Adams is shocked to learn that two litigious gentlemen would allow self-interest to guide their moral judgments of others. Mr. Adams errs in confusing erudition with practical wisdom and insight into the minds and actions of everyday human beings; this lack of emphasis on the practical side of things manifests itself in his forgetfulness, his accumulation of debt, and his idealistic expectation of good faith in others.

The first chapter of Book II, like that of Book I, contains Fielding's commentary on his procedure as a novelist; here, he addresses his division of the novel into books and chapters that allow the reader to pause for reflection. Fielding claims once again to be taking his cues from classical writers such as Homer, and indeed the use of numbered books is an organizational technique typical of the epic. Another structural inheritance from the epic, one that Fielding does not discuss, is the interpolation of digressive tales such as that of Leonora, which begins in Chapter IV. Readers who are inclined to criticize the weakness of Fielding's plot structure, with its many improbable occurrences and flat characters popping in and out, often disapprove of these digressions as distractions from the main story. Nevertheless, the tales do serve the main narrative, as the telling of Leonora's demonstrates: not only does the characterization of Mr. Adams gather an amusing new wrinkle (as the upright clergyman turns out to be an avid consumer of gossipy stories), but Leonora's biography underscores important themes as well.

Some critics have called the digressive tales "negative analogues," meaning that they express negatively the positive moral themes of the main story. Thus, while Joseph and Fanny embody everything that young lovers ought to be and do, Leonora manages to get everything wrong. The fact that she begins with every earthly advantage makes her folly all the less forgivable: she is wealthy, attractive, popular, and shrewd; her only weakness is a moral one, as she brings to her selection of husbands a form of pragmatism that is really just applied selfishness. This pragmatism misfires when Leonora abandons the man she really loves for a wealthier man who, as will be seen in the conclusion of her story, is no less self-interested than she is. For being too clever by half, the novel punishes Leonora, rewarding instead the dogged loyalty of Joseph and Fanny; the contrast between her sophistication and their straightforwardness implies that Fielding's providence favors simplicity, which Fielding considers an attribute of goodness.

Fielding's classical influences manifest themselves also in the farcical battle scene of Chapter V: serious epics are full of lavishly detailed scenes of combat that substantiate the heroic qualities of the participants, but in Fielding the narrative specificity serves, of course, not to glorify the action but to underscore its ludicrousness. Naturally, Mr. Adams epitomizes this ludicrousness: the Hostess dashes the hog's blood into his face "with so good an Aim, that much the greater part first saluting his Countenance, trickled thence in so large a current down his Beard, and over his Garments, that a more horrible Spectacle was hardly to be seen or even imagined"; when the smoke has cleared, "[t]he principal Figure, and which engaged the Eyes of all, was Adams," who, as usual, looks the silliest. He does not, however, descend to the level of the guiltiest: the hog's blood battle provides a useful window into Fielding's ethics, and the fact that neither Adams nor Joseph thinks of turning the other cheek indicates that Fielding does not use violence and nonviolence as a basis on which to distinguish the wicked characters from the virtuous. Whether a particular violent act is ethical or not turns out to be a question of motive: the Host has threatened the two travelers because he is irritated with Adams and Joseph for requesting charity from his wife and because he resents Joseph's suggestion that Adams is his social superior; by contrast, the violence of Adams and Joseph is simply reactive, part self-defense and part retaliation against the Host's gratuitous aggression. In Fielding's world, where where violence is normative, even the best Christians cannot be pacifists.