Joseph Andrews

Joseph Andrews Summary and Analysis of Book III, Chapters IV through VI.


Chapter IV.

Mr. Abraham Adams speculates about the fate and identity of Mr. Wilson’s abducted son, suggesting that he might now be a German adventurer or a Duke. Wilson replies that he would know his son among ten thousand, due to the distinctive mark on the left side of his chest. Soon the sun comes up, and Adams and Wilson rouse Joseph Andrews for a walk in the garden. The garden, which Wilson tends himself, is functional rather than ornamental. Wilson explains the family’s daily schedule and expresses his respect and affection for his wife and his devotion to their children. Soon they go in to breakfast, where the Wilsons admire Fanny Goodwill’s beauty and the guests commend the Wilsons’ charity toward their neighbors. Soon, however, a dog belonging to the Wilsons’ eleven-year-old daughter comes limping in mortally wounded, having been shot by the young Squire from the nearby manor. The Squire, apparently, is a petty tyrant who routinely kills dogs, confiscates guns, and tramples crops and hedges.

Joseph and Fanny are eager to return home and have their wedding, so the travelers decline the Wilsons’ dinner invitation and continue on their way. As they leave, Mr. Adams declares “that this was the Manner in which the People had lived in the Golden Age.”

Chapter V.

As the travelers walk along, Mr. Adams and Joseph discuss the first part of Wilson’s story, which Joseph heard before falling asleep. Adams designates Wilson’s public school education as the source of all his youthful unhappiness: “Public Schools are the Nurseries of all Vice and Immorality.” Joseph, says Adams, may attribute the preservation of his virtue to the fact that he never attended a public school. Joseph protests, however, that Sir Thomas Booby attended a public school and became “the finest Gentleman in all the Neighborhood.” No amount or kind of training will alter a person’s basic nature, argues Joseph: “[I]f a Boy be of a mischievous wicked Inclination, no School, tho’ ever so private, will ever make him good; on the contrary, if he be of a righteous Temper, you may trust him to London, or wherever else you please, he will be in no danger of being corrupted.” Mr. Adams continues to argue rather petulantly for the superiority of private education, and Fielding attributes his zeal in this cause to something that might be called vanity: “He thought a Schoolmaster the greatest Character in the World, and himself the greatest of all Schoolmasters.”

Around noon they rest in a beautiful spot and unpack the provisions Mrs. Wilson gave them. Among the food and wine they discover a gold piece, which Wilson evidently intended should prevent their getting trapped in any more inns along their way. Mr. Adams, however, plans to repay Mr. Wilson when the latter passes through Adams’s parish within the week.

Chapter VI.

Joseph discourses on the virtue of charity, which he says contributes infinitely more to a man’s honor than does the acquisition of money or fine articles. In viewing an expensive painting, for example, no one bears in mind the painting’s owner; when, by contrast, people discuss a good deed such as redeeming a debtor from prison, they always emphasize the author of the deed. Moreover, people often disparage others’ possessions out of envy, but “I defy the wisest Man in the World to turn a true good Action into Ridicule.” Eventually Joseph looks up to see Mr. Adams asleep and accordingly turns to canoodling with Fanny, albeit in a manner “consistent with the purest Innocence and Decency.” Soon they hear a pack of hounds approaching, and a hare, the dogs’ quarry, appears beside them. Fanny wants to catch the hare and protect it, but the hare does not recognize her as an ally and goes on its way. Soon the hounds catch it and tear it “to pieces before Fanny’s face, who was unable to assist it with any Aid more powerful than Pity.” The capture happens to occur within two yards of Mr. Adams, with the result that some of the dogs end up attacking the clergyman’s clothes and wig. Mr. Adams awakes and flees before the dogs can taste his flesh, but the Master of the Pack sends the dogs after him. Joseph, seeing his companion in distress, takes up his cudgel, an heirloom which Fielding describes minutely in a mock-heroic passage, and hastens, “swift of foot,” to Adams’s assistance. Fielding declines to characterize Joseph with an epic simile because no simile could be aequate to “the Idea of Friendship, Courage, Youth, Beauty, Strength, and Swiftness; all which blazed in the Person of Joseph Andrews.”

The hounds catch up with Mr. Adams, and Joseph beats them off one at a time until the Squire, whom Fielding calls a “Hunter of Men,” finally calls them off. Fielding acknowledges the humorously elevated diction in which he has related this incident when he concludes: “Thus far the Muse hath with her usual Dignity related this prodigious Battle, a Battle we apprehend never equalled by any Poet, Romance or Life-writer whatever, and having brought it into a Conclusion she ceased; we shall therefore proceed in our ordinary Style with the Continuation of this History.” The hunters, formerly amused by the spectacle of Joseph and Mr. Adams contending with the hounds, now begin to worry about the injuries the hounds have sustained in the combat. The Hunter of Men demands what Joseph meant by assaulting the dogs. Joseph defends his actions, but all arguments cease when Fanny approaches and staggers the hunters with her beauty. Soon it becomes apparent that only two dogs have sustained mortal wounds, so the hunters’ anger subsides and the Hunter of Men invites the travelers to dinner.


Wilson's biography prompts Mr. Adams and Joseph to have a nature-versus-nurture debate about how men acquire moral insight; the ensuing exchange provides further evidence both of Adams's faulty ideas about human nature and of Joseph's increasing shrewdness and confidence. Adams, it appears, has some unsound notions regarding the origins of virtue and vice: in declaring public schools "the Nurseries of all Vice and Immorality," he implies that moral character, for good or ill, derives from external conditioning, so that a proper moral education entails sheltering boys from depravity and keeping them forever "in Innocence and Ignorance." Such a theory hardly has room for the doctrine of Original Sin; one thing it can accommodate, however, is Mr. Adams's high opinion of his own skill and importance as a pedagogue: as Fielding observes, Adams's emphasis on the moral significance of education owes much to his belief in the schoolmaster as "the greatest Character in the World, and himself as the greatest of Schoolmasters." As if this reference to the parson's vanity were not enough to render his arguments suspect, Homer Goldberg points out a discrepancy between Adams's theory and his practice: whereas Adams here professes to consider the world at large to be corrupt in the main, when he himself is abroad in the world he demonstrably expects that its inhabitants will be as innocent and ignorant as the most sheltered private-school boy or as Adams himself.

Joseph propounds a more cogent theory of moral education and in the process shows himself to have a better command than his mentor of some of the most important themes of the novel. Fundamentally, Joseph rejects Adams's premise of the universality of original innocence, suggesting instead that while some boys are born with basically virtuous natures, others are naturally vicious. External factors, including education, exert only limited influence on the development of moral character, for "if a Boy be of a mischievous wicked inclination, no School, tho' ever so private, will ever make him good; on the contrary, if he be of a righteous Temper, you may trust him to London, or wherever else you please, he will be in no danger of being corrupted." Joseph himself, having emerged immaculate from the cesspool of London, is Exhibit A in support of this argument; nor does the case of Wilson, who eventually transcended his corrupt environment (and after all had left his public school early), at all disprove it. Thus, having previously excelled only in commonsensical matters, Joseph suddenly evinces superior insight into human nature; his ability to overshadow the parson in the parson's own specialty, namely education and moral philosophy, suggests that Fielding may be priming him to retake center stage, which Adams has occupied since his entrance late in Book I.

Joseph is not infallible, however, and ensuing events belie his assertion that a good action defies ridicule: the bizarre Squire whose hunting dogs harass Adams so relishes "everything ridiculous, odious, and absurd in his own Species" that he does not hesitate to "turn even Virtue and Wisdom themselves to Ridicule." Readers have often criticized the scene in which the pack of hounds dismantles the "poor innocent" hare and then turns its attentions to the poor innocent parson, on the grounds that the slapstick action goes beyond comedy to cruelty. Certainly the Hunter of Men is barbaric in his valuation of dogs above humans and, later, in his pleasure in subjecting Adams to a series of nasty practical jokes, and it may be tempting to conclude that Fielding, insofar as he expects the reader to laugh along with the Hunter of Men, has descended to barbarism as well. What seems more likely, however, is that Fielding did not in fact intend for the dogs' attack on Adams to be humorous in itself (though whether it is humorous in the manner of its telling is a separate issue, on which see more below); rather, the episode allows Adams to recover some of the sympathy that he forfeited during the recent exposures of his vanity and naïveté. If Adams's characteristic foible, usually endearing but recently exasperating, has been his willingness to become a dupe and victim of the vicious world, here the vicious world victimizes him so cruelly that the reader's sympathies cannot help but return to him. As Goldberg puts it, "Here the world's baiting of Adams, which began with his entrance into the Dragon Inn, is carried to its savage extreme." The Hunter of Men exemplifies the vices of the world because, unlike most of the people who have victimized Adams and his companions, he is not self-interested in the ordinary way; his pleasure, like that of the false-promising Squire (only more darkly and violently), is to perpetrate mischief for its own sake.

Fielding tempers the unpleasantness of the incident, however, by rendering it in humorous or burlesque diction. The battle with the hounds, in fact, constitutes the lengthiest application of mock-epic diction in the entire novel; it spoofs elaborately a number of conventions of epic combat, including the invocation of the Muse ("who presidest over Biography"), the Homeric epithet ("the Plain, the young, the gay, the brave Joseph Andrews"), the minute description of the hero's weapon ("It was a Cudgel of mighty Strength and wonderful Art," etc.), the brief biographies of fallen warriors ("Ringwood the best Hound that ever pursued a Hare, . . . Fairmaid, a Bitch which Mr. John Temple had bred up in his House," etc.), and, almost, the epic simile ("Reader, we would make a Simile on this Occasion, but for two Reasons . . ."). All of this ironical classicism exemplifies the Preface's definition of "burlesque" as "appropriating the Manners of the highest to the lowest," and it does so more dramatically than does any other burlesque passage in the novel. Whereas a more conventional burlesque passage would describe a lowly human brawl in terms appropriate to heroic combatants (the hog's-blood battle is a good example of this approach), the battle with the hounds takes burlesque to another level by using the same heroic terms to describe sub-human combatants, a pack of dogs.

One of the effects of this verbal humor is to impart a sense of narratorial oversight: the counterintuitively funny presentation of violent actions calls attention to Fielding's ability to frame his tale, modulating his own and the reader's reactions to it, and thereby reminds us that all events are under the novelist's control. In turn, the use of mock-epic diction implies the presence of a benevolent designer, with Fielding functioning as a substitute deity who watches over his characters even when they seem to be in the most danger. Aside from being funny, then, Fielding's burlesque diction fits violent events into a comic frame and reassures the reader that, notwithstanding the shocking depravity on display in this scene, providence has not ceased to operate.