Joseph Andrews

How does Henry Fielding define his own text in the Preface to his novel Joseph Andrews?

analyse of the preface,what is the social target of the social criticism in Joseph Andrews?

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Fielding defines and defends his chosen genre, the comic epic, or “comic Epic-Poem in Prose.” Claiming a lost work of Homer as precedent, he explains that the comic epic differs from comedy in having more “comprehensive” action and a greater variety of incidents and characters; it differs from the “serious Romance” in having lower-class characters and favoring, in “Sentiments and Diction,” the ridiculous over the sublime. Fielding is particularly concerned to differentiate the comic epic, and comedy generally, from burlesque: “no two Species of Writing can differ more widely than the Comic and the Burlesque,” for while the writer of burlesque depicts “the monstrous,” the writer of comedy depicts “the ridiculous.” “The Ridiculous only . . . falls within my Province in the present Work,” and Fielding accordingly goes on to define it. “The only Source of the true Ridiculous (as it appears to me) is Affectation,” to which Fielding assigns two possible causes, “Vanity, or Hypocrisy.” Vanity is affecting to be better than one is: the vain man either lacks the virtue or quality he claims to have, or else he claims to possess it in a greater degree than he actually does. By contrast, hypocrisy is affecting to be other than one is: the hypocritical man “is the very Reverse of what he would seem to be,” and Fielding gives the example of a greedy man pretending to be generous. The ridiculous arises from the discovery of affectation, and as hypocrisy is a more egregious form of affectation than is vanity, so, says Fielding, the sense of the ridiculous arising from its discovery will be stronger than in the case of vanity.

Fielding anticipates the criticism that, in addition to affectation, he has given a great deal of space in the novel to “Vices, and of a very black Kind.” Vices, which inspire moral revulsion rather than amusement, are not the stuff of comedy. Fielding acknowledges the presence of vices in his story but offers several mitigating considerations, among which is the fact that they are not very potent, “never produc[ing] the intended Evil.”

Finally, Fielding addresses the characters of the novel, claiming that all are drawn from life and that he has made certain alterations in order to obscure their true identities. Fielding also conciliates his clerical readers by emphasizing that the curate Mr. Abraham Adams, though he participates in a number of low incidents, is a credit to the cloth due to his great simplicity and benevolence.