English novelist. His greatest work, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) (see Tom Jones), which he described as ‘a comic epic poem in prose’, was an early landmark in the development of the English novel, realizing for the first time in English the form's potential for memorable characterization, coherent plotting, and perceptive analysis. The vigour of its comic impetus, descriptions of high and low life in town and country, and its variety of characters made it immediately popular. Fielding gave a new prominence to dialogue in his work.
Fielding was born at Sharpham Park in Somerset and educated at Eton. He moved to London in 1724 where he led a dissipated life for some years before beginning his dramatic career with Love in Several Masques (1728). The play was not a success and Fielding swapped London for the Netherlands, where he studied at the University of Leiden. Returning to England a year later, Fielding began writing again, publishing several comedies and farces, including his burlesque (mocking imitation) play, Tom Thumb (1730). In 1734 Fielding married Charlotte Cradock and bought the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, where he produced Pasquin (1736) and The Historical Register (1737), but the Licensing Act of 1737 censored the latter for its powerful satire, and thus ended his career as a dramatist. He studied law at the Middle Temple and was called to the Bar in 1740. Literature, however, was his main preoccupation After his wife's death in 1744, Fielding turned again to law, but in 1745 was once more engaged in literature as editor of the True Patriot and afterwards of The Jacobite's Journal. In 1747 he defied convention by marrying Mary Daniel, who had been his first wife's maid and his children's nurse. He was appointed Justice of the Peace for Middlesex and Westminster in 1748. In failing health, he went to recuperate in Lisbon in 1754, and he died and was buried there.
His first novel, An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews (1741), a parody of Pamela (1740–1) by Samuel Richardson. This was followed in 1742 by The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his friend Mr Abraham Adams Written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes. The chief character in the book is Parson Adams, a great original comic figure. In 1743 three volumes of Fielding's Miscellanies were produced, the third of which contained his History of the Life of the late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great, a satirical work.
Together with John Fielding, his brother and fellow magistrate, he brought new efficiency, dignity, and honesty to the office of Justice of the Peace. His Inquiry into the Increase of Robbers (1751), with suggested remedies, led to beneficial results and he was instrumental in developing a police force by helping to form the Bow Street Runners.
Following the publication of Tom Jones (1749), Amelia appeared in 1751; its plot is inferior to that of Tom Jones, being a story of domestic life, sombre rather than comic. In 1752 Fielding founded, conducted, and was the chief contributor to the Covent Garden Journal. Journalism and his duties as a justice of the peace occupied much of his time from 1750–54. In failing health, he went to recuperate in Lisbon in 1754, and he died and was buried there. After his death his Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon was published in 1755.
History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
Related Credo Articles
The self-proclaimed founder of a new Province of Writing, Fielding attained wide popularity as a manly novelist, the...
Born of aristocratic descent, at Sharpham Park, Somerset, Fielding was educated at Eton and went to London to pursue legal...
After the death of his mother when he was II, Fielding was sent to Eton. At the age of 19, after an unsuccessful attempt to...