Preface to ‘Joseph Andrews’

Category: Joseph Andrews, Novel, Truth
Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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In his Preface to ‘Joseph Andrews’, Fielding claims that human vices in his novel are ‘never set forth as the objects of ridicule but detestation’. To what extent are ‘Joseph Andrews’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ concerned with issues of morality?

Despite the fact that ‘Joseph Andrews’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ approach their concern with issues of morality differently, they both interrogate the subject to the extent whereby, throughout the majority of both novels, they reveal and question existing ideals of society’s principles: “Robinson Crusoe initiates that aspect of the novel’s treatment of experience which rivals the confessional autobiography and outdoes other literary forms in bringing us close to the inward moral being of the individual” (Watt, 75). This quote summarises the argument ahead and captures Defoe’s intentions.

It is also one of the many critical debates that surround this concern, that accentuate how Fielding and Defoe’s involvement in this matter is significant and almost revolutionary. Whereas Watt’s comment below encapsulates what Fielding aims to achieve: “Fielding… attempts to broaden our moral sense rather than to intensify its punitive operations against licentiousness. ” (Watt, 283). Both of the above quotations provide an insight into both writers’ new and innovative approaches that can be considered to be quite rebellious, compared to other works from the eighteenth century.

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Throughout Andrew Wright’s essay titled ‘Joseph Andrews: Art as Art’, it is argued that “Fielding believes that the function of the novel is to provide a paradigm of civilisation which is above the level of ordinary moral imperatives” (Wright, 24). Thus, one may assume that Fielding’s intention is to set a raised barrier of morality in order to demonstrate how low civilisation measures up to it. He also contends that there is much evidence within and outside Fielding’s novel’s to suggest that Fielding did not have high hopes for human beings to become perfect or for society to transform and become flawless.

This pessimism entails that human beings are hopeless. However, Fielding wrote in ‘The True Patriot’ on November 12th, 1745 that there are “some imperfections perhaps innate in our Constitution, and others too inveterate and established, to be eradicated; to these, wise and prudent Men will rather submit, than hazard shocking the Constitution itself by a rash Endeavour to remove them” (Wright, 30). This statement implies that Fielding’s exploration of vices within the narrative was not designed to change civilisation but to reveal its comportment in all veracity.

Wright almost discusses the same notion and argues that “it is impossible to make a bad man good, and good men will very probably grow wise without much prompting. The function of art, therefore- and if this is not a tautology- is to provide a kind of ideal delight” (Wright, 30). Therefore, it is fair to suggest that Fielding does not intend to improve society or change the nature of human kind. Instead, he aims to encourage acceptance of civilisation; his revelation of flaws is formulated in order to allow his readers to find a way of rejoicing them.

Thus, morality is a significant theme within the narrative and could be argued to be the purpose of the book. The rationale as to why this does not appear obvious or heightened is because it is not a concept of morality that is usually highlighted or celebrated. Within this balance of rejection and acceptance, Fielding creates a new type of morality and happiness and this can be reinforced in book three, chapter three, when Wilson unfolds his tale of moral deterioration and debauchery in London: “I soon prevented it.

I represented him in so low a Light to his mistress, and made so good an Use of Flattery, Promises, and Presents…I prevailed the poor Girl, and convey’d her away from her Mother! In a word, I debauched her. -(At which Words, Adams started up, fetch’d three Strides across the Room, and then replaced himself in his Chair. ) You are not more affected with this part of my story than myself: I assure you it will never be sufficiently repented in my own Opinion” (Fielding, 180).

This extract promotes acceptance of immorality and shamelessness. The way in which Adams reacts for a moment and then replaces himself in his chair demonstrates a sense of tolerance but also acknowledgment. This is symbolic of Fielding’s approach to morality throughout the entire novel; it is important to be aware of corruption but to attempt to repent it could cause more damage. Similarly to ‘Joseph Andrews‘, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ shows many preoccupations with the concept of morality.

However, more so than Fielding (although Fielding also uses this device), Defoe utilises religion in order to determine a social moral code; he uses the boundaries and margins of religion in order to measure Robinson Crusoe’s principles. For example, the novel presents a protestant work ethic where success in business, in life is a message that you will go to heaven. Throughout the novel, Crusoe suggests that God is capitalist and that material increase suggests spiritual happiness and a closer relationship to God.

This is evident on many occasions throughout the novel, for example, Crusoe converts Friday to Christianity and relates closer and closer to God as the novel progresses: “From these things I began to instruct him in the knowledge of the true God. I told him that the great Maker of all things lived up there, pointing up towards Heaven. That He governs the world by the same Power and Providence by which He made it. That He was omnipotent, could do everything for us, give everything to us, take everything from us; and thus by degrees I opened his eyes. (Defoe, 213). The significance of the theme of morality (or the Protestant religion as it is referred to within the novel) can also be reinforced by the way in which Crusoe teaches and learns about religion and preaches about its glory to others, such as Friday. This is also evident within ‘Joseph Andrews’ as the reader witnesses Joseph’s attempts to gain attributes similar to Joseph from the bible. For example, he is seen as a father figure within his community. Within his essay, ’Robinson Crusoe and the state of nature’, Maximillian E.

Novak argues that “Defoe was not only delineating the condition of man in the state of nature but also the cultural and political evolution which, by transforming the state of nature, created civilisation and government” (Novak, 23). This suggests that Defoe contributed to a more polished and advanced society that was in the making at the time of the novel’s publication. He discusses three opinions on the private physical men that were current in Defoe’s day: one being that despite being isolated, man would achieve the same intellectual and moral condition that he would if he ould were raised in society. (Novak, 23). Although the category that Novak feels Crusoe belongs to is the third whereby “he survives his solitude, but he is always afraid, always cautious. Defoe recognised the benefits of the state of nature, but he believed that the freedom and purity of Crusoe’s island were minor advantages compared to the comfort and security of civilisation. ” (Novak, 23). This view implies that human beings almost do not exist without society because they are so formulated by society that without it, there is nothing left.

Novak suggests this when he states that human beings are more affluent in society than alone and isolated. This therefore entails that it is society that provides our moral grounding and that aspects of society such as religion are dominant of what we believe to be right and wrong. Thus, religion is our guide to life and what encourages us to follow codes of moral conduct: “it is Puritan individualism which controls his spiritual being” (Watt, 74). This can be emphasised within the text as the reader follows Crusoe’s spiritual journey.

The reader witnesses how God brings Crusoe back onto the track of Providence which is why he has to relearn everything, including how to behave. Throughout ‘Joseph Andrews’, religion acts as a principal for people to live by and the characters that live up to the standards are used to set an example, such as Joseph. Creating another relationship between both texts, religion is a way for morality to succeed; Fielding makes moral characters virtuous and successful, he also mocks the immoral society that does not have religious beliefs and thus shows that morals equal success.

While Defoe shows that religion provides Crusoe with moral demeanour. This has an underlying tone of significance about human beings’ behaviour and what we need to survive, as we observe how Crusoe needs routine and time in order to allow him to feel as though he has control. This also relates to the politically charged atmosphere of the time about the need for a ruling monarchy and colonialism because the restoration demonstrated how the public were unable to direct their own lives; they needed demands from authoritative figures in order to provide them with comfort and assurance.

For example, Crusoe recreates what he knows from England, such as, farming and building: “In about a year and a half I had a flock of about twelve goats, kids and all; and in two years more I had three and forty, besides several that I took and killed for my food. And after that I enclosed five several pieces of ground to feed them in, with little pens to drive them into, to take them as I wanted, an gates out of one piece of ground into another” (Defoe, 146).

Consequently, both ‘Joseph Andrews’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ are concerned with morality to the extent that they aim to produce ideals of morality that they believe to be revolutionary compared to the capitalist society from which they derive from. Ian Watt argues that “the highest spiritual values had been attached to the performance of the daily task, the next step was for the autonomous individual to regard his achievements as a quasi-divine mastering of the environment. It is likely that this secularisation of the Calvinist conception of stewardship was of considerable importance for the rise of the novel” (Watt, 74).

Thus, it can be argued that not only were ‘Joseph Andrews’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe’s’ moral content innovative and enlightening, they were also significant contributors to the ‘rise of the novel’ and a new way of thinking. This renaissance can be considered as an essential element of the restoration of the time. The fact that Watt explores both novels and novelists in his book ‘The Rise of the Novel’ also accentuates this notion. Throughout her critical study of eighteenth century literature, Pat Rogers discusses the context of the writer’s of the time.

She suggests that it was literature’s responsibility to reflect reality and also make sense of it; “to distil general laws and detect patterns in apparently random occurrences” (Rogers, 11). This is evident in both novels, for example, the way in which Fielding crafts a ingenuous representation of the moral state of society within ‘Joseph Andrews‘: “Your Lady talks of servants as if they were not born of the Christian Specious. Servants have flesh and blood as well as quality” (Fielding, 260).

It is also a dominant feature of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ whereby there are many references to the immoral nature of English society:” greatly concerned to secure myself from any attack in the night, either from wild beasts or men” (Defoe, 74). For example, this suggests that men are the equivalent to ‘wild beasts’ and also just as threatening, implying that men have become corrupt and out of control, showing a lack of consideration for the rest of society. Thus both novels formulate parodies of the truth that reveal the decay of decency and morality.

Rogers supports this argument and reinforces both writers’ methods of portraying such ideals: “they deal for the most part with the experience of everyday of men and women in society; their tone was plain and worldly, they sought to avoid a recondite air, and they addressed the reader with easy confidence…the actions of other people form the most obvious objects of our moral perceptions; when we make moral judgements, we apply ourselves decisions we have made about the behaviour of others. Not only do we perceive that an act is right or wrong, but we assign merit or blame to the perpetrator of the act. (Rogers, 147). To conclude, both novels have dominant themes of morality, ‘Joseph Andrews’ concentrates on everyday life and behaviour and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ approaches morality from a broader perspective and through the characteristic of religion. Consequently, both novels attack the negative attributes of society and mankind in a rather satirical manner; they observe the truth about people’s principles and encourage enthusiasm for the reader to reach their own conclusions, in order for them to recognise flaws.

Not only are both books innovative and rather rebellious, but they can both be considered as fundamental stimulants for the ‘rise of the novel’. Historical evidence of the eighteenth century and the tradition of writing at the time can also support both writers’ objectives in incorporating such dominant themes of morality. This is because of the lack of individualism and the control of a newly capitalist civilisation. Therefore, overall there is much evidence to support this argument and many existing critical debates, to suggest that both Fielding and Defoe are deeply concerned with the issues of morality.

Both ‘Joseph Andrews’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ can be read as a reflection of life and human behaviour to the extent whereby they highlight the state of morality and its function within society. Bibliography: Bell, A. Ian. ‘Defoe’s Fiction’. Kent: Biddles Ltd, 1985. Butt, John. ‘Fielding’. London: Longmans, Green & Co Ltd, 1959. Defoe, Daniel. ‘Robinson Crusoe‘. Berkshire: Penguin Books Ltd, 1994. Fielding, Henry. ‘Joseph Andrews‘, ‘Shamela‘. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Novak, E. Maximillian. Defoe and the Nature of Man’. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1963. Macalister, Hamilton. ‘Literature in Perspective- Fielding’. London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1967. Paulson, Ronald. ‘Fielding- A Collection of Critical Essays’. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc, 1962. Rogers, Pat. ‘The Context of English Literature- The Eighteenth Century’. London: Methuen & Co Ltd, 1978. Watt, Ian. ‘The Rise of the Novel’. London: Chatto & Windus, 1963. Wright, Andrew. ‘Henry Fielding: Mask and Feast’. London: Chatto & Windus, 1968.

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Preface to ‘Joseph Andrews’. (2018, Jun 19). Retrieved from

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