Joseph Andrews Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 54-page guide for “Joseph Andrews” by Henry Fielding includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 64 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Hypocrisy Versus Authenticity in Human Nature and The Relationship Between Social Status and Virtue.
The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of His Friend Mr. Abraham Adams, or Joseph Andrews, was written by Henry Fielding and published in 1742 as a “comic epic poem in prose” (14). The novel, one of the first in the English language, encompasses many principles of the Augustan Age in which it was written. In this era literature, particularly satire, was viewed as a means of instruction, and observation was considered the best way to learn about human nature and the world. Henry Fielding’s satirical commentary on hypocrisy, status, and virtue demonstrates to readers which qualities to avoid and which to emulate. This guide refers to the edition of the book published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.
The novel is similar in style to Cervantes’s Don Quixote, as the main characters embark on a journey full of slapstick comedy and meet several upper- and lower-class characters along the way. As Joseph Andrews and Parson Adams journey from London to their country town, they face robbers, rude inn owners, sexual temptations, and false kindness from the upper class, all while maintaining their Christian virtue and charity. Written in response to Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela (1740), in which the heroine fends off sexual temptation to maintain her virtue, Joseph Andrews flips 18th-century ideas of sexuality and virtue upside down. Fielding shows that charity and virtue lead to true contentment and blessings from God, while selfishness and lust lead to nothing.
Lady Booby, the wife of squire Sir Thomas Booby, takes a romantic interest in Joseph Andrews for his good looks and popularity, and makes him her footman. Parson Adams is also interested in Joseph, but for his Christian character and aptitude for education. Lady Booby and Joseph leave for London, where Sir Thomas Booby dies. After his death, Lady Booby flirts with Joseph and cleverly invites him to sleep with her. Joseph does not notice her sexual advances, thinking that a woman in her high position would not be interested in him.
In anger, Lady Booby fires Joseph. He heads toward the Booby’s country parish in search of Fanny Goodwill, a milkmaid and Joseph’s childhood sweetheart. On the road Joseph is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A group of wealthy coach passengers save him to avoid being sued. They take him to a nearby inn to recover, where Parson Adams stops on his way to London, hoping to publish his sermons. Realizing he forgot sermons at home, Adams decides to return to the country parish with Joseph as his traveling companion.
On their journey Adams ends up taking the wrong path. He meets a partridge hunter, and while the two men are talking, they hear a young woman screaming. Adams runs to her rescue while the hunter runs away, and Adams saves her from attempted rape. Adams realizes that the woman is none other than Joseph’s sweetheart, Fanny Goodwill.
Adams and Fanny stop at an inn, where they find Joseph. Joseph wants to marry Fanny right away but accepts Adams’s advice to wait. In the morning Adams goes to the local clergyman, Mr. Trulliber, to ask for a loan to pay their bill at the inn, but his request is denied. A poor but kind peddler at the inn lends them the last of his money. As they continue traveling, they meet a falsely kind squire as well as sheep stealers and, through a series of events, end up taking shelter with a kind family. Their hosts, the Wilson family, enjoy a simple life of contentment in the countryside. The only sadness marring their sweet fellowship is the loss of their son, who was kidnapped as an infant.
After another series of adventures, the group returns to the country parish. Lady Booby deals with emotional turmoil between her attraction to Joseph and her love for her own reputation and status. Jealous of Fanny, she takes legal action to get Fanny banished from the parish. Her nephew, Mr. Booby, arrives with his wife Pamela, who is Joseph’s sister. Mr. Booby rescues his brother-in-law and Fanny during their sentencing, and tells Joseph he wants to make him a gentleman. After being influenced by his aunt, he advises Joseph to break off his engagement to Fanny since she is poor and will hurt his chances at attaining a higher social rank. However, Joseph remains loyal to Fanny.
The poor peddler the group met on the road comes into the parish and tells Fanny that her parents are Mr. and Mrs. Andrews. Everyone is shocked by this news, as it indicates that Joseph and Fanny are brother and sister. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews arrive the next day, and Mrs. Andrews confirms the story that her daughter was kidnapped in infancy and replaced with Joseph. The peddler then discloses that Joseph’s parents are Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, the kindly hosts who gave refuge to Joseph, Adams, and Fanny. Fanny and Joseph are married, and Mr. Booby gives them enough money to live quite comfortably.