Study Guide

Joseph Andrews Introduction

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Joseph Andrews Introduction

Long before the 24-hour news cycle regurgitated every headline about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, the hottest scandal to hit 18th-century presses was right in the pages of Joseph Andrews.That's right: by the time Henry Fielding released this razor-sharp satire in 1742, the whole English nation was already abuzz about a little lady named Pamela.

Ever heard of her? We're pretty sure she could give Kim K. a run for her money in the tabloids. See, Joseph Andrews is all about mocking a little book called Pamela, by Samuel Richardson. (Actually, there's nothing little about it; it's about 600 pages long.) The heroine of this hefty classic, Pamela Andrews, is supposed to be super sweet, virtuous, and totally unwilling to succumb to her master's sexual advances. But unfortunately for Pamela, being a goody-two-shoes also means she's an easy target for people who think that sort of thing is actually kind of funny.

And boy, did Henry Fielding go after Pamela. Joseph Andrews wasn't even his first foray into Pamela-land, since he also penned An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews in 1741. You might say that Fielding recognized a gold mine when he saw it. After all, the whole nation was divided into Pamelists and Anti-Pamelists (we can't make this stuff up, folks), both of whom were majorly invested in reading as much about this uber-sweet maidservant as possible.

Enter stage right: Joseph Andrews, the even more virtuous and oblivious brother of the lovely lass.

And what does that mean, you ask? Look, we're just gonna give you a sample sentence from our brief summary of the novel—you know, just for a taste:

At ten years old, Joseph Andrews goes from a job scaring birds away from the fields to being a footman at Sir Thomas Booby's grand old house. The job comes with one downside: Lady Booby, Sir Thomas's lecherous wife, is majorly into Joseph.

Seriously, Shmoopers, can you pass this awesomeness up?

We didn't think so.

What is Joseph Andrews About and Why Should I Care?

Okay, Shmoopers. Let's say we're doing some well-deserved Facebooking when we see someone linking out to an article from The Onion. You know, it's the publication that calls itself "America's Finest News Source" and tends to trip people up with satire. It's where we go when we need to laugh a little bit and let off some steam.

Except let's say the friend posting a link to The Onion doesn't exactly get that it's a satirical news source. Like, they actually believe that all the world's historians got together to declare the past is expanding at an alarming rate. Hey, we've all been the gullible friend before. But in this case, we feel totally in the know, and maybe a little superior to that poor linking friend, since we can tell the article is satire.

Now, just imagine that this gullible friend is teleported back to the eighteenth century. Chances are, he'd pick up a copy of Joseph Andrews and get super excited about reading the sequel to Pamela. Being the kind friends we are, we'd clearly point Mr. Gullible in the right direction. But let's get one thing straight: Fielding is basically the O.G. Onion writer. His writing is on point, but that's because he's responding to the latest gossip.

The latest gossip, by the way, is all about Samuel Richardson's prissy heroine—and the fact that Pamela is not so secretly all about sex. Joseph Andrews, on the other hand, is a book read by those in the know. Let's just say that Fielding's ideal reader would know the difference between an article in The Onion and a New Yorker op-ed piece.

Joseph Andrews is all about dealing with the issues of the day in a smart, funny way. Fielding could have just written a nasty letter to the editor complaining about how stupid he found Pamela, but instead, he makes fun of it point by point and creates his own novel in the process. You know those people who say it's easy to criticize something, but it's hard to make something yourself? Look no further than Henry Fielding, who shows you how to do both.

Joseph Andrews Resources


Pamela, Shamela
Now that you've read Joseph Andrews, take a gander at Fielding's first foray into making fun of Pamela. We're talking about none other than the famous Shamela, here published in full on the web.

Another Book Named After Another Guy
Fielding's Tom Jones made The Guardian's list of the top 100 books of all time. In fact, it cracked the top ten.

Movie or TV Productions

Lady Booby Becomes "Belle"
Watch Ann-Margret ham it up as an awesome Lady Booby.

See Where it All Started
So you want to catch up on Pamela, the book that inspired Joseph Andrews? How better to do that than treat yourself to the 1970s film remake of the book Fielding loved to hate?


Tom, Meet Joseph
Fielding's other great hero, Tom Jones, gets the podcast treatment from BBC.


Joseph Who?
Ann-Margret as Lady Booby gets top billing in this 1977 movie poster.

Adams, Is That You?
Henry Fielding's wig looks a lot like Parson Adams's. Just saying.

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