Written as a parody of Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, Joseph Andrews is a story about a young footman who rejects the advances of his recently widowed mistress, Lady Booby, and is subsequently fired. Since he is far from home in the city of London, Joseph makes his way back to the country estate of Lady Booby, where he can claim settlement. He’s especially eager to get there because his sweetheart, Fanny, is waiting for him there.
But, of course, Joseph’s travels are not easy, as he comes across Lady Booby’s parson, Abraham Adams, and Fanny herself on his journey home. Together the three of them will encounter many trials before they reach home.
To put this review in context, I suppose I should say something about Richardson’s Pamela. Pamela is the story of a housemaid who rejects the advances of her master, forcing him to change character before the two of them can fall in love. Pamela is an epistolary novel, composed of letters written only by Pamela, and so Fielding and other writers were highly suspicious of Pamela’s motives throughout the story. Thinking that she simply acted coy and innocent as a way of marrying up the social ladder, Fielding wrote Joseph Andrews to explore this possibility.
This is why Joseph is put in a similar position to Pamela’s: fleeing the advances of Lady Booby. Over the course of their journey, Joseph, Fanny, and Adams encounter people who are subject to “affectation”—people pretending to be someone they really aren’t. There are parsons who act more like farmers, brave veterans who flee in danger, and gentlemen who are entirely inappropriate (usually towards Fanny).
Despite the variety of antics that Joseph and company find themselves in, I was often bored with the repetitive nature of it: they travel, they’re broke, they run into someone hoping for help, that person turns out to be a douche, they move on, still broke. I only got really invested in the story in Book 4, where several events threaten the marriage of Joseph and Fanny. The twist at the end is very good though.
Speaking of which, Joseph and Fanny are kind of boring characters too. I mean, they are our protagonists, but they are such goody-two-shoes. It’s their character to be perfectly virtuous people. Fanny is little more than a doll: she’s pretty, she’s polite, she’s quiet, she faints. Joseph is, oddly, depicted as rather feminine, and as such it makes me smirk when I read that he smacks someone upside the head for hitting on Fanny (which is nice, sure, but seriously,he spends a good portion of his time injured himself).
Lady Booby is sort of weak as an antagonist, and she is more petty than she is threatening.
The only character I found really funny and interesting was Adams. I could argue that he’s actually the protagonist for most of this book. He’s supposed to be a learned man who has little understanding of the world…in other words, book smart, not street smart. There’s this scene that made me laugh out loud where he’s walking along the road and Joseph sees him ahead in this carriage. Joseph, wanting the parson to ride with him, calls out to Adams and tells the driver to go faster. This results in Adams running faster, exclaiming, “you won’t catch me!”
The writing style of the book is sort of patchwork. Fielding makes a point in his preface that his novel is a unique writing style—a hybrid of all sorts of styles. It’s part anthology, part overarching narrative. Part fiction, part philosophy. Part funny, part I don’t even know what. It’s really easy to see that Fielding is trying to show all the ways people can be hypocrites. And in that way, it is kind of funny.
But when you rely on the same joke to make an entire novel funny…it gets dry really fast. It was really obvious from the beginning that Fielding’s point was to expose hypocrisy in our society, and all the tangental examples thrown in make the novel seemingly longer than it needed to be.
Then again, that might just be me struggling with the book.
Recommendation: Maybe. If you like episodic parodies like Gulliver’s Travels, definitely check this book out. However, the parody running on a single kind of joke makes the plot very dry, so I wouldn’t blame you if you decide to set it aside.