The
action of Book II starts with Mr. Adams finding himself in what will become a
highly characteristic predicament: he la...
Nevertheless, the tales do serve the main narrative, as the telling of Leonora's
demonstrates: not only does the character...
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Book ii, chapters i through v joseph andrews

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Book ii, chapters i through v joseph andrews

  1. 1. The action of Book II starts with Mr. Adams finding himself in what will become a highly characteristic predicament: he lacks the funds to pay the bill he has racked up at the inn. Mr. Adams, like Fielding himself at the time of composing the novel, is constantly in debt; fortunately, however, the same unworldliness that leads to these bouts of insolvency prevents him from despairing. Instead, he asks trustingly for help, for as he himself would never refuse a request for financial assistance, he always expects that others will lend him the money he needs. In this particular instance, the people around him reward his faith: a servant from the coach and six springs Adams and Joseph from the inn, and later Mrs. Slipslop (albeit with a less than virtuous motive) releases the parson's horse and Joseph along with it. No less characteristic of Adams is his having forgotten his manuscripts at home; as the episode of his wading needlessly through a stream suggests, Mr. Adams is prone to these errors because he is both literally and figuratively short-sighted. The detail of his sitting down to read the works of the classical tragedian Æschylus gives a clue as to the literary influences behind Fielding's characterizing him in this way. Mr. Adams resembles Cervantes's Don Quixote in having a vision that is naïve in a peculiarly bookish way: as Homer Goldberg observes, Adams's continual horror at the wickedness of others arises not only from his own natural goodness, which he tends to project onto others, but also from his assumption that "the noble sentiments of the ancient poets and philosophers . . . delineate human nature as it is, rather than as it might or ought to be." Thus, the story moves from examples of Adams's absent-mindedness (with respect to money, manuscripts, and moving water) straight to an incident in which a couple of worldlings display a less exalted side of human nature: while stopping at the next inn, Adams is shocked to learn that two litigious gentlemen would allow self-interest to guide their moral judgments of others. Mr. Adams errs in confusing erudition with practical wisdom and insight into the minds and actions of everyday human beings; this lack of emphasis on the practical side of things manifests itself in his forgetfulness, his accumulation of debt, and his idealistic expectation of good faith in others. The first chapter of Book II, like that of Book I, contains Fielding's commentary on his procedure as a novelist; here, he addresses his division of the novel into books and chapters that allow the reader to pause for reflection. Fielding claims once again to be taking his cues from classical writers such as Homer, and indeed the use of numbered books is an organizational technique typical of the epic. Another structural inheritance from the epic, one that Fielding does not discuss, is the interpolation of digressive tales such as that of Leonora, which begins in Chapter IV. Readers who are inclined to criticize the weakness of Fielding's plot structure, with its many improbable occurrences and flat characters popping in and out, often disapprove of these digressions as distractions from the main story.
  2. 2. Nevertheless, the tales do serve the main narrative, as the telling of Leonora's demonstrates: not only does the characterization of Mr. Adams gather an amusing new wrinkle (as the upright clergyman turns out to be an avid consumer of gossipy stories), but Leonora's biography underscores important themes as well. Some critics have called the digressive tales "negative analogues," meaning that they express negatively the positive moral themes of the main story. Thus, while Joseph and Fanny embody everything that young lovers ought to be and do, Leonora manages to get everything wrong. The fact that she begins with every earthly advantage makes her folly all the less forgivable: she is wealthy, attractive, popular, and shrewd; her only weakness is a moral one, as she brings to her selection of husbands a form of pragmatism that is really just applied selfishness. This pragmatism misfires when Leonora abandons the man she really loves for a wealthier man who, as will be seen in the conclusion of her story, is no less self-interested than she is. For being too clever by half, the novel punishes Leonora, rewarding instead the dogged loyalty of Joseph and Fanny; the contrast between her sophistication and their straightforwardness implies that Fielding's providence favors simplicity, which Fielding considers an attribute of goodness. Fielding's classical influences manifest themselves also in the farcical battle scene of Chapter V: serious epics are full of lavishly detailed scenes of combat that substantiate the heroic qualities of the participants, but in Fielding the narrative specificity serves, of course, not to glorify the action but to underscore its ludicrousness. Naturally, Mr. Adams epitomizes this ludicrousness: the Hostess dashes the hog's blood into his face "with so good an Aim, that much the greater part first saluting his Countenance, trickled thence in so large a current down his Beard, and over his Garments, that a more horrible Spectacle was hardly to be seen or even imagined"; when the smoke has cleared, "[t]he principal Figure, and which engaged the Eyes of all, was Adams," who, as usual, looks the silliest. He does not, however, descend to the level of the guiltiest: the hog's blood battle provides a useful window into Fielding's ethics, and the fact that neither Adams nor Joseph thinks of turning the other cheek indicates that Fielding does not use violence and nonviolence as a basis on which to distinguish the wicked characters from the virtuous. Whether a particular violent act is ethical or not turns out to be a question of motive: the Host has threatened the two travelers because he is irritated with Adams and Joseph for requesting charity from his wife and because he resents Joseph's suggestion that Adams is his social superior; by contrast, the violence of Adams and Joseph is simply reactive, part self-defense and part retaliation against the Host's gratuitous aggression. In Fielding's world, where where violence is normative, even the best Christians cannot be pacifists.

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