Continuing a trend that began in the episode of the false-promising Squire, the character of Joseph
deepens and matures in the course of Book III. Rather than passively absorb the buffets of fortune, as
he largely did throughout the first two books, Joseph now asserts himself more readily, both dissenting
from Mr. Adams's plans when appropriate and springing into physical action against beatable
adversaries. Thus, in the "ghost" sequence of Chapter II, the steady and sensible Joseph checks
Adams's impulse to charge the sheep-stealers, carries Fanny safely down the slope that tumbled
Adams, and guides his companions to a bridge when Adams would have waded through the river.
Joseph, then, has emerged as a prudent foil for his dreamy and impetuous pastor.
The character of Mr. Adams likewise undergoes a shift of sorts during the transition between Books II
and III, but in his case the change occurs not so much in his personality per se as in Fielding's
presentation of it. Whereas previously Fielding has focused on the contrast between Adams and the
world, thereby endorsing his innocence over others' affectations, now he begins to measure Adams
against other men who are just as virtuous but more prudent, thereby highlighting Adams's
weaknesses and vanity. The first of these other virtuous men is of course Joseph; the second is Mr.
The story of Mr. Wilson's reformation after a misspent youth occupies the center of the novel for good
reason. As one critic has said, "the mature Wilson functions as the novel's central norm of sensible
humanity," and his fitness for this role is apparent in his conduct toward the three strangers who show
up on his doorstep after their encounter with the "ghosts": charitable yet wary, Wilson welcomes the
trio into his home but seeks a way of verifying that they are who they say they are, and even then he
only gradually warms to them as their good nature becomes increasingly evident. He has seen "too
much of the World to give a hasty Belief to Professions"; unlike Mr. Adams, Mr. Wilson has learned
something from his experiences of the world. As Homer Goldberg observes, Wilson's "satiric exposure
of the moral state of the world as it is forcibly points up the error of Adams's persistent naïve vision of
it as it ought to be."
Wilson's biography presents "the World" with a capital "W": it is a survey of the classic vices that
characterize the urban lifestyle of affectation, sophistication, and sensuality. (This Hogarthian "rake's
progress" may also contain an autobiographical element, as the young Fielding was himself a dissolute
Londoner for several years before eloping with his beloved wife.) Physical lust would appear to be the
leading vice among these cosmopolitan types, if Wilson's recurrent spells of venereal disease are any
indication. Wilson's London career of course contrasts with Joseph's in this regard, and Fielding
indicates that this moral degradation had its origins in Wilson's "early Introduction into Life, without a
Guide," as he had no Parson Adams to mentor him. Religious heterodoxy then compounded this faulty
education, with the young Wilson joining a club of freethinking deists and atheists. Like many frivolous
young men, Wilson kept expecting "Fortune" to smile on him, hence his purchase of the lottery ticket;
his long acquaintance with adversity, however, would teach him that redemption comes not through
luck but through charity, which Harriet Hearty helpfully embodied.
Wilson's journey, like Joseph's, takes him from town to country, from the life of folly and vice to the life
of chaste love and cheerful industry. The geographical symbolism is deliberate, for as Martin C.
Battestin remarks, "in a book whose satiric subject is vanity, provision had to be made for a long look
at London, always for Fielding the symbol ofvanitas vanitatum." In their rural life, it is true, the
Wilsons can temper the classical ideal of detachment and solitude with the Christian ethic of active
benevolence, living out of "the World" and yet not abstaining misanthropically from charitable deeds;
their way of life provides Joseph and Fanny with an example of how to settle down after marriage.
Nevertheless, the abduction of the Wilsons' eldest son demonstrates that vice knows no geographical
boundaries: the country may be the georgic site of contented retirement, but even here sin and
sadness can intrude.
by frk niazi