Fielding’s great theme of appearance versus reality dominates the last chapters of the novel, obtruding
itself in a couple of spectacular plot developments. The climactic sequence in which both Joseph and
Fanny turn out to have been involved in separate but linked gypsy-changeling incidents is of course the
most consequential deployment of the theme in the entire novel; by far the funniest, however, is the
episode in which a number of the overnight guests at Booby Hall find themselves in the wrong beds.
In addition to being good screwball comedy, the nocturnal confusion sequence epitomizes the entire
story and culminates the novel’s pervasive sexual comedy. As Hamilton Macallister remarks, “Each
character re-enacts the role he plays in the novel. It is Didapper’s fate not to get his woman, Mrs.
Slipslop’s to lust unsatisfied. . . . It is the fate of Lady Booby to come too late and misunderstand,
Adams to rush to the help of a woman in distress and cause worse confusion, Fanny to see her virtue in
apparent extreme danger. The humor is not mere slapstick, as it is sometimes elsewhere in the novel;
always it is true to character.” One may add that it is Adams’s fate to endure humiliations: as with his
fall into Trulliber’s sty and his run-ins with hog’s blood and a chamber pot, the parson here endures
severe humiliations but, as ever, he successfully washes off the sordidness of the ordeal. Detected in
the beds of two women who are not his wife, Adams earns the condemnation of Mrs. Slipslop (of all
people), who hypocritically calls him “the wickedest of all Men,” and the laughter of Lady Booby; he
even endures the suspicions of Joseph and Fanny, whose virtue he has cultivated and defended but
who in the harsh light of morning wonder whether he has not finally joined the long line of Fanny’s
would-be debauchers. Through it all Parson Adams remains, in the words of Homer Goldberg,
“transcendentally comic,” though as Goldberg further observes, the scene of Joseph momentarily
sitting in judgment of his mentor and then “mellow[ing] into indulgent superiority” continues the
process of the younger man’s asserting himself against Adams and supplanting him as protagonist.
Beau Didapper, whose mistaking of Slipslop’s chamber for Fanny’s initiates the hi-jinx, plays an
interesting role in dramatizing the theme of pretense. In his repulsive effeminacy he exemplifies the
vanity of fashionable society, its essential hollowness and enervation: like Bellarmine but with less
success, he attempts to lure a woman with the enticements of wealth and social elevation. In his
physical person he is dandyish and diminutive, so little threatening that when he attempts to force
himself on Fanny she manages, for once, to fight off her attacker on her own. Her resistance forces him
to assign the work of her seduction to a servant -- an abject admission of weakness, not at all the same
thing as the Hunter of Men’s sending his servants to bring Fanny where he himself plans to assault her.
Only Didapper’s extreme conceit allows him to believe that he could successfully impersonate Joseph
and seduce Fanny; to the reader, who appreciates the gulf between Joseph’s masculinity and
Didapper’s effeminacy, the notion is risible. For all the Beau’s ludicrousness and corruption, however,
he is consummately acceptable to polite society. Simon Varey points out the euphemistic delicacy with
which Didapper leaves his servant to “make [Fanny] any Offers whatever”; whatever else he is,
Didapper is Lady Booby’s “polite Friend,” an emissary from fashionable or “polite” society.
The comedy of appearance and reality reaches its climax with the revelations of the respective origins
of Joseph and Fanny; not only do the two lovers turn out to be other than they were thought to be, but
in plot terms the main structure is a reversal of perceptions and expectations. To the former point, it is
interesting to re-read the novel in the knowledge of Joseph’s real parentage: such details as the
precise wording of Fielding’s introduction of the hero (“Joseph Andrews . . . was esteemed to be the
only son of Gaffar and Gammer Andrews”) show the novelist keeping up the fiction but being careful to
say nothing he will have to contradict later. For readers who have some familiarity with romance
conventions, of course, Fielding may effectively have given the game away when Wilson mentions
(with Joseph conveniently asleep) the kidnapping of his eldest son and the son’s convenient identifying
birthmark. Other markers have been present all along; as in fairy tales, a fair complexion is an index of
gentility, and Bettythe chamber-maid once argued for Joseph’s high birth on the basis of his white skin.
If Joseph is a gentleman in disguise, then, he has certainly been hiding in plain sight.
With respect to the final movement of the plot, the revelation of Fanny’s having been born to Mr. and
Mrs. Andrews initially makes it seem that, in addition to battling Lady Booby, the lovers have lost the
support of providence and their friends; as Goldberg points out, “even Adams rejoices at the prevention
of their marriage.” Their predicament, which seems to be growing more dire, is in truth progressively
ameliorating, as the discovery of Fanny’s parentage leads to the discovery of Joseph’s parentage, and
both these discoveries ultimately contribute to the happiness and prosperity of the lovers. This drastic
reversal, which owes much to the plots of such classical dramatists as Mr. Adams’s beloved Æschylus,
enhances the impact of the lovers’ eventual bliss by making it seem fortuitous despite the fact that
most readers will have been confident of the happy outcome from the first news of Joseph’s