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Old Thursday, June 07, 2007
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Default Joseph Andrews: Humour

Fielding’s proclaimed aim was to tear the veil off affectation and expose it to ridicule, which is the true source of laughter. Humour, naturally, occupies an important place in Fielding’s concept of novel. Satire has an equally important role, for it has to strip the mask off the ills of society, holds up a mirror to human folly and corrects human beings of their vanities and hypocrisy.

In his Preface to “Joseph Andrews", Fielding concludes that affectation is the source of the ridiculous, springing from vanity or hypocrisy. Fielding intends to laugh mankind out of its follies and foibles. Fielding, thus, employs ironical and satirical humour in several places. But he does not confine himself to these two varieties. Essentially a comic genius, he often indulges in other forms of humour, among which pure fun is very common.

Joseph Andrews has a large variety of humour. Farce is not excluded. Several farcical situations such as the fight scene at the inn, Joseph falling from his horse and hurting his knee, Joseph sitting by the fireside while the hostess of the inn rubbing his knee, Parson Adams in a pan of hog’s blood, the hounds of the Squire tearing at Parson Adams’ cassock, Mrs. tow-wouse discovering Betty in Tow-wouse’s bed, the bed-room scene in Booby Hall, Didapper mistaking the room and entering Mrs. Slipslop’s room and Adams mistaking Didapper for the distressed lady and getting hold of Mrs. Slipslop as the attacker, punching her mercilessly till Lady Booby arrives on the scene with a lighted-candle. Adam’s taking a wrong turn in Fanny’s bed and goes to sleep; all these scenes are farcical.

We cannot dismiss the farcical scenes as a rough and ‘low’ kind of fun, but they embody a serious purpose. Fielding does not really forget that he was writing to ‘laugh mankind’ out of folly. But his satire is mild and amusing. The irony is, similarly, not devastating but gentle.

The patriot blanches in fear and trembles. He turns tail and runs away – a surprising reaction from a man who declares that all cowards should be hanged. Even Adams himself is not spared of ironical humour. His advice to Joseph on acceptance of misfortune is thrown to the winds when his own son is reported to be drowned. His desire to read to Mr. Wilson a sermon on vanity is riddled with irony. He is vain enough to consider his sermon a masterpiece. There are, of course, sharp touches of irony in Mrs. Slipslop’s portraiture and Lady Booby’s affectation.

Satire and irony mingle in the portraiture of Pamela. She is a priggish hypocrite. Indeed, Fielding does not leave an opportunity to satirize Richardson’s Pamela.

Fielding develops the satirical theme most effectively in the scene where each of the coach passengers is stripped spiritually naked in their confrontation with naked Joseph.The lady’s false delicacy, the old gentleman’s selfishness and the lawyer’s professional cautiousness, are all exposed. But the poor postilion swears and declares that he would rather go in a shirt than leave a naked man to die. The crowning irony is that the poor postilion who showed his human feelings was later transported for stealing a hen-roost.

The society of the day comes in for plenty of ridicule by Fielding. The corrupt and hypocritical clergy, similarly, comes in for attack. But through particular examples, through the individuals like Lady Booby, Mrs. Slipslop, Trilluber, Barnabas, the Squire of Fools and the Squire of False Promises, general human follies and foibles are satirized.

Joseph Andrews abounds in humorous characterization. The most remarkable figure Parson Adams is eccentric, forgetful, gullible, idealistic but entirely human. He is indulged in odd gestures and mannerism. Adams never loses his dignity, however much of humour is involved in his portraiture – that speaks of Fielding's skill as a comic artist.

Mrs. Slipslop is another entirely humorous character. She is almost disgusting in her short stature and bearded face, with small eyes and a long nose. She affects long words wrong under the impression that she seems very learned.

Parson Trulliber is another comic creation. Rearing pigs and being with them continuously has made him appear increasingly like a pig.

In Joseph Andrews there is plenty of burlesque in diction. The mock-heroic technique produces plenty of humour in the novel. The discrepancy between the high style and the ridiculous situation produces laughter.

Fielding was basically a comic artist, master of the various forms of humour – farce, satire, irony, humorous characterization, and the comic style. Joseph Andrews manifests these various forms of humour. Fielding’s comic vision is based on a genial acceptance of human folly, which he endeavours to correct. Fielding’s humane viewpoint makes him broadminded and realistic. Fielding’s humour “shines like a sun on the evil and the good”.
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