The gulf that yawns between the scale of an epic poem like Commedia and a “comic epic-poem in prose”1 like Joseph Andrews seems immense, but if chaos theory teaches us anything about allegory, it is precisely that we should be looking for similarities across scale. Joseph Andrews has nowhere near the scope, and nothing of the grandeur, of Dante’s Commedia, but Fielding’s novel is very much a work of the same kind – stripped down to the barest essentials of the kind, it is true, but nonetheless an allegory whole and entire, and perhaps the first allegory ever written in the modern mode.
Needless to say, I am not here referring to any simplistic interpretation of the novel’s characters as personification figures, but rather to the novel in toto as a meaning system, as a multivalent, transliminal, and paradoxically open-ended phenomenon/noumenon despite its apparent closure. Joseph Andrews is not chastity or virtue, Parson Adams is not morality or virtue, Fanny is not innocence or virtue or anything else. True, the novel’s characters start as personification figures – flat, one-dimensional, single-trait markers rather than rounded, psychologically coherent individuals – but Commedia and The Faerie Queene begin the same way, and all three works rapidly outgrow that simplistic and confining mode.
In Joseph Andrews, in fact, the characters’ process of growth, both in their psychology, as fictively “real” individuals, and in the manner of their portrayal, as imagined actors in a fictional narrative, constitutes a large part of the subject of that narrative. Not only has Fielding set himself an at least dual subject right from the start of Joseph Andrews – it’s really more than dual, because he’s exploring the nature and depiction of virtue too – but he has cast that subject, or those subjects, in a form of pervasive self-referentiality: The actions of a character and the presentation of those actions consistently illuminate each other.
Fielding “inherited” from Richardson’s Pamela a cluster of cognate problems that he adopts as the paradoxically separate yet unitary subject/action of Joseph Andrews. The identity and nature of virtue, how to write about virtue, how to depict virtue in character and in narrative, and how to depict character in action and in narrative – all these concerns combine to form the unitary subject of Fielding’s novel. He so manages his rhetoric and his subject(s) that he is always saying at least one thing and meaning at least one other, whichever of the topics – virtue, character, writing – he is talking about. Need I add that he does this so openly that almost no one has seen it?
Such a stance vis-a-vis Joseph Andrews – the willingness to read it as allegory, with the expectations of allegory as I have described them – alters readers’ whole understanding of the relations of parts to parts within the novel and of the function of episodes within the narrative. For instance: From the point of view of allegory, the “Author’s Preface” and the discursive, “theoretical,” initial chapters of the first three books of Joseph Andrews do not differ from the narrative portions of the novel except in ostensible subject matter. In essence, they form as congruent and as necessary parts of that narrative as – to choose easy comparisons – Adams’s and Mr. Wilson’s discussion of The Iliad, or the argument of the poet and the player, or Joseph’s disquisition to Fanny about the impossibility of ridiculing a truly virtuous act. The canny (or uncanny) reader of allegory should regard them as belonging as much/as little to the narrative of this allegory, and as much/as little to its “theory,” as, in Commedia, Virgil’s many explanations of Hell or Beatrice’s equally many of Heaven belong to the “theory” and narrative of that allegory, or Colin Clout’s explanation of the Graces belongs to the theory and narrative of The Faerie Queene.
Joseph Andrews’s handling of the interplay of “executive” and “deliberative” portions of its text differs radically from, for instance, that of A Tale of a Tub, where Swift exploits the difference between “progressive” narrative and “digressive” essay as part of a comprehensive metaphorics of insides and outsides. Fielding is headed the very opposite direction: If Joseph Andrews has a controlling metaphorics at all, it is some concept of wholeness and inseparability – the inseparability of Joseph, Fanny, and Adams, the inseparability of what a character says, what a character does, and the way the author presents that saying and doing. Fielding’s self-consciousness about the “species of writing . . . hitherto unattempted in our language” (12) on which he is working in Joseph Andrews does not confine itself to his Preface or to the novel’s various prefatory chapters. The novel as a whole is suffused with Fielding’s theorizing about his new genre: It is a novel as much about the development of the character of fiction and the development of characters in fiction as it is about the specific development of Joseph’s character or the improvement of the reader’s.
Fielding’s quarrel with Pamela is as central to his thinking about the form of the novel as it is to his ideas about the form of virtue or the development of character, either real or fictional. Richardson’s novel provides one the most important areas of reference for Joseph Andrews. Pamela, as both character and as novel, provides a running analogue – a pre-text, a strange attractor – for Fielding’s presentation of her putative biological, moral, and artistic sibling, so that each episode of Joseph Andrews functions not just to illustrate the growing maturity of its hero but also to demonstrate both Fielding’s version of the proper development of character in fiction and his vision of the greater-than-Pamela’s-method-allows potential of the art of the novel. Fielding’s readers are supposed to learn by doing, by experiencing, by working through their ad-hoc reality – the novel Joseph Andrews – just as Joseph analogously and simultaneously acts, experiences, and works through his reality, the substance of the book.
The reader is no more educated by emulating the example of Joseph’s virtue (Lady Booby, after all, has the first and last word on that: “Your virtue! . . . I shall never survive it” ) than Joseph is by the example of Pamela or Parson Adams. Nor is the reader “insensibly” and effortlessly moved to virtue by Fielding’s artistry any more than Joseph is by Adams’ preaching. Sed contra: Each of the novel’s four books contains at least one scene in which its titular hero’s actions demonstrate the inadequacy of emulation and/or artistry as incentives to virtue (Joseph at Lady Booby’s bedside; Joseph’s, Fanny’s, and Adams’s reunion at a country inn; the paired poet/player/Adams/Joseph chapters of Book III; the “night adventures” and identity revelations of Book IV: all to be discussed below). Fielding makes each of those actions reverberate against multiple, alternative modes of literary representation, so that the reader is forced to reject the easy answer of exemplary virtue (and is thereby implicitly prohibited from reading any of the novel’s characters as paragons, whether of virtue or of vice).2
In orthodox allegorical manner, Fielding in each of these scenes pushes readers to think for themselves, to reject conventional routes of literary interpretation, by exposing those various modes of reading for what they really are: perspectives on reality, each complete in its own terms but each only partial with respect to the reality it purports to represent. Like Dante at the beginning of the Commedia or Spenser at the start of The Faerie Queene, Fielding forces his readers – not only at the beginning, but at key points throughout Joseph Andrews – to confront the limitations of different literary modes as a way of subsuming and transcending those modes.
Like Dante and Spenser in their allegories, Fielding in Joseph Andrews is himself confronting the limits of conventional figuration, the boundaries of artistic language, and violating them, opening them, in order to enter new linguistic and artistic fields – all of which he says so overtly that readers tend not to pay it any real mind. At the particular “confrontational” points to which I refer – that is, in those set scenes in each book wherein Joseph’s actions or experiences reverberate against multiple literary frames – Fielding prods his readers simultaneously to explore the possibilities and limitations of those various modes, of his own mode, and of the modality of the character Joseph Andrews. Let me stress “at these particular points in the novel,” because the novel Joseph Andrews is no more a static form than is the character Joseph Andrews. Fielding treats both as living, growing, changing entities that assume their final shapes only as a result of the multiple collisions of their own inner natures with external realities – one of which is the reader.
Despite what I will argue are Joseph Andrews’s impressive formal resemblances to Commedia and The Faerie Queene, the differences between Fielding’s situation and Dante’s and Spenser’s remain crucial to understanding the nature of his – and most subsequent – allegory. Spenser and Dante could both count on a shared background, a common language of cultural assumptions, and even, within broad limits, a communal literacy, a very real social contextuality. Fielding no longer could make assumptions of that order, or at most could make only gravely restricted ones. So Fanny, for instance, who is the goal and motive of Joseph’s pilgrimage, as Beatrice was for Dante, is presented as illiterate, shy, almost voiceless, and frequently powerless, in radical distinction from Dante’s lady (and, obviously, from Pamela the prolix, as well). By the same token, a large part of the background (or subtext or area of reference) of Joseph Andrews derives from Pamela, which in its contemporary popularity provided Fielding with just about as much communal literacy and contextuality as he could get.
The rest of what he needs for his narrative and allegorical purposes he must himself explicitly supply in his prefaces and initial chapters and through the reading and conversation of his characters. Once again, this is not merely Fielding theorizing about this strange new form he is experimenting with: It is, once again, an allegorist giving his readers the clues they need to read the allegory rightly; it is, once again, an allegory defining its own pedigree and field of play. Granted that the problem – and the need for such self-definition – is more acute for Fielding than it has been for allegorists before him because of the widening fissures in western culture: Nevertheless, fissures are precisely allegory’s scope.
Allegory seeks out fissures, breaks borders, shatters forms, discovers gaps and bridges them: That is its work. Fielding confronts an un-ignorable gulf between writer and reader, a communication gap even between his own characters3, which did not exist for Dante and Spenser. Such a gap was in fact the shape of things to come: of comic things, in the breakdowns of connectedness portrayed in Tristram Shandy (whose “progressive” and “digressive” narratives owe as much to the example of Joseph Andrews as they do to A Tale of a Tub), and of far more serious things, in our own loss of anything remotely resembling “a common language of cultural assumptions.” For that reason, illiteracy, incommunicativeness, and silence become charged, central phenomena and noumena in Joseph Andrews, in ways different from their importance in Commedia or Faerie Queene.
Both those allegories use language to point past language to the visible but unsayable, the perceptible but ineffable. The world of Joseph Andrews, however, is riven: A deep cleft runs between the material world we can see and the significance we can say. Ordinary language – vide Parson Adams and Peter Pounce – cannot bridge that chasm. Modern allegory, starting with Joseph Andrews, accepts nevertheless that language is all we have to bridge it with, even though much remains unsayable. Thus, the various visions of earlier allegories – the dance of the Graces, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Sabbaoth, Beatrice, God – dwindle here to Fanny’s “discovering” – the word is rhetorical too – her charms and her subsequent total withdrawal from action within the narrative. So too, in the fourth book, Fielding the narrator moves Joseph from direct into indirect discourse, thereby joining him in that way too to Fanny (who has been presented in indirect discourse for most of the book), linking them in shared and deliberately chosen silence and “illiteracy.”
The point is hammered home especially at the conclusion of the book, when Joseph vows that he will not “be prevailed on by any booksellers, or their authors, to make his appearance in ‘high-life’” (298). That is not only a repudiation of Pamelan prolixity and self-publication, but an ideologically opposite movement inward to the private, the secret, the unspoken – even, if you like, the unwritten and the non-verbal. In that sense, the illiterate Fanny literally closes the book, restoring – by her silence, by the fact of her illiteracy – mystery, awe, reverence to a world that is otherwise, from this historical point onward, hell-bent on publication, publicizing, publicity. At the dawn of what we are pleased to call the modern world, allegory rediscovers – in language itself – its most ancient vocation as barrier to the unworthy and veil of the holy of holies, protector and preserver and transmitter of that which the vulgar (who are emphatically not co-extensive with the lower classes) cannot be permitted to see or say because they would profane it.
The means to this complex apprehension are, as I’ve already suggested, the acuteness of Henry Fielding’s literary self-consciousness and the radical directness with which he puts that self-awareness to work on and in the narrative of Joseph Andrews. The originally Aristotelean concept of drama as the imitation of nature underwent a radical transformation in the years between the reopening of the theatres at the Restoration and the licensing of the London theatres in 1732. Four different understandings of the idea of imitating nature succeeded each other:
- first, the dramatic imitation, in a play as a whole and its characters as individuals, of nature conceived of as pattern or platonic ideal;
- second, the dramatic imitation of the interplay between the ideal and the less satisfactory actual;
- third, the imitation of human inner life, wherein the particular character reveals a typical or representative pattern;
- and fourth, a reversal, wherein nature is persuaded to imitate art – the audience learns and changes not by the intellectual process of pattern-recognition or revelation but by the emotional power of particular, individualized characters who move the viewers to reformation of their own characters by an “insensible” effect.
At the final stage, the imitation of nature focusses obsessively on internal nature, the characters’ and the audience’s interior states. This process both prepares for and culminates in the flowering of the novel.4
These four versions of imitation tally significantly with the four books of Joseph Andrews and the four corresponding stages through which Fielding develops the character of his eponymous hero. This is another result of looking at the novel through the lenses of allegory: Readers of allegories are freer than readers of novels to see artificial divisions such as books and cantos – even chapters – as artificial divisions, and thus to attend to what they artificially divide.
Regard each book of Joseph Andrews as a temporarily or provisionally complete entity, and you can discern pretty quickly that each obeys different ground rules and is written to a different prescription and for different ends. Fielding’s first theoretical remarks in the novel address – with more deliberate ambiguity than I think has yet been recognized – “writing lives in general,” and his first paragraphs touch on the ideas of example and emulation, issues central to the evolving notion of imitation of nature. They also raise the central question of the relation of “real” lives and literary lives. Too often Fielding’s playful tone in his prefaces and introductory chapters has been allowed to obscure the fact that he and many of his characters (Parson Adams for one) are formidable and serious literary theorists (not always correct, of course, but serious).
My contention here is that Fielding was at least as conscious of the varying meanings that might be attached to the phrase “imitation of nature” in his age as we are. Further, the fact that the stages of Fielding’s treatment of the problem of imitation and character development in Joseph Andrews correspond almost exactly to the stages described in Mirror to Nature to my mind corroborates the accuracy of Fielding’s artistic awareness: He recreates in micro the process modern scholarship has found occurring in macro.
At the beginning of Joseph Andrews, the narrator posits that “real” lives and written lives equally inspire emulation by the power of example. The “original” life provides the “pattern” that the written life imitates, and that written life in turn serves as a pattern for “real” lives to imitate. Art imitates nature, inducing nature in turn to imitate art, in a closed system of emulation. Simple enough perhaps, but the examples that Fielding cites are Colley Cibber and Pamela Andrews, the one an exemplary “real” life and the other an exemplary written life, but proposed to the reader as undifferentiated examples of the comprehensive art of “writing lives.” The choice of these examples – even if we’ve been able to ignore Fielding’s comic preteritio of Jack the Giant-killer and others of that ilk – forces us to admit a pervasive irony in Fielding’s whole treatment of the doctrine of emulation and example. Joseph himself has the last word on this as on most subjects in this book, when he writes, in Pamela’s own manner, to his chaste sister about his escape from Lady Booby’s boudoir:
Dear Sister Pamela,
Hoping you are well, what news I have to tell you! O Pamela, my mistress is fallen in love with me – that is, what great folks call falling in love – she has a mind to ruin me; but I hope I shall have more resolution and more grace than to part with my virtue to any lady upon earth.
Mr. Adams hath often told me, that chastity is as great a virtue in a man as in a woman. He says he never knew any more than his wife, and I shall endeavour to follow his example. Indeed, it is entirely owing to his excellent sermons and advice, together with your letters, that I have been able to resist a temptation, which he says no man complies with, but he repents in this world, or is damned for it in the next; and why should I trust to repentance on my deathbed, since I may die in my sleep? What fine things are good advice and good examples! But I am glad she turned me out of the chamber as she did: for I had once almost forgotten every word Parson Adams had ever said to me. (I.x.38-39)
Joseph’s final remark shows definitively the limits of example and emulation in the face of real(istic) circumstance, just as Fielding’s deadly accurate parody of Pamela’s own rhetoric gives the death blow to the idea that he is serious in endorsing the naive notion of fiction’s teaching by example. The questions then become more pointed: if literature doesn’t teach by example, by exciting emulation, then how does it teach, if it teaches at all? If it can’t succeed by presenting exemplary characters, how can a novel work? How should it present character?
The famous scene in Lady Booby’s boudoir – the scene that prompts Joseph’s letter – is the first focus for these questions in the novel. The scene is matchless: funny, pointed, sardonic, reflecting on social norms and moral duplicities so effectively that the reader laughs while squirming. But it is also – indeed, this is a keystone of its comedy – a scene unrealistic in the extreme, a scene played out by characters statically one-dimensional, speaking a language patently artificial. It is bookish and stagey in the pejorative senses of those words, and the participants – Joseph at least – know it. Joseph’s first letter to Pamela identifies Lady Booby as acting “exactly as a lady does to her sweetheart in a stage-play” (I.vi.24). His second identifies himself as following “your [Pamela’s] example, and that of Joseph, my namesake” (I.x.38).
That is to say, Fielding has made Joseph’s character and the modality of his novel at this point typological in three different respects. First, morally, Fielding looks to the Bible and presents us characters stripped down to the ideological nub of recreating a one-dimensional tableau of chastity: Joseph’s resistance to the blandishments of Potiphar’s wife. Second, literarily, he points us to the stage, to bedroom farce, and presents us characters reduced to another kind of one-dimensional typology: characters confined to a single motivation and encompassed by the stereotypes of naif and seductress. Third, in terms of form and of the reality that novel-as-form purports to embody, Fielding looks to Richardson’s Pamela and shows the reader that it is no different from the first two: Insofar as Joseph’s letter accurately recreates the form, substance, and style of Pamela’s letters – and it does so very well – Joseph as character and Pamela as character are shown to be functioning typologically and one-dimensionally also. The novel Pamela and the narrative of Joseph Andrews, to this point, simplify and arrange reality and human personality by simply omitting most of both – as both Joseph’s very honest admission about his nearness to falling and Fielding’s elaborate apostrophe to the (ambiguous) power of (ambiguous) love (I.vii.29) remind us.
This is why Fielding only later informs the reader about Joseph’s abiding love for Fanny: not because, as earlier critics of the novel thought, the character Joseph has suddenly grown under his hands or because he has abruptly changed his own artistic direction, but because Joseph’s love for Fanny is another motivation, another facet of personality, and any such concession to the multiplicity of the real world or real character destroys at one blow the uses of typology, stereotyping, and fictional oversimplification. (Indeed, Lady Booby as presented this early in the novel already strains the bounds of personification: She is herself a psychomachic personality, torn between the demands of lust and vanity.)
The first book of Joseph Andrews offers these essentially typological modes of character imitation as the baseline, the bare minimum, from which the aware artist must build up to a more encompassing method of fictionalizing reality. To this point in Book I, Fielding is demonstrating graphically both the virtues and the limitations of an art that imitates nature as ideal pattern and of the putatively “real” nature – i.e., Joseph’s – dependent on those patterns. Such characters veer dangerously near simple personification: Their actions are predictable, almost programmable, because the narrative emphasis and the reader’s own expectations are defined by performance to type, fidelity to pattern – the same sort of expectations generated by a superficial reading of the first few stanzas of The Faerie Queene, for instance. The stylistic consequence, for both author and character, is a clearly self-conscious literariness, an emphasis on artifice, a single-dimensionality in their approaches to the world and the reader. This produces a world reduced to outline and – no matter how funny – to outline only.
Fielding’s task is to find a way of writing lives that does not impoverish lives. In Book II.xii he shows more of the problems inherent in project. This is a classic recognition scene, the first meeting, in the novel, of Joseph and Fanny. At an unnamed inn Fanny and Parson Adams hear an unidentified voice singing in another room. Fanny recognizes the melodic voice that sings the erotic pastoral as Joseph’s, then almost swoons, and rapturously revives in Joseph’s arms as Parson Adams capers about and his disregarded copy of Aeschylus smolders in the fire. Once again, at least two literary analogues are operative in the foreground, in addition to the background of the pervasively present Pamela, the recognition, by the lovers in the lyric, of their mutual passion, and the close-to-archetypal recognition scene of Orestes and Electra in Aeschylus.
The whole set piece corresponds quite closely with the second version of the imitation of nature, the observed interplay between the ideal and the actual. In Fielding’s scene, this is dramatized for us pointedly by the contrast between the spontaneous affection and natural modesty of Joseph and Fanny on one hand and the elegant seduction and slightly smirky sexual joke of the song on the other. The unrestrained and decidedly comic caperings of Parson Adams not only add another counterpoint to the song’s achievement of merely carnal knowledge but function as well as a satyr-play pendent to the tragic recognition scene in Aeschylus, the text of whom is here burnt up for more than one reason.
At least one component of this episode turns upon broad parody of such archetypal recognition scenes, in that respect anticipating and ironically foreshadowing its two analogues in Book IV, where, in a false recognition scene, Joseph and Fanny will be confronted with the classically tragic fate of incest, later to be rescued from that by a true recognition scene in which Parson Adams behaves very much as he does here.
The valences of this episode remain much the same as those in Book I: art and nature in general, artifice and reality more particularly, most specifically the high style and “real” language, pastoral lovers and actual English peasants. The gap between literary renderings and the actuality furnishes the guts of Fielding’s scene, and the narrator expands and exploits that gap by his own ironically self-conscious adoption of the high style and a congruent classicizing imagery.
Only part of the comedy turns on the exposure of the inadequacies of the pattern to contain the “real” lives of Fielding’s characters. That part of Fielding’s joke points inward to the song itself, where artificial and classicized shepherds heeding the dictates of nature are weighed in the balance and found wanting by the scale of the natural behavior of Fanny and Joseph. Fielding’s major points, however, lie outward; first, in his characters’ dawning awareness of the necessary distinctions between public and private conduct (Fanny’s behavior here, the contrast between Strephon’s actions and Joseph’s) and second in an elaborate linkage between artifice, style, and identity. The lovingly copied and everywhere carried copy of Aeschylus that lies “expiring” on the fire – its action emulating Strephon’s in the song – has been, to this point in the novel, the key to Parson Adams’ identity. Badgered by an ignoramus who mistook the book for a “cipher” – i.e., a code (it was, but not of the sort Adams’ persecutor thought) – and asked, in the chapter immediately preceding this scene, “What’s your name?” (II.xi.125), Adams had answered unhesitatingly “It is Aeschylus, and I will maintain it.” In this chapter, the first words that Joseph and Fanny say to each other are “Are you Joseph Andrews?” and “Art thou my Fanny?” Slipslop ends this same chapter with her usual pertinence, wondering as she leaves the room “who the creature was.”
Of course, Parson Adams is not Aeschylus in any literal sense any more than Joseph and Fanny are asking whether or not they are literally seeing each other: All three individuals pose to the reader questions of interior identity, questions of who they are in their hearts. Joseph’s song and the values it embodies give Fanny real cause to ask whether this citified Joseph is the same person she used to know. The lingering traces of that song in Joseph’s language (“Art thou my Fanny?”) should equally well make the reader wonder who the creature is.
Book I exposed to us a surprise secret of Joseph’s heart – i.e., his love for Fanny. Book II should be causing us to wonder if in fact we know all the secrets of Joseph’s heart and how we can be sure of that knowledge. The song that he sings is, after all, first-personal, confessional, describing a recognizable and nearly universal human feeling. Our only guarantee that it does not describe Joseph’s heart is that we know already it is not Joseph’s style – and we know that not only because it is a borrrowed style, archaic and inappropriate, but also because the narrative (especially I.x and this present chapter) has educated us to see that Joseph at this point has no style of his own. He is not yet a fully conceived, rounded character, not yet his own man – or, for that matter, Fielding’s. He has moved as it were from bas-relief to middle relief, but he is not yet free of the wall that frames him. In his “real” life, he is framed and contained on one side by the psychological pulls of his loyalty to Parson Adams, to his sister Pamela, and to Fanny, and on the other by the opposing attractions of sexuality, sophistication, worldliness. He is barred from significant action by his own naiveté and dependence.
Second, in the moral context of the novel, Joseph is still contained by mere slogans: the chastity of Pamela vs. the sexuality of Strephon, the total resistance to passion preached by Parson Adams vs. the complete submission to it exemplified thus far in the novel by Lady Booby (and let us not forget the soon-to-be-troubling disparity between Parson Adams’ conduct and his beliefs). Again, Joseph is barred from any significant action by the unbridgeable polarity of those positions.
Third, in the context of literature, Joseph is confined by the whole idea of genre. He is not yet free to exist as a “real” individual because he is still enmeshed in the claims of genres (and their necessarily attendant styles and subject matters) completely inappropriate to his and the novel’s essence. Joseph’s art song makes explicit what has been lurking not far below the surface of the novel, disguised as a version of the town-and-country conflict: the claims of pastoral. As Raymond Williams tellingly remarks, “it was precisely at this point that the ‘town and country’ fiction served: to promote superficial comparisons and to prevent real ones.” Williams means by his words something very different from what I intend. He wants to identify the town and the city as reciprocal, indeed continuous, phenomena, not opposed but sharing and expressing the same values in different ways. Williams’s sense of “town and country” is of course perfectly true of and applicable to Joseph Andrews: It just doesn’t get us very far into the book.
Fielding’s narratives wear on their sleeves the romance of upward mobility within a seemingly sacrosanct and – save for the virtuous hero – inviolable social order. The diegetic level of the pastoral mythos, for all its apparent democracy and egalitarianism, really portrays only the upper class in masque, as its heroes and heroines invariably reveal themselves to be. It achieves social equality by, in the language of Catch 22, “disappearing” the real shepherds with all their attendant ills and odors and displaying only those individuals who play the fiction correctly and hygienically.
Nevertheless, pastoral as genre is about power, specifically about transformational power, whether that power is seen as residing in art or in money, in land or armies or imagination. Colin Clout displays it when he “disgraces” Gloriana. Dante’s Glaucus displays it when he metamorphoses into a god, pointing the way for the pilgrim’s growth into the seer and poet. Joseph displays it in his song: Pastoral allows him to think and say the things he would not do with Lady Booby or say in his letter to Pamela. Pastoral empowers, and Joseph’s song provides the gateway by which the whole charged field of pastoral pours into the English landscape of Joseph Andrews.
Sex and sexual roles – gender assignments – inevitably serve as vehicles of power relations, and in elaborating the basic fiction of Joseph Andrews Fielding has engaged one of the most highly charged of those head-on: male chastity. In the social and cultural milieu in which Joseph Andrews is anchored, male chastity is the essence of joke. Chastity is a female role, and Fielding emphasizes his awareness of that by making his hero Pamela’s brother, a male Pamela, and by milking the situation early in the novel for all its slapstick potential through Joseph’s interacting – or failure to interact – with Lady Booby and Slipslop and Betty. Satirically, Joseph reverses gender roles with brilliant effect. Narratively and intertextually, he doubles and tropes Pamela – and then is doubled, troped, and gender-reversed in turn as we progressively discover that he and Fanny look enough alike to be twins, that they may be brother and sister, and finally that Fanny, not Joseph, is Pamela’s kin. Indeed, Fielding’s final joke on Richardson, which few have perceived, is to offer readers a female Pamela.
All this is intimately connected to pastoral, as Joseph’s song declares. Pastoral is the world of dominant, pursuing males and their fleeing – female – sexual objects. The “actual” Joseph, insofar as he too is the object of pursuit, is confusing the issue. So is Lady Booby, insofar as she pursues him. And so is Slipslop. And Betty. The real power lines, of course, are those of wealth and position and class, as Lady Booby’s dismissal of Joseph at the beginning of the novel and her near-transportation of him and Fanny at the end of it make clear. But even in the cases of wealth and power and class, sex clouds the issue, as is the way of pastoral. Lady Booby can strip Joseph of his livery, but she can’t make him voluntarily undress. She can have him transported, but she can’t transport him. Only Fanny – Fanny the utterly powerless – can do those things.
Pastoral generates multiple expectations: the expectation of erotic power and erotic bliss, the expectation of the (at least temporary) triumph of serenity and tranquility over the vicissitudes of fortune (cf. Mr. Wilson’s story), the expectation of the triumph of (hidden) art over (unreal) nature, the corollary expectation of the successful providence of pastoral care (Parson Adams as an avatar of the Good Shepherd seeking his lost sheep; the narrator himself, providing for everything). In all these expectations and the intellectual areas and issues they draw into the arena, pastoral plays at the very borderline of reality, and it plays with counters of real power.
The Lady Boobies of the world have in fact made fools of themselves over their footmen, just as the Mr. Bs have done over their maids, and some of the world’s Parson Adamses have defied them over it or rebuked them in church for it – though not many. Mostly they leave that for the poets, whose only avenue to real power lies in guiding their readers’ expectations to be satisfied with what they get. Fielding does just that, in Joseph Andrews, by grounding and shaping the expectations of his pastoral romance in and by the great-granddaddy of them all, Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe, the strange attractor responsible for the overall shape of his novel.
Fielding delays even the possibility of the reader’s recognition of this until quite late in his tale. Indeed, among the plethora of authorities and precedents and potential models that Fielding invokes throughout his novel, the names Longus, Daphnis, and Chloe are notable for their absence. Nevertheless, from the moment in Book IV when readers are forced to realize the inherence of Daphnis and Chloe in the text of Joseph Andrews, they also realize, by that kind of retrospective apprehension so characteristic of allegory, that it has been there all along.
Obviously this kind of backward-looking regrasping of the significance of what one has already read works best for readers who bring to Joseph Andrews an acquaintance with classical literature generally, as well as more specific recollections of Daphnis and Chloe. The problem of dealing with allegories whose strange attractors are not readily recognizable is not insignificant. The simple fact that Daphnis and Chloe never possessed the kind of cultural centrality of, say, The Odyssey or The Aeneid, means that many readers even in Fielding’s lifetime “didn’t get” Joseph Andrews – and the fact that we collectively lack so much of the classical background in which Fielding’s mind was steeped means that there is even more of the novel that we’re not reading. This means not only that some dimensions and aspects of the novel are closed to us: It also impedes dramatically the possibility of our perceiving the novel as allegory by reducing the “critical mass” of referential data that allegory needs to attain its characteristic density and multivalency.
As the fictional Joseph Andrews works toward the attainment of his true identity, the fiction Joseph Andrews pursues the same goal for itself. In the final recognition scenes of Book IV, its literary analogs and pre-texts shift from those it has already shown to be outmoded and inadequate – the stage generally, the mode of imitation employed in Pamela, and the high style in either its tragic or lyric form – to a muted but very recognizable echo of the true literary ancestors of Joseph Andrews’ not-really-new, comic-epic-in-prose form: classical prose romance, and specifically Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe, the most charming of all comic foundling stories, as Oedipus is the greatest of the tragic. Like Joseph Andrews, Daphnis and Chloe closes with a double recognition scene: Neither Daphnis nor Chloe is really the child of his or her reputed parents. As in Joseph Andrews, those successive revelations briefly threaten the lovers’ happiness, and as in Joseph Andrews, that threat is quickly dissipated, the foundlings’ true – and well-born – parents discovered, the lovers united in marriage and settled in wedded bliss to a joyful and fertile life in the country. Daphnis and Chloe bears many other resemblances to Joseph Andrews, not the least important of which is the remarkable beauty, innocence (naiveté actually), chastity, and fidelity of the two young lovers, and a plot that revolves around the sexual temptations and assaults they both endure on their way to reciprocal and blissful wedded love.
Why should Fielding use Daphnis and Chloe? At least three reasons, beyond the obvious and significant facts that it is a thoroughly charming proto-novel and a classical model for the very form he is pioneering in English. First, because Longus’s narrative offers a ready-made model for the objective delineation of specifically the kind of intricate relationships of love, chastity, and power that Fielding sought to propound against the (to his mind) formless subjectivity and egoistic manipulativeness of Pamela and Pamela.
Second, because both Daphnis and Chloe, like Joseph and Fanny, are seeming rustics whose appearance belies their putative peasant origins and betokens their true natures and identities: That is, both Daphnis and Chloe and Joseph Andrews take the cliché of natural nobility (another version, in the Eighteenth Century, of the even larger cliché of the Noble Savage) and turn it into an argument about the relation of art to nature and about modes of imitation. Daphnis and Chloe is a fiction whose working method involves the embodiment of inner truth in outer circumstance – so, with many more added complications, is Joseph Andrews.
Third, because Daphnis and Chloe is a fiction already derived from and parodic of works in the high style, just as Joseph Andrews is. Longus’s recognition scenes parody the recognition scenes of Greek tragedy; his action plays with elements from The Odyssey and numerous other works. Daphnis and Chloe violates genres and plays with conventions of style, constantly and explicitly juxtaposing “high” and “low,” in both content and style, in exactly the same way Joseph Andrews does. At the same time, Daphnis and Chloe achieves its own individual mode of being in much the same manner that Joseph Andrews does: By a gradual process of disentangling itself from its false generic affiliations, it finds or creates its own special category – just as Joseph Andrews does. Even the narrative voices of the two works will bear comparison – knowledgeable, sympathetic to both the virtues and the limitations of their heroes, sophisticated but not cynical, rejoicing in the simple joys of their protagonists even as the narrators’ knowledge of the world extends beyond that of the protagonists. In short, each work creates a narrative voice not unlike each book’s ideal reader – which, of course, it is the nature of each book to create even as it creates its characters and itself, replicating itself across scale and across orders, spilling over the border of fiction into the reality of the reader’s world.
That out-thrusting replication, that spilling over, reverses the last of pastoral expectations and fulfills one of the most basic expectations of allegory. Pastoral exists in, as, and by enclosure, encapsulization, separation – in the past, in a golden age, in Arcadia, somewhere else. Allegory exists by breaking all confines, resisting all enclosures, crossing all borders. Allegory transvalues pastoral and uses it not as an escape but to close the escape hatches: not there, but here; not then, but now; not them, but you. Joseph Andrews, with the wonderful insouciance of comedy and the sangfroid of allegory, calmly violates all the borders, confuses all the territories, jumbles all the separate castes and issues, and insists on their interconnectedness – London and the country, master and servant, rich and poor, learned and illiterate, epic and pastoral. How much more jumbled (or more connected?) data can a novel present us than erotic pastoral in a country pub, or a copy of Aeschylus handed in evidence in a hearing on rape and/or sheep stealing? Such scenes are self-consuming artifacts, literary devices whose self-destruct mechanism wipes out the lines of genres and classes, fictions and facts.
This erasure of generic distinctions, of course, describes accurately enough the basic working strategy of all of Joseph Andrews. Fielding’s proto-novel creates itself and its “genre” by systematically, as I have been describing, distinguishing itself from other extant genres and discrediting other modes of “imitating nature.” In Book III, after Book II’s first steps in the explosion of pastoral, Joseph as character at last moves into high relief, developing strong individual traits and the beginnings of a mature personality. For instance, in this book he disagrees with his no-longer-mentor Adams about education and rescues him rather than being rescued by him. Joseph is moving closer to true interiority, to achieved personality, though he is still conceived typically and the novel still so operates. But “typically” differs radically from typologically: however broadly, typical behavior involves notions of realism and reality and convincing representation.
That is the whole point of the famous paired chapters, the argument between the poet and the player and the parallel scene of Adams and Joseph tied to the bedposts as Fanny is abducted. The two gentlemen of the theatre disagree not about the nature of drama – that broad a subject doesn’t even arise – but about “how to give a sentiment utterance” (III.x.220). Joseph and Adams in their more constrained circumstances disagree about the same subject, and their argument is played out against the obvious analog of the drama as a whole and the idea of the world as stage (induced by the chapter parallels) and especially the plays of Shakespeare (in particular Macbeth, pointedly cited by Joseph) as well as against a body of learned Christian and pagan moralizings (invoked by Adams).
The smallest and most obvious function of these intricate interweavings of stage and morality and life is to remind us that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women players, and to point us in the moral direction of Stoic and Christian teachings about how to play our parts. In fact, those lessons in apathy fervently imparted by Adams are exactly what almost drive Joseph mad in this episode, forcing him to flee to the poor solace of Macduff’s slightly modified stoicism: “Yes, I will bear my sorrows like a man,/ But I must also feel them as a man” (III.xi.226). The self-evident artificiality of soliloquy points not inward to the “lessons” being imparted but outward to their form.
The primary work of these two chapters is not to teach us something but to show us something. Moral instruction has nothing to do with it: Parson Adams is just as much a comic figure here, ludicrous in his pretentions, as is Joseph, helpless in his misery either to do anything on his own or to say anything of his own, or even to feel anything of his own. So he soliloquizes. And he quotes. Emphatically, instruction has nothing to do with it. On the contrary, the primary thrust of all those analogs is to call attention to the artifice of this novel at this point, to focus the reader on its method of holding a mirror to nature, its present – inadequate – mode of giving a sentiment utterance.
Inevitably of course Fielding’s orchestration of the scene recalls its antecedent in Book I, with positions now morally and ironically reversed: Where Lady Booby was fixed in bed and endured the outrage of Joseph’s smug moral pronouncements, Joseph now finds himself literally bound to a bed and bombarded by the same moral pronouncements from the same teacher whose example he had at that earlier point credited. Clearly, Fielding is demonstrating that there is more to life and art – even to morality – than controlling passion, and far more than one passion to contend with (despite Pamela’s obsession with only one, and Pamela’s confinement of that one to Mr. B alone). The flat one-dimensionality of the stage analog invoked in Book I of Joseph Andrews has yielded to richer characterizations in the tradition of Shakespeare – yet they too are not without limitations.
Fielding emphasizes the artifice inherent in Joseph’s recitation of Macduff’s lines. He pointedly labels it a “soliloquy.” In answer to Parson Adams’ query “what stuff that was he repeated?” he has Joseph answer “they were some lines he had gotten by heart out of a play.” There is no great behavioral or ideological distance between Adams dredging up scraps from his commonplace book about the control of emotion and Joseph quoting Shakespeare to explain his way of dealing with the same problem. Both constitute appeals to higher authority. Both are modes of reduction: They depend on stripping away circumstances and differences and identifying the particulars in question not by virtue of their particularity but by their generality. Macduff justifies his conduct by appeal to the nature of the species man, and Joseph does the same.
Fielding announces at the beginning of this third book that “I describe not men, but manners; not an individual, but a species” (III.i.159) – exactly as he ought, if his evolving novel is working its way through the chronological changes that the idea of artistic imitation underwent in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century drama. It is in that light that Joseph is here presented and the reader once again prodded to appraise the possibilities and limitations of that literary mode. Typical behavior – even when true, even when powerfully written – falls short of the particularity of the human individual. Macduff’s half-expression of his grief gives us no adequate idea of the depth of Joseph’s. And the outpouring of inward feeling in soliloquy or exclamation simply can’t escape the artifice of stage rhetoric. The situation itself is unreal and fosters neither the sentiments nor the utterance of real people – a criticism that Joseph Andrews levels also at Pamela, which shares with the soliloquy (and the aside) the rhetoric of false interiority.
Adams recognizes the limitations of the stage itself, though for the wrong reasons, and repudiates it on didactic grounds, for its failure to teach: “Ay, there is nothing but heathenism to be learned from plays,” he says; “I never heard of any plays fit for a Christian to read, but Cato and the Conscious Lovers; and, I must own, in the latter there are some things almost solemn enough for a sermon.” Whatever Adams’ shortcomings as a drama critic, his total forgetting of his own beloved heathen playwright Aeschylus signals here Joseph Andrews’s abandonment of drama and dramatic imitation, of the idea of characters drawn according to species’ traits, as vehicles in any way adequate to the utterance of a uniquely felt sentiment. Paradoxically, Joseph has found his correct species – not boy, not servant, not pupil, but man – and the novel has found in the example of Shakespeare a workable voice to free itself from the constraints of genre. But those remain typical affiliations, appropriate to Book III and of the sort that the narrator’s opening chapter promised, but not the final answer to Fielding’s or his novel’s quest for self-definition. Neither Joseph Andrews the character nor Joseph Andrews the book have yet achieved their own independent, unique mode of being.
Joseph Andrews’s evolving interdependence of narrative, character development, and theorizing about literature naturally culminates in the fourth book. Here the stage analogs disappear entirely, having gone as far as they can in the example of Shakespeare, but the constant pre-text of Fielding’s whole fiction enters the novel in propria persona with the arrival of the “real” Pamela. Recognizably the same person as the Pamela of Richardson’s novel, yet displaying unpleasant traits of snobbery, irreverence, and coldness that Richardson’s way of presenting character concealed, Fielding’s Pamela embodies his novel’s final critique of Richardson’s. His basic objection remains the same here as in Shamela. There, under all the fun and all the irony at the expense of Pamela’s morality, after all the jokes about Shamela’s hypocrisy and self-seeking, Fielding leveled one crucial criticism at Pamela’s artistic method: simply put, it fails to establish itself as fiction rather than lie. It gives readers no objective corelative.
In fact, Richardson’s novel is recessive with regard to reality external to it: Instead of spilling over into the world in the manner of allegory, it fictionally engulfs the world into itself, narrowing rather than widening. Midway through Pamela, various characters in the narrative begin reading the book we are reading – and they do not read skeptically, with any doubts about Pamela or any suspicions about fictitiousness. The characters of Pamela read the letters and journals that make up Pamela as transcriptions of reality, and they are converted to the worship of Pamela (and Pamela) by them. In what I understand to be Fielding’s terms, this is not narrative at all. It is only omnivorous ego in action, Blifil with blushes, artifice without art.
Not only is Pamela’s version of events unverifiable by any measure external to her own account of them, but her conduct, her language, her one-dimensional obsession with physical chastity, are all untrue to the diversity and richness of human personality. Fielding’s final statement about the limitations of Richardson’s presentation of character in Pamela lies in his creation of a more realistic Pamela than Richardson’s. She is a one-character course in just how art holds the mirror to nature and a lesson in the limits and dangers of imitating nature by the creation of types and/or species: What you leave out returns to haunt you.
Book IV moves the characters of Joseph Andrews into a more recognizable, more conventionally realistic world: no more hunting squires and night adventures, but instead the real pressures of law and social status, the real temptations not just of the flesh but of wealth, power, and prestige. The Joseph who withstands these perils could not be expressed adequately by the one-dimensional naif of Book I, nor by the half-baked worldling of Book II, nor by the half-formed hero of Book III. Book IV requires a protagonist who has found a center in himself, who has secured an identity of his own – a private persona distinct from whatever public guise he may wear. This is why Fielding so dramatically juggles Joseph’s apparent social standing in Book IV: first servant to Lady Booby, perhaps soon to be transported felon, then perhaps kinsman by marriage, then perhaps brother to Fanny, and finally no kin at all but son of a gentleman.
For the same reason, in this book Fielding alters his mode of presenting Joseph. The narrator moves the reader further away from Joseph, shows him more externally: What Joseph thinks and feels, Fielding largely presents here as quasi-inferences from what he does. Direct discourse markedly declines, and Joseph’s words are distanced, presented more often in indirect discourse or what amounts to authorial paraphrase. For instance, in the sequence of “night adventures” that enliven (but notably fail to advance) the novel’s dénouement, Joseph’s crucial action of trying, judging, and acquitting Parson Adams (of, implicitly, attempted rape: no sheep stealing clouds the issue this time) is recounted without a single spoken word of Joseph’s:
Joseph’s great opinion of Adams was not easily to be staggered, and when he heard from Fanny that no harm had happened, he grew a little cooler; yet still he was confounded, and, as he knew the house, and that the women’s apartments were on this side Mrs. Slipslop’s room, and the men’s on the other, he was convinced that he was in Fanny’s chamber. Assuring Adams therefore of this truth, he begged him to give some account how he came there. Adams then, standing in his shirt, which did not offend Fanny, as the curtains of the bed were drawn, related all that had happened; and when he had ended, Joseph told him, it was plain he had mistaken by turning to the right instead of the left. (IV.xiv.289)
This almost casually reported sequence, a pendent to the more intensely comic bedroom mistakes Parson Adams made in the first part of the same chapter, nevertheless significantly reprises all the novel’s earlier scenes of judgment, from Lady Booby’s bedside trial and dismissal – in a very different sense – of Joseph, to Fanny’s and Adams’s appearance before a country justice, to the “play of Socrates,” to Joseph’s and Fanny’s recent appearance before a country justice, to Lady Booby’s even more recent bedside trial and dismissal of Parson Adams.
These are the narrative topoi that feed into Joseph’s judgment, and Fielding surely wishes us to wonder how the famous judgment [faculty] and judgments [acts] of the Biblical Joseph play against all of these. Also, and not insignificantly, Parson Adams’s paired bedroom mistakes – landing him first in Slipslop’s bed and then in Fanny’s – also formally recreate the paired scenes of Joseph’s above-stairs (Lady Booby) and below-stairs (Slipslop) trials in Book I and the paired scenes in Book III (poet and player, Joseph and Parson Adams) about doing a part justice.
Lest we miss any of these resonances, and to underline the distance we readers and Joseph have come from the exaggerated slapstick and moral simplicity of those earlier acts, the narrator describes Joseph, on discovering Parson Adams in Fanny’s bed, as standing, “as the tragedians call it, like the ‘statue of Surprise’” (289), pointedly echoing his own earlier use of the same image to describe Lady Booby’s reaction to Joseph’s proclamation of virtue in the farcical Joseph-and-Potiphar’s wife scene that initiates the main action of the novel. These reprises are substantial as well as stylistic and formal: They bring to bear on the apparently digressive and unnecessary “night adventures” all the interrelated issues of Fielding’s novel, and they make these flimsy actions reverberate with complex and essentially open-ended significance.
In Book IV, Joseph’s interior reality – his sentiments – are given utterance not by rhetorically or artistically manipulated language – at least not his own – but by his whole conduct. Readers read Joseph’s heart the way that in reality they read anybody’s heart – from the outside, by inference from language and conduct, bearing and behavior (thus, by the way, the tellingness of Adams’s having to rebuke Pamela for laughing in church). As the character Joseph achieves true interiority, the narrator depicts him more and more in modo Fanny, by description and indirect discourse. Joseph modulates from a voice speaking directly to us to a distant voice, a silence, reported to us through the narrator’s voice. He is more mediated at the end of the novel than he was at the beginning, hidden further from us in a Fanny-like silence and “illiteracy” and incommunicability.
Because she is illiterate, because she is modest, because she is shy, because she is a servant, because she is a woman, because she is poor, Fanny cannot publish herself. Fanny Goodwill – the whole name is used only once in the novel – paradoxically and ironically becomes Fielding’s paradigm, his narrative enactment, of achieved interiority, an anti-Pamelan closed book. The heart, whether of darkness or of light, is what allegory reveals and veils.
Coda: Allegory, the Epic, and the Novel
In Joseph Andrews, Fielding reinvents a mode of revealing inner reality in external detail, of imitating nature as underlying pattern or idea without losing all of the richness and particularity of the surface. He accomplishes this by the gradual fusion of style and substance, of the mode of narration, the content of narration, and the style of narration: the three separate, integrated concerns that have constituted the ongoing, simultaneous plots of Joseph Andrews.
Over the length of his novel, Fielding has gradually thinned the multiplicity of literary analogs for his characters and narrative to a few, from the Bible, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, The Faerie Queene, Telemaque, Daphnis and Chloe, Pamela, a whole host of prose fictions and romances – from Gargantua and Pantagruel and Don Quixote through all the ladies’ romances Fielding mentions in the “Author’s Preface” and more besides – down to, essentially, just Daphnis and Chloe. Simultaneously, he has adjusted the fit between the analogs and the “real” situation in the novel. The congruence between the pre-text and the text has grown both closer and less precise.
That is to say, the analogs have become more appropriate to the style and substance of the novel’s actions and characters, while the correspondences between them have become more general and less detailed. In any given scene, Fielding’s characters become increasingly free of their models and free to be themselves. The bedroom farce analogs of the boudoir scene in Book I are tight, and Joseph and Lady Booby play their parts to specifications; the analogy between MacDuff’s situation and Joseph’s is much looser. The congruence between the events of Fielding’s fourth book and those of Daphnis and Chloe, while completely recognizable, becomes looser still. Step by step, Fielding has moved his book out of the realm of books and closer and closer to what readers can accept as reality. His final chapter, the wedding of Joseph and Fanny, uses a subdued artifice explicitly to repudiate all artifice for the sake of pure nature, now revealed in its richness and in its true identity:
She [Fanny] was soon undrest; for she had no jewels to deposit in their caskets, nor fine laces to fold with the finest exactness. Undressing to her was properly discovering, not putting off, ornaments: for, as all her charms were the gift of nature, she could divest herself of none. (IV.xvi.297)
Fanny’s style is Fielding’s style is Joseph’s style is the style and substance of Joseph Andrews. Expression is the dress of thought, and the body is the clothing of the soul: The word is, like it or not, made flesh. What is covered by clothes and expressed by words – words that veil as much as they reveal – reveals as much as it veils of inward reality.
Like the styles of Commedia and The Faerie Queene, the style and language of Joseph Andrews have mutated from an initial reliance on figuration and rhetoric to an apparent simplicity and an exquisitely artful plainness. This is the hidden style, complexity in the guise of simplicity, multivocation masquerading as univocation, allegorical openness so openly stated that it looks to the unwary like prosopopoeia. Its language is bare, and in Joseph Andrews nakedness is its image: Joseph stripped of his livery by Lady Booby, and stripped of everything he has by the highwaymen; Parson Adams in his nightshirt in Slipslop’s bed and Fanny’s bed; Fanny removing her clothing and discovering her charms.
Because this is allegory, that is not an unequivocal image: Nakedness isn’t only truth, it’s also immodesty, guilt, poverty, unpreparedness, weakness, lust, sin. Fanny’s hidden charms not only motivate and propel Joseph through the course of the novel: The sight of them – initially at least – paralyzes him into the likeness of that statue of Surprise of which we have heard so much. The still center of the turning world is, for Joseph, Fanny’s bosom. This is, after all, a comic novel, and not Commedia. But the point at which rest and motion coincide, the point at which the journey ends and begins, that point is the goal of epic and the home of allegory, and it is, in its lesser degree, Joseph Andrews’s home as much as it is Commedia’s.
Joseph Andrews also shares with all other allegories its intense preoccupation with the mode and terms of its own existence. In very fundamental and exact senses, it is a meditation on the art of the novel, on the nature of fiction, and on the imitation and development of character both in art and in life. Allegory is learned, scholarly even: It grows out of, or by, an internalized awareness of itself as a text in a tradition, in many traditions, as a thing made of words. Allegory never simply aligns itself within a tradition but rather recreates the tradition, re-aligns the tradition, around itself, as Dante does so conspicuously to Virgil and so many of his contemporaries and near predecessors, as Fielding does to Richardson and Cervantes and Longus.
In abandoning the theatre for prose fiction and simultaneously rejecting Richardson’s Pamela and all its works and pomps, Fielding seems to be rejecting utterly, as a goal for literature, the creation of characters whose individuality and power – both as literary figurae and as moral exemplars – arise from the particularity and intensity with which their interior lives are displayed. Classicist that we know him to be, Fielding seems in his fiction to revert to and overtly to imitate an older conception of nature as ideal pattern. It is, however, always a mistake to judge Fielding by our assumptions rather than by his own statements. In the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, the by-then fully accomplished novelist had some decidedly unusual things to say about his classical icons. He is speaking here primarily of Homer and Hesiod:
The original poets . . . found the limits of nature too strait for the immensity of their genius, which they had not room to exert, without extending fact by fiction; and that especially at a time when the manners of men were too simple to afford that variety, which they have since offered in vain to the choice of the meanest writers. . . . They [the original poets] are not indeed so properly said to turn reality into fiction, as fiction into reality. Their paintings are so bold, their colours so strong, that every thing they touch seems to exist in the very manner they represent it: their portraits are so just, and their landscapes so beautiful, that we acknowledge the strokes of nature in both, without enquiring whether nature herself, or her journeyman the poet, formed the first pattern of the piece.5
This extraordinary passage describes a profoundly creative role for the genius-poet: He calls into being states of consciousness that do not yet exist but which, by virtue of the writer’s fiat, enter reality to become models not only for later, lesser pens but for the productions of nature itself. This is no longer a doctrine of emulation. It’s not even a matter any longer of, in any sense, imitating nature. The artifact is prior to nature, sets the model for nature, shapes subsequent reality. By thinking and wording what had not been – what to that point could not be – the artifact calls the hitherto ineffable into existence.
I have been saying all through this book that allegory reaches out from texts to life, that allegory spills over into reality: I’m saying now that Fielding said the same thing long before me. Nature as Fielding here conceives it is not a static pattern or fixed ideal, but something growing, living, capable of being acted upon by the human mind as well as interacting with it. Most important of all, the human mind is not confined to copying whatever nature may be, but instead freely anticipates the variety of manners, portraits, and landscapes that nature, so guided, later produces. Art leads nature in creating human behaviors and characters and the world they inhabit. Reality therefore is neither fully objective nor fully subjective but the field of play that nature and genius create between them – exactly as allegory would have it to be.
The practice of “the original poets” – especially Homer – was never far from Fielding’s mind. His is the first name invoked in the Preface to Joseph Andrews, and he remains for Fielding the tutelary deity (albeit a deus absconditus) of the comic epic in prose. His heroic usurpation of the force and function of nature – Homer’s achievement of an art that becomes nature – seems to me both goal to which Fielding has dedicated himself in Joseph Andrews and the process he has embodied in that novel.
All allegory strives to reach the condition of reality. Medieval allegory, especially as we see it in Commedia, does so by thrusting inward, toward a world of texts and textuality, through a world conceived of textually and verbally. We won’t misrepresent this to state it in loosely Platonic terms: It is an attempt to break out of a noumenal world and into an ideal one.
Modern allegory conversely points outward beyond textuality, into a world of things and places, into the dark that looms off Thames-mouth at the end of Heart of Darkness. In fact, much of modern allegory seems preoccupied with exploring and rupturing the fragile line between art and life. To do so, it takes a deeply ambivalent and/or multivalent awareness of its own artifice as one of its primary bases.
In terms of the two different cultures, however, these opposite thrusts are identical: Both are attempts to break out of “mere literature” and enter into what each culture conceives of as “reality.” Fielding writes on the cusp of those two universes, born and educated in one and living into the other, and his allegory is similarly schizophrenic. Fanny embodies and enacts an allegorical Other different from Beatrice, more akin to Colin Clout’s “countrey lasse,” closer still, in bono and in malo, to both Kurtz’s Intended and his savage mistress. Fielding’s allegory works by thrusting simultaneously in contrary directions: outward from the text, out of texts; and inward, into the unknowable human heart, into a life of privacy and retirement, a life of literary silence that eschews “publication,” retaining its secrets and its wisdom within. After Fielding, that inwardness, that privacy – the inwardness of Dante and Beatrice, of Colin and his lass – will be less and less possible. After Fielding, the scope of allegory is ever more outward, from the unknowable heart to its kin, the universe.