Henry Fielding

Writer / Jurist

Born: 22 April 1707
Died: 8 October 1754
Birthplace: Sharpham Park, Somerset, England
Best known as:

 

The author or Tom Jones

 

Henry Fielding is considered one of the founders of the English novel, thanks mostly to his best-known work, 1749's Tom Jones (The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling). A comfortably upper-class Englishman, Fielding began his career as a successful playwright, publishing 25 plays between 1728 and 1737 and making good coin. His specialty was political satire, pointed directly at the government of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, who retaliated with legislation that effectively ended Fielding's career. Fielding then devoted himself to journalism and the study of law, excelling at both. He came to be a novelist almost by accident. He anonymously published a parody of the popular novel Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson. Fielding's version, An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews, came the next year, and its underground success led Fielding to publish the novels Joseph Andrews in 1742 and The Life of Jonathan Wild the Great in 1743. All the while, Fielding was conscientiously pursuing a career in law, and by 1748 he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace in London. He earned a reputation for eschewing corruption, and it's said he was instrumental in founding the first modern police force, in the form of what was called the Bow Street Runners. The novel Tom Jones is considered his masterpiece, a roaming tale made up of picaresque incidents, with a hero whose rascally behavior was a novelty in 18th century England. Fielding's "intrusive narrator" technique was also a novelty, as was his realistic depiction of 18th century life in town and country. At the height of his fame as a novelist, journalist and jurist, Fielding took a trip to Lisbon, Spain in an effort to improve his failing health. It didn't work, and he died there at the age of 47.

Extra credit:

 

After Henry Fielding's first wife died in 1744, he courted scandal by marrying her former maid a few years later (while she was pregnant with his child).

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