Birthday: April 22, 1707
Died At Age: 47
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Fielding Henry, Fielding
Born in: Sharpham
Famous as: Writer
siblings: John Fielding, Sarah Fielding
Died on: October 8, 1754
place of death: Lisbon
education: Eton College, 1728 - Leiden University
Who was Henry Fielding?
Henry Fielding was an 18th century English writer best known as the author of the novel ‘Tom Jones.’ Well known for his earthy and satirical sense of humor, he penned several parodies beginning with the publication of ‘An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews’. Even though this work was published anonymously, it is generally accepted that he was the author. He developed an interest in literature as a young man and went to Eton College where he studied classical authors. He aspired to be a playwright and finished his first play in 1728. He then moved to the University of Leiden in Holland to study law and classics but was not able to complete his studies because of financial constraints. Forced to abort his studies and return home, he began writing for the theater to earn his living. An independent minded outspoken young man, he wrote plays that were openly critical of the government of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. However, the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 stifled the creative freedom of playwrights, forcing him to abandon his theatrical career. He embarked into a career in law and became a barrister. He continued to write and produced satirical works like ‘Tom Jones’ and ‘Joseph Andrews’ which made him quite popular.
Childhood & Early Life
Henry Fielding was born on 22 April 1707, in Sharpham, Somerset, England, to Col. Edmund Fielding and his wife. His father had served under John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, an early 18th-century general, while his mother was the daughter of a judge of the Queen’s Bench. His mother died when Henry was around 11 and his father soon remarried.
Henry went to Eton College to study classics. It was there that he met George Lyttelton, who was later to be a statesman. During this time he began writing plays.
In 1728, he moved to the University of Leiden in Holland to study classics and law. However, financial problems forced him to abandon his studies and return home after a few months.
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On returning home he began writing for the theater, penning several plays during the 1730s. An outspoken young man, he bitterly criticized the government of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole in his plays. It is believed that the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 was passed in response to his activities.
The passage of the Act greatly restrained his creative freedom and he was no longer able to satirize political figures in his plays. Thus he left the theater and ventured into a career in law by becoming a barrister.
He never stopped writing though. He continued writing satires and also edited a thrice-weekly newspaper, the ‘Champion; or, British Mercury’, which ran from November 1739 to June 1741. He became a novelist entirely by chance.
In 1740 Samuel Richardson published his story ‘Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded’, a story of a servant girl who resists her master’s efforts to seduce her and ultimately wins his heart by virtue of her morality. The book became a resounding success. Fielding, however, found the story offensive and proceeded to parody it by writing ‘An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews’, satirizing Richardson’s prudish morality.
The work was published anonymously and Fielding never claimed credit for it. But it is generally accepted that he was the author based on the writing style. He wrote another novel, ‘Joseph Andrews’ in 1742, which is counted among the first true novels in the English language. The publication of this book marked Fielding's debut as a serious novelist.
The year 1743 saw the publication of ‘The History of the Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great’. In this work he drew a parallel between Walpole and Jonathan Wild, the infamous gang leader and highwayman, comparing the Whig party in Parliament with a gang of thieves being run by Walpole.
By the mid-1740s he had gained much fame as a satirist, and he published ‘Tom Jones’ in 1749. A picaresque novel, it depicts the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives in a corrupt society. The lengthy novel of 346,747 words was received with enthusiasm by the general public of the time, and is considered Fielding's greatest book.
During the 1740s, he was appointed justice of the peace for Westminster and then magistrate of Middlesex. Deeply committed to fighting crime, he collaborated with his younger half-brother John and helped to form the Bow Street Runners in 1749. The Bow Street Runners have been called London's first professional police force, and Fielding and John are credited to be two of the best magistrates in 18th-century London.
In January 1752, Fielding started a fortnightly periodical titled ‘The Covent-Garden Journal’, under the pseudonym of "Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt. Censor of Great Britain”. The same year he published a treatise ‘Examples of the interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder’.
Henry Fielding’s best known work is ‘Tom Jones, a comic novel counted among the earliest English prose works describable as a novel. Divided into 18 smaller books, the novel though lengthy is highly organized. W. Somerset Maugham included it among the ten best novels of the world in his 1948 book ‘Great Novelists and Their Novels’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Henry Fielding married his first wife, Charlotte Craddock, in 1734. He loved her deeply and modeled the heroines of two of his novels on her. The marriage produced five children, of whom only one survived to adulthood. His wife died in 1744, plunging him into grief. Tragically, his lone surviving daughter by Charlotte too died after some years at the age of 23.
He became romantically involved with his wife’s maid Mary Daniel who became pregnant with his child. Their relationship culminated in marriage which produced five children. Unfortunately, three of the children died young.
Henry Fielding suffered from gout which worsened in the early 1750s. By 1752, he often had to use crutches or a wheelchair and his health declined rapidly. He travelled to Portugal hoping for a cure for his health problems in the summer of 1754 and died in Lisbon on 8 October 1754.