Relationship of the morality of Henry Fielding's novels to their art
Palmer, Eustace J.
Recent studies of Fielding*s work have concentrated on the elucidation of his morality in an attempt to demonstrate that Fielding was not only a comic novelist but also possessed depth and moral earnestness. Prior to this "moralistic" phase of "Fielding" studies, oritics had devoted their attention to the oomic aspects of his art. But each of these approaches is inadequate and limited. The weakness of the first is that Fielding* s novels are made to read like heavily didactic, overtly moralistic sermons rather than complex works of art. Biis is clearly exemplified in Martin Battestin'a book, Ihe Moral Basis of Fielding's Art and, to a oertain extent, in George Sherburn's essay, "Fielding's Amelia; an Interpretation". The second approach has the disadvantage of leaving the impression that Fielding's works are hilarious (perhaps even bawdy) but are completely lacking in depth and serious meaning. Behind these two approaches lies the assumption that there is tension between the "oomio" and the "moralistic" and that the two oannot be blended. A modern critic, Professor Andrew Wrigit, goes so far as to suggest that Fielding had no moral intention and that the atmosphere in his work is festive rather than lenten. Another, Professor Ian Watt, believes that the comedy in some of the scenes alleviates the brutality and forestalls moral condemnation. But the truth must be that the comic and moralistic are interdependent and that Fielding's comedy is part of the technique he evolved for promoting moral judgement.