chapter  Chapter XVI
20 Pages

An Eighteenth-Century Shaw

WithRobert Bage

Henry Fielding’s novels have design. They are the work of an already experienced writer, not only well-read, but unusually attentive to literary form. The general deficiency of the women in earlier eighteenth-century fiction, even as late as Fielding, is that, like the little girl in Mother Goose, “when they are good they are very, very good, and when they are bad they are horrid”. Fielding’s humor is also the product of literary learning and awareness, not infrequently labored, particularly when he pursues the mock-heroic fashion. Fielding’s morality, which seems to be a live issue, shows a somewhat precarious balance between gentlemanly respect for feminine purity and amused tolerance for raffish male morality. Many readers find one type of character in Fielding even more engaging than his youthful lovers—the friendly purveyors of adult wisdom who play a balancing or even a corrective part in the destinies of his romantic principals.