Henry Fielding's interest in law and its influence upon his novels
Edwards, Phyllis Jeanne
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My purpose in writing this thesis is to show Henry Fielding's interest in law, his connection with it, the conflict in his early life between law and his desire to write, and the way in which he incorporated law and humanitarianism in his writing. The method employed in gathering this data was a careful study of the body of Fielding's three most outstanding novels, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones and Amelia. In each novel all references and applications to the law were considered and the major points which he discussed were traced through the novel. In these discussions I have covered the prevalence of legal terms, corruption of officials, including justices, lawyers, prison keepers and bailiffs, various phases of bribery in courts, dealings with lawyers and in the prisons, and the distortion and loopholes in the law itself. The line of procedure in the development of this problem was to first devote a chapter to the life and background of the lawyer. In this chapter his experiences as a political dramatist, a young law student, magistrate and novelist, have been discussed. The second chapter deals with critical opinions of his general standing in the period, the opinions of his contemporaries, and the early reception of the three novels under examination. Chapter three concerns Fielding's first novel, Joseph Andrews. Originally begun with the idea of satirizing Samuel Richardson's novel of perfect virtue, Pamela, Fielding developed his novel into an opening attack upon the corruption of the law. He touches upon the general status of the law among the common people, the legal phrases and "gibberish" employed by lawyers to confuse the public, the dishonesty of unscrupulous magistrates and lawyers, and the amazing power of rank and wealth in the perversion of justice. The novel, Tom Jones, is examined in chapter four. Fielding was concerned with the same problem of the corruption and false administration of the law in this novel; but he handled it from the viewpoint of a higher level of society. While in Joseph Andrews only pictures of injustice were displayed, in Tom Jones, Fielding presents both sides. He gives us Squire Allworthy, the finest type of magistrate, whose integrity and justice are unquestionable, and contrasts him with ignorant and unscrupulous magistrates. Lawyers are treated in a similar manner, with Dowling serving as an example of a respectable lawyer. His cleverness and his justification of perjury in what he felt to be a just cause reveals the commonness of the practice. The ease with which lawyers were enabled to hoodwink their clients, charging fees out of proportion to the services rendered, this and countless other such examples are discussed. The important thing to note in this novel, however, is that Fielding was not condemning the entire profession but was indicating the instances where corruption was the most apparent. Amelia, the last novel written by Fielding, is the subject of chapter five. In this novel, Fielding had shifted the emphasis in his attack to the root of the corruption, the loopholes and intricacies in the law itself. He pointed out the necessity for removing the opportunities for corruption and said that was the basis for reform. If there were no ambiguities in the laws, the officials could not corrupt the law or pervert justice In this discussion he went deeply into the situation existing in the cities, concerning debt, bailiffs, magistrates, prison keepers and lawyers. Fielding was particularly conscious of the weakness of the law of evidence and the calm acceptance of perjury. He also leveled much of his attack upon the bailiffs, and conditions in the prisons, which enabled these officials to accept bribes and extort money from their prisoners for favors. Fielding never loses sight of the importance of reform in the law or the tremendous influence of law upon the lives of the people. He wrote with the knowledge of a lawyer and the viewpoint of a layman.
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