Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews made me wonder about the reaction of eighteenth century audiences to his interpolated tales. Eighteenth century readers are familiar with such narrative styles as the title page of the text makes a direct reference to Don Quixote in modeling or “imitating” its author. What drew my attention to this reference was the italicization of the word “manner,” and the implication of the need to emphasize this word. Its functional purpose might be one of emphasis rather than of literary identification, such as for the title of the work “Don Quixote.” As Sidne Lyon points out in “Joseph Andrews and Charity,” the novel is written in the style of a mock epic and in adopting this method, Andrews is imitating Cervantes but as Nabilah Khachab demonstrates in “Herereoglossia and Mock-Epic in Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews,” the novel also juxtaposes the comical/vulgar with the high/classical to present a multi-dialectical, and perhaps democratic, illustration of a rising middle class.
The demonstration of the high and low language is also embodied in the characters: the lowest characters are given heroic and morally superior attributes while the highest, in class, are illustrated as morally corrupt. Lady Booby’s is equated to her social inferior, Slipslop, as both women behave in a jealous and hypocritical manner in the story. Both Slipslop and Lady Booby feel humiliated once they are rejected by Joseph, Lady Booby because she has been degraded by her own footman and Slipslop because her vanity has lead her to become enraged at the idea of being perceived as a mother figure to Joseph. Also, Lady Booby’s moral flaws diminish the superiority given to her via her social class as she is later confused with a chambermaid. The true Christians by the end of the novel, the characters who are worthy of the reader’s praise, are the individuals who are the lowest people socially: Fanny, Adams, and of course Joseph.
The class differentiations among these characters, the high and low moral attributes assigned to each, might be a microcosmic representation of the growing social problems of the age: the clashes between the rising middle class and gentry, as reflected in a political oligarchy. This clash is represented in Lady Booby and Parson Adam’s mutual interest in Fanny and Joseph, Adams tries to preserve the rights of the disenfranchised while Lady Booby endeavors to use her influence and position to keep them apart. Adams manages to win this battle by maintaining his ethical code, and while social norms deem Lady Booby his superior, the text demonstrates her inferiority to him as a debauched and selfish character. When Lady Booby tries to blackmail Adams, he tells her of his duty to preserve Fanny and Joseph’s rights: “I know not what your Ladyship means by the Terms Master and Service. I am in the Service of a Master who will never discard me for doing my Duty” (282). Joseph Andrews and Pamela share some qualities when it comes to the representation of high and low characters. Adams and Richardson’s Pamela share the same ethical code – he constructs the same argument Pamela endorses when identifying individuals as equals in the presence of the same deity.