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Literature / Joseph Andrews

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Written by Henry Fielding in 1742, Joseph Andrews is one of the earliest novels in the English language. Defined by Fielding as a comic epic poem in prose, it tells the story of the titular Joseph Andrews as he travels home from London with his absent-minded friend and mentor, parson Abraham Adams. Being a combination of mock-heroic and domestic prose fiction, and inspired by Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, many silly adventures ensue.

The main plot revolves around the romantic (mis)adventures of Joseph. While employed as a horseman for Lady Booby, she tries to seduce him, but he proves to be too chaste to fall for her, and he is promptly fired and evicted. While on his way to his fiancee, Fanny, he is mugged, after which he meets up with parson Adams. Their stay at the inn is the first of many burlesque, slapstick moments in the novel. Among other things, Adams is accused of robbery and assault after heroically defeating a man assaulting Fanny, a jealous maid named Madam Slipslop plots revenge against Joseph, Adams is the subject of a hunt and subsequently undergoes a humiliating roasting, Fanny is almost kidnapped, and Adam's sermon on stoicism and fatalism emotion is upended with news of the death of his favorite son (who turns out to be fine after all).

The novel is interspersed with three sideplots, told by several characters to the main cast. Two of the tales turn out to be crucial to the parentage of Joseph and Fanny, which drives much of the comic misunderstandings around their wedding in the last part of the book.