The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 8. Fielding and Cervantes
By stating on his title-page that Joseph Andrews was “written in imitation of the manner of Cervantes,” Fielding meant more than that parson Adams was a Quixotic character. He meant that he was writing something new in English literature, though familiar to it from translations of Cervantes’s work. Scott traced in Joseph Andrews a debt to Scarron’s Roman Comique; Furetière’s Roman Bourgeois, Marivaux’s Paysan Parvenu and Histoire de Marianne have, also, been mentioned as possible origins of the novel. Fielding himself, in the preface, explains that he has written “a comic epic poem in prose,” with a “light and ridiculous” fable instead of a “grave and solemn” one, ludicrous sentiments instead of sublime and characters of inferior instead of superior rank. It is necessary to disentangle his motives (which may have been afterthoughts) from the facts of his novel’s descent. The author of Tom Thumb began Joseph Andrews as a burlesque; and burlesque—not of Pamela but of older works—he allowed it to remain, so far as some parts of the diction are concerned. But the origin of Joseph Andrews, as we have it, is not to be found in Scarron, or Cervantes, or any parody or burlesque. In spirit, it springs from the earlier attempts, made by Bunyan, by Defoe, by Addison and Steele in The Spectator, to reproduce the common life of ordinary people. Until Joseph Andrews came out, that life had never been exhibited in England with so much sense of character, so clear an insight into motives, so keen an interest. What the book owes to Cervantes is its form, in which the loosely-knit plot follows the travels and adventures of Adams, Andrews and Fanny, and is summarily wound up when the author pleases. Fielding’s achievement in the construction was not yet equal to his achievement in the spirit of fiction; nor could he yet be called “the father of the English novel.”