In the development of the English novel in the eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson is an influential figure. He stands out almost unrivalled in his age in his sphere of literature. He is probably called the mighty pioneer of modern novel. Richardson was not a professional novelist. He became a novelist accidentally. In cause of composing and competing love-letters he suddenly discovered his craft and emerged as a fiction writer.
Richardson wrote his novels in the form of letters or epistolary. This method is not merely a natural one for his but also inevitable to his objective to reveal the working of the inner soul. It is definitely the most appropriate means for his attempt to record the fluctuation of emotions and inner conflict in a character. His method was immensely popular just after him, and followed by a good many novelists.
As a novelist, his reputation rests on his three great novels; they are Pamela, Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison. In Pamela his subject matter is to show the virtue of a maidservant who resists the attempt of her master to seduce her. Her steadiness and consistency ultimately pay and enable her to win her master as her husband. As a novel,it is sentimental, grandiloquent, and wearisome. Its success at the time was enormous and Richardson began another novel, Clarissa. This was another, somewhat better, sentimental novel. The novel shows the suffering of good women, as a victim of a false man’s seduction. Clarissa illustrates Richardson’s sympathy for women and his heroine, Clarissa, is shown as a dignified lady who dies, but does not make compromise with that which is immoral. In Sir Charles Grandisons,Richardson’s third novel, the story of a man’s love with two women is presented with a moral effect.It shows also the triumph of womanly virtues over man’s loose morals.
Richardson’s novels have moral purposes. These are didactic and serious and imply the contrast between virtue and villainy, between innocence and incest, between love and last. He manipulates the moral ideals through these contrasting features in human nature and behaviour. His novels are also sentimental. Their excessive ethical views and tragic bearing have rather sentimental effects, But this sort of sentimentality was the fashion of the time.
As a novelist, Richardson has influenced subsequent ages through his penetrative study of human nature. In the history of English literature, his relevance is really notable. He has laid the foundation of that which has turned out to be a majestic edifice in the literary realm of England
In the rise of the English novel in the eighteen-century, the name of Henry Fielding shines as prominently as that of Samuel Richardson. Richardson and Fielding, though recognized as classic masters in English novels, are however widely different as novelists. Like Richardson, Fielding did not write many novels. His notable novels include Joseph Andrews, The History of Jonathan Wilds, The History of Tom Jones, and Amelia. His novels are not epistolary like Richardson’s. His method is epical, direct, and the story is developed through narration as well as conversation.
Fielding’s first notable novel Joseph Andrew, published in 1742, was supposed to ridicule Richardson’s Pamela. The situation, he contrived here is quite original and reverse to what is found in Pamela. Instead of the virtuous maidservant, Fielding presents Joseph, an honest servant, who resists reduction from his mistress Lady Bobby and her woman Mrs. Slipslop. He is ultimately thrown out of employment for resisting them. At this moment in the story, Fielding became so engrossed in his own narrative, and the exercise of his own comic gift that Richardson is almost forgotten. There follows a series of adventures on the road, where Joseph is accompanied by Parson Adams, who becomes the source of endless fun and comedy. Fielding is direct, vigorous, hilarious, ad coarse to the point of vulgarity. He is full of animal spirits, and he tells the story of a vagabond life, not for the sake of moralizing, like Richardson, but simply because it interests him, and his only concern is “to laugh men out of their follies”. So his story, though it abounds in unpleasant incidents, generally leaves the reader with the strong impression of reality.
Fielding’s most illustrious work is Tom Jones. Nothing in his work compares with this great novel. It is so carefully planned and executed that though the main theme follows Tom Jone’s life from childhood onwards, the reader is kept in suspense until the close as to the final resolution of the action. The story itself is elaborate, with most diverse social elements. In Tom Jones he had draw one of the great human characters of English literature.
Fielding’s last novel Amelia,published in 1751, marks his resourcefulness as a story-teller. He idealizes the main woman character and this leads to an excess of pathos. He had established in it one of the most notable forms, middle class realism.