Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

A novel by H. Fielding, published 1752(for 1751).

Set in and against a London of almost unrelieved squalor, corruption, and violence, the novel opens in the court of the ‘trading Justice’, Justice Thrasher, who has the innocent, penniless Captain Billy Booth thrown into Newgate. The filth and brutality of the prison provides a sombre background against which his wife Amelia's virtue shines. In prison Booth meets an old acquaintance, Miss Matthews, a courtesan who has the means to buy a clean cell and who invites Booth to share it with her. Although filled with remorse, he does so, and they exchange their stories. Booth describes his runaway marriage (in which he was assisted by the good parson Dr Harrison), his happiness with Amelia, their lives in the country, his soldiering, and Amelia's arrival in France when he was ill. There they had lived with the huge, pugnacious Colonel Bath and his sister, who had since married a Colonel James. James now bails out Booth, and takes Miss Matthews as his mistress. Booth begins a life of gambling. Amelia's life is one of poverty and distress. In the background is the kindly Dr Harrison. ‘My Lord’, a flamboyant and menacing character who is never given a name, begins with Colonel James to lay plans to ensnare Amelia. The Booths' friendly landlady, Mrs Ellison (who is, unknown to Amelia, a cousin of My Lord's and his procuress), arranges for Amelia to be attended at an oratorio by My Lord in disguise, and then introduces him as her cousin. My Lord becomes extremely agreeable and offers to acquire a command for Booth. Amelia then receives an invitation to a masquerade, but is sharply warned by a fellow‐ lodger, the learned widow Mrs Bennet (who had been seduced by My Lord after such an invitation), and she does not go. After various other dangers and complications, Dr Harrison arrives, eventually pays off Booth's debts, and arranges for him to return to the farming life he loved. Amelia discovers that she is heiress to her mother's fortune and the Booths retire to a happy and prosperous country life.

The book sold well, but was attacked by many, led by Richardson and Smollett, and Fielding made alterations in later editions.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Henry Fielding (1707—1754) author and magistrate

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.