Henry Fielding's use of the benevolence ethic in Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones and Amelia
The benevolence ethic, a moral formula for successful living which began in the 1660's with a group of low church divines, gained in popularity until it reached its peak of influence in the first half of the eighteenth century. That Henry Fielding, one of the century's most successful novelists, adhered to the ethic and incorporated it in his works is clear from an examination of his journals and his fiction.
In his three major novels, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones and Amelia, Fielding's incorporation of the ethic is evident, and it is his varying use of the ethic in these three novels which contributes heavily to the relative success or failure of each. Fielding's primary vehicle for incorporating the ethic in the novels is a central triangle of characters which reappears in each novel and consists of an older benevolent gentleman, a good-natured young man and a beautiful, innocent and virtuous young woman. His vehicle varies, however, in that each novel focuses on a different member of the triangle, in each the triangle members are interrelated differently and they develop individually in different degrees. In his most successful novel, Tom Jones, Fielding used the ethic as a basic part of the plot. In Joseph Andrews, his first novel, the ethic is blurred by satire, and in his last novel, Amelia, it is distorted with· sentimentalism.