Saturday, April 22, 2017

Born Today April 22: Henry Fielding


English novelist and law enforcement pioneer Henry Fielding was born on this day in Sharpham Park, Somerset, England into an impoverished noble family.  He is known internationally today as the man who gave us Tom Jones.  He was educated at Eton.  After getting into a dust up with the local authorities in Somerset, he relocated to London--it is at this time that his literary career began.  He then decided to study law in Leiden, Holland, but this venture was cut short when he ran short of funds.  He returned to London and began to write for the theater; because of his biting satire toward the government in his sketches, he coined the "pen name" Captain Hercules Vinegar, but most of these works were simply left anonymous.  In fact, the works were so explosive it is thought that the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 was a direct response to these plays.  As a result, he was forced him to retire from theater writing work altogether.  So, he decided to renew his law career, eventually becoming a barrister.  Finances were at times hard for him and his young family during this period of time; but he did have a benefactor who would later be the inspiration for Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones.  Also Fielding had never stopped writing political satire during the time he spent as a barrister, so his writing craft was greatly honed during this period of his life.  It was also during this time that Captain Hercules Vinegar was introduced to the wider world in the form of political satire penned for periodicals.  Around the 1741, he just sort fell into writing novels--basically out of nowhere.  His first work that fell into that genre (sort of ) was Shamela, an ogling parody of Samuel Richardson's Pamela; the work was published anonymously.  He followed this up with Joseph Andrews.  Three more works followed between Andrews and Tom Jones, which is by far and away his most famous work.  Fielding was a lifelong friend of William Pitt the Elder; it was in part this connection that rewarded him with the appointment of Chief Magistrate of London in 1749.  He is almost as well known as a historical figure from his service in this capacity as he is in the literary world.  He, along with his half-brother John, started the Bow Street Runners, widely regarded as London's first police force.  Of course it would be Tom Jones that was first used for a film screenplay and that happened for the first time in the year 1917 with a film of of the same name, produced in the UK by Ideal, a company that wouldn't survive long into the talking era. It would another 43 years before another filmed production of that work would appear.  In 1960 an Italian production company, oddly enough, decided to film a television mini-series based on Tom Jones.  By far and away the most famous film made of his work came in 1963 with the Tony Richardson directed Tom Jones starring Albert Finney and Susannah York.  And, although some of his other works have made it into films, once again it is Tom Jones that represents the most recent adaptation of his work into film with a lavish British produced 5 hour mini-series, broadcast in 1997.  For Fielding, his work in the occupation of Magistrate and, basically first police commissioner of London, was just getting to it's most influential when his health began to decline.  Gout caused him to have to use crutches, but he also reportedly suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and asthma.  He was sent to Lisbon, Portugal in an attempt to improve his health, but he succumbed to his illnesses just months later on the 8th of October.  He is buried there in what is now Church of England St. George's Church.  He was 47 years of age.

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