Skip to main content
Henry Fielding
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Henry Fielding

  • Publish date:
Henry Fielding was an 18th century English writer and magistrate who established the mechanisms of the modern novel through such works as 'Tom Jones' and 'Amelia.'

Who Was Henry Fielding?

After beginning his writing career as a playwright and editor of satirical publications, Henry Fielding found his footing by penning Joseph Andrews and other parodies. Through later works such as Tom Jones, Fielding earned acclaim for helping establish the foundations of the modern novel. 

Early Years and Career

Henry Fielding was born on April 22, 1707, in Sharpham Park, Somerset, England. He attended Eton College, where he studied classical authors and emerged ready to tackle the literary world. Fielding finished his first play in 1728, one of more than two dozen he penned in the span of a decade. He then enrolled at the University of Leiden in Holland but left to return to London in 1729.

Unable to find meaningful work, Fielding began studying law at Middle Temple and became a barrister. In the meantime, he married Charlotte Craddock and edited the Champion; or, British Mercury, a satirical political publication.

First Novels

In 1740, Samuel Richardson published Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded, which was an instant success. However, Fielding found the work objectionable and set out to write a parody of it, which he called An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741). Although the book was published anonymously and Fielding never claimed credit, it is generally accepted that he was the author. He followed with Joseph Andrews (1742), another parody published anonymously, and The History of the Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (1743).

Scroll to Continue


US actor Miles Teller poses during a photocall for the film "Too Old To Die Young - North of Hollywood, West of Hell" at the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 18, 2019.

Miles Teller

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02:  Ranking member U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) questions U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as he testifies at a hearing on receiving 'the Monetary Policy Report to the Congress required under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act' at the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. Bernanke reportedly defended the Federal Reserves monetary policy against criticism from Republicans.  (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)

Barney Frank

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 02:  Actor  Ben Whishaw attends the 48th New York Film Festival premiere of 'The Tempest' at Alice Tully Hall on October 2, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ben Whishaw

Ben Whishaw

Despite his productivity, Fielding endured significant personal loss in these years. His father passed away in 1741, followed by one of his daughters in 1742 and his wife in 1744. He married his wife's maid in 1747 after the two grew close during a period of grieving.

Later Works and Death

Fielding's legal training was at last put to good use in the late 1740s, when he was appointed justice of the peace for Westminster and then magistrate of Middlesex. Although he devoted significant energy to combating crime, Fielding delivered the celebrated The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling in 1749, a work considered one of the English language's great early novels. The somber Amelia, his final novel, was published in 1751.

Fielding's health was in serious decline by this point. He traveled by sea to Portugal with his wife and daughter in the summer of 1754, but never returned to England, as he passed away in Lisbon on October 8 of that year.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!