Jonathan Wild (Paperback)
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|The real-life Jonathan Wild, gangland godfather and self-styled "Thieftaker General," controlled much of the London underworld until he was executed for his crimes in 1725. Even during his lifetime his achievements attracted attention; after his death balladeers sang of his exploits, and satirists made connections between his success and the triumph of corruption in high places. Fielding built on these narratives to produce one of the greatest sustained satires in the English language. Published in 1743, at a time when the modern novel had yet to establish itself as a fixed literary form, Jonathan Wild is at the same time a brilliant black comedy, an incisive political satire, and a profoundly serious exploration of human "greatness" and "goodness," as relevant today as it ever was.|
Fielding was raised in Dorset where, after the death of his mother when he was 11, he was made a ward of his grandmother. He was educated at Eton, learning Latin and Greek, then devoted himself to hunting, social life, and women. Handsome, witty, generous, and honest, he was a popular figure in 18th-century London. His first play, produced at Drury Lane when he was 20, was based on an episode in his own life: his botched attempt to elope with a 16-year-old heiress. After this successful but scandalous adventure in the theater, Fielding was packed off to the University of Leyden, in Holland, where he lasted nearly two years. Back in London, he returned to playwriting, and before he was 30 he wrote over 20 plays, mostly comedies, many of them successfully produced. The Licensing Act of 1737, which allowed the government to censor plays before production, was partly a response to Fielding's wicked political satires, and it ended his theatrical career. Fielding then studied law and qualified for the bar in half the usual time, but instead of practicing, he became a writer, editor, and eventually a justice of the peace for one of London's most notorious criminal districts. Refusing to take bribes, he virtually ridded it of crime, and established the basis for what became Scotland Yard's famed C.I.D. On a visit to Portugal that he hoped would improve his health, Fielding died at the age of 47. His 1749 novel TOM JONES--a brilliant, panoramic, hugely entertaining allegory of youth in search of wisdom--was the first English novel to be regarded as anything but a lightweight diversion, elevating the novel to the status of a serious literary form.