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Escape from Grub Street

Walter Scott, in 1820, wrote that Fielding is "father of the English Novel." Yet James Russell Lowell, in 1881, remarked to an English audience that "We really know almost as little of Fielding's life as of Shakespeare's." Lives of Fielding, or important essays about him, have been written by distinguished men of letters—Arthur Murphy, Walter Scott, James Russell Lowell, Austin Dobson, Leslie Stephen, Wilbur Cross, and others—but no thorough biography had existed before this big new book came from the press.

Professor Battestin and his wife have discovered a good many Fielding letters previously unknown, 41 political satires previously unattributed to him, and abundant materials in the Old Bailey Sessions Papers and various London archives. We still do not know everything about Fielding; but it seems probable that this Battestin Life, so carefully prepared, will remain the principal study of one of the most lively writers in the English language. Battestin published 15 years ago The Moral Basis of Fielding's Art, a major study; he is the undisputed chief authority on Fielding's writings and his life.

It will not do to judge this book by the publicity hand-out sent to reviewers and booksellers by the publisher. This blurb instructs us that Tom Jones "shocked the delicate minded members of English society when it was first published in 1749. In...

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