Henry Fielding, an 18th-century English novelist and playwright, often portrayed women in his works in a manner that reflected the societal norms and attitudes of his time. To evaluate whether Fielding is less sympathetic towards women than men, it’s important to consider the context of his era and the nature of his characters.
Fielding’s most famous work, “Tom Jones,” provides a nuanced view of his approach to characterisation. While some of his female characters, like Molly Seagrim or Lady Bellaston, might be depicted with certain negative traits or in morally ambiguous situations, others like Sophia Western are portrayed with a great deal of sympathy and depth. Sophia, in particular, stands out as a character of virtue and integrity, often contrasted with the more flawed or superficial male characters.
However, it’s also true that Fielding’s works often reflect the patriarchal views of his time. Women in his novels generally have less agency and are more confined by societal norms than men. This can be seen as a lack of sympathy, but it could also be argued that Fielding was simply depicting the reality of 18th-century England, where women’s roles and freedoms were significantly restricted.
Furthermore, Fielding’s portrayal of women often includes a degree of satire and criticism of the society that constrains them. His female characters are sometimes used to highlight the follies and hypocrisies of the society he was writing in, which could be seen as a form of sympathy towards their plight.
In conclusion, while Fielding’s portrayal of women might not always seem sympathetic, especially by modern standards, it is layered and reflects the complexities of his characters’ social environment. He presents a range of female characters, some of whom are portrayed with depth and empathy, while others are used to critique the societal norms of his time.