Who was Sarah Fielding?
Sarah Fielding was born in East Stour, Dorset, on 8 November 1710 to Edmund Fielding and Sarah Gould. She was one of seven children.
In 1718, her mother died and her father remarried less than a year later to Anne Rapha. The marriage brought Sarah six stepbrothers. Not long after, Sarah and her sisters are sent to live with their maternal grandmother, Lady Gould. During this time, Sarah attended Mary Rookes’s boarding school in the Close of Salisbury. In 1721, the Fieldings were brought into a bitter and public custody battle between Lady Gould and their father, Edmund. After allegations of child abuse and incest between Sarah and her elder brother, Henry Fielding, Lady Gould was awarded custody of all seven of her grandchildren. Eventually, she sold the family’s small farm in East Stour and divided the profits amongst her grandchildren. A couple of years later, Edmund Fielding, who had just moved on to his fourth wife, was incarcerated for debt problems. In 1741, he died in debtor’s prison.
The institutionalization of debtors, criminals, and the mentally ill was unsegregated and had few regulations in the mid-eighteenth century. Thus, Edmund Fielding died beside those being held for madness, violent crimes, and fellow debtors. The acknowledgment of varying needs of treatment, as well as a push to abandon torture and physical restraint against these individuals, incited the reformation of institutionalization. There was no doubt that Edmund’s lifestyle and death in such an institution affected Sarah and inspired her fiction. Indeed, eight years after his death she published The Governess, which apart from being the first English novel written for children, can be said to advocate for non-restraint behavior modification for people who are institutionalized. She recalls much of John Locke’s methods for achieving reason and even illustrates how a form of proto-cognitive behavior therapy reforms a girl struggling with madness.
Sarah’s other works include The Adventures of David Simple
(1744), Familiar Letters
between the Principal Characters in David Simple (1747), Remarks on
Clarissa (1749), The Adventures of David Simple, Volume the Last (1753),
The Cry: A New Dramatic Fable (1754), Lives of Cleopatra and Octavia
(1757), The History of the Countess of Dellwyn (1759), The
History of Ophelia (1760), and a translation of Xenophon’s Memoirs of
It is widely regarded that Sarah probably contributed to Henry’s Joseph Andrews (1742) and A Journey from This World to the Next (1743).
Often accusing marriage of being a form of prostitution, she never married. She died on 9 April 1768. There are no known images or portraits of her.