Short summary - The Life and Death of Jonathan Wild, the Great - Henry Fielding

British literature summaries -

Short summary - The Life and Death of Jonathan Wild, the Great
Henry Fielding

Starting the story of the life of his hero, whom the author considers to be «great people,» he seeks to convince the reader that greatness - contrary to a common misconception - is incompatible with kindness. The author considers the absurd and absurd desire of the biographers Caesar and Alexander of Macedon to attribute to these outstanding personalities qualities such as mercy and justice. The author believes that, endowing their heroes with similar qualities, their biographers "destroy the high perfection, called integrity of character." Numerous references to the nobility and generosity of Caesar, who, according to the author, "with amazing spirit of greatness destroyed the liberties of his homeland and through deception and violence, made himself the head of the equal, corrupting and enslaving the whole nation, are completely inappropriate."


It should be clear to the reader that such features in a great man are not worthy of the purpose for which he was born: to create immense evil. Therefore, if the author in his narrative even talks about such a quality as kindness, then for him this concept will be synonymous with vulgarity and imperfection, which, alas, are still characteristic of the most distant representatives of the human race.

Jonathan, born in 1665, from a young age shows pride and ambition. He does not study very diligently, but invariably discovers amazing skill in appropriating someone else's. At seventeen, his father takes him to London, where the young man meets Count La Ruz, a well-known sharpie, and helps him escape from custody. Having paid tribute to the sleight of hand of Jonathan, who cleans his partners' pockets while playing cards, the Count introduces him to the young man to apply his talents in a society of people with wealth and money.


In gratitude, Jonathan persuades his friend, Bob Bagshot, to rob the count when he gets a big win. At the same time, Jonathan appropriates the lion's share of production, explaining this to Bob by the action of the basic law of human society: the low part of humanity is slaves who produce all the good for the needs of its higher part. Since Jonathan considers himself a great man, justice requires that he always get what was obtained by other people. Reinforcing his arguments with threats, Jonathan subjugates his friend and decides to put together a gang, all of whose members will work for him. Then his greatness will be compared with the greatness of Caesar and Alexander, who always took the loot of their soldiers.

To get the money needed to organize the gang, Jonathan, with the help of the Count, tricks the jeweler-merchant Thomas Hartfrey, a school friend of Jonathan.

Hartfrey gets a fake bill, and Jonathan gets fake jewelry, while with the real count the hiding, leaving an accomplice in the fools. And yet, Jonathan manages to collect a large gang, whose members under his leadership successfully rob the muddy and simpletons.

In order to freely take control of Hartfrey's wife, who is facing bankruptcy, and at the same time his property, Jonathan deftly removes him from his house and convinces his wife to take all the valuables and sail to Holland, where he, a devoted friend of her husband, will accompany her. The simple-minded woman agrees.

During a storm, Jonathan tries to take control of her, but the ship's captain rescues her. An oncoming French ship captures the whole crew, and when Mrs. Hartfrey tells the French captain about Jonathan's behavior, they put him in a boat and left to their own devices. However, he was soon picked up by a French fishing boat, and Jonathan safely returned to London.

Hartfrey’s arrest warrant has already been approved when he finds out that his wife, leaving the children at home, took all the valuable goods and left for Holland with Jonathan. Jonathan visits Hartfrey in a Newget prison to regain his confidence. He tells Hartfrey that the captain of a French ship captured his wife and appropriated all the valuables, and offers Hartfrey to escape from prison. Hartfrey indignantly refuses.

Meanwhile, Jonathan opens an office in which everyone who is robbed by his gang can get his things back by paying twice as much for their value. Jonathan's affairs are going well, and he plans to marry the beautiful Letizia, the daughter of an old friend and companion of his father. He had long had a tender feeling for her, which, alas, she rejected in favor of many other men, including robbers from the gang of Jonathan.

But, having satisfied his passion, Jonathan soon grows cold to his wife and concludes an agreement with her: from now on, both of them will enjoy unlimited freedom.

Hartfrey begins to suspect that Jonathan is the true culprit of all his troubles, and he decides to get rid of the honest coot as soon as possible, accusing Hartfrey of wanting to get around the creditors, sent his wife with all the values abroad. The robber Fireblad becomes a false witness, and the case is sent to court.

One of the rogues in the service of Jonathan, the butcher Bluskin, refuses to give Jonathan the gold watch stolen by him. A riot is brewing in the gang, but Jonathan suppresses it: in the presence of the rest of the scammers, he surrenders Bluskin to the police, and he finds a watch. Dodgers understand that they are in the hands of Jonathan, and agree to honestly give him the lion's share of the booty, as they had from the very beginning.

Through the efforts of Jonathan and Fireblad, the court finds Hartfrey guilty. However, an investigation soon begins that Bluskin, attempting to inflict Jonathan's life, wounded him with a knife. As a result, some of Jonathan's glorious deeds are made public.

The judge, known for his integrity, is seeking to introduce a clause in one of the parliamentary acts, according to which someone who commits theft by someone else’s hands is held criminally liable. Jonathan’s activities fall under this barbaric law, and he ends up in a Newguet prison, where his wife Letizia, who was convicted of pickpocketing, will be brought soon.

Jonathan is not discouraged. He is fighting for power with a certain Roger Johnson, who is at the head of all the rogues of the Newguet prison. Jonathan wins, and now all the prisoners pay him a tribute, which he uses for his needs. Upon learning that Hartfrey was sentenced to death, Jonathan shamefully indulges in remorse, but this painful state does not last long: remembering his greatness, he drives away thoughts about saving the unlucky merchant.

Just before Hartfrey’s execution, his wife came to him and they found out that the execution was canceled, because Fireblad, who was a witness at the Hartfrey hearing, was convicted of a crime and admitted to the judge that he acted at the instigation of Jonathan.


The judge visits Hartfrey in prison and with him listens to his wife’s story about everything she had experienced in separation from her husband. Despite all her misadventures, she kept her chastity unsullied and even returned the jewels that Earl Aa Ryuz had fished out from Hartfrey by deception. Moreover, the African leader gave her a gem, the value of which can more than cover all the losses. The judge promises Hartfrey to get him fully acquitted, and the happy couple goes home. Jonathan, sentenced to hanging, arranges drinking with prisoners and, finally, following the example of many "greats" ends his days on the gallows.

Having paid tribute to Jonathan and listing his many virtues, the author summarizes his story: «as long as greatness is pride, power, audacity and harm to humanity, in other words, as long as a great man and a great villain are synonyms, until then Wilde will be to stand, with no rivals, on top of greatness. »