The Novel's Progress: Faction, Fiction and Fielding

By Tumbleson, Raymond D. | Studies in the Novel, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

The Novel's Progress: Faction, Fiction and Fielding


Tumbleson, Raymond D., Studies in the Novel


History is what you remember, destiny what you desire. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England had to conquer its Catholic heritage to reinvent itself as a Protestant nation. The new identity differed from the old in its conception of England's place in the world; no longer in communion with the continent, it was no longer a part of a common Christendom or the multinational, multilingual abortive Plantagenet empire: the petty England that shared even its own islands with several other states and cultures became the Great Britain that projected fleets and finances across the world. "It was Protestantism which gave modern England its sense of manifest destiny," as Jonathan Clark has noted.(1) The "heroic Protestantism,"(2) in Fredric Jameson's phrase, of seventeenth-century Dissent had a historical logic to explain the reformed religion as precOndition of the revolutionary present, but this insurrectionary logic had to be modified to serve the search for stability by the post-Stuart establishment in church and state. The synthesis of Renaissance form and Reformation content exemplified in Andrew Marvell's "Upon Appleton House" proved little more capable of surviving the revolutions of the seventeenth century than the High Church ideal of a cohesively authoritarian church and state. To employ Anthony J. Cascardi's terms to differ with his argument, the novel as it evolved in the eighteenth century represents its culture at once as "discursively heterogeneous and internally divided against itself" and in a way as "essentializing" as Renaissance poetics.(3)

This paper argues that Henry Fielding impresses Protestant anti-Papist religious anxieties into the service of a consolidation of sexual, national, and class divisions in Tom Jones and his propaganda during the Jacobite invasion of 1745, but in opposite ways in the two works. That Fielding was politically active as a writer is not something that could escape critical notice. By and large, however, such criticism has failed adequately to integrate the journalist and the novelist.(4) Because "the Richardsonian model" has been perceived as the central wellspring of domestic fiction, and because the mostly-male critic s analyzing Fielding as a political journalist represent a separate critical circle from the mostly-female critics exploring the sexuality of the early English novel, Fielding's interrelation of national and sexual politics has gone largely overlooked.(5) Brian McCrea reduces the violence of True Patriot 3 to "a call for enlightened self-interest," while Thomas R. Cleary acknowledges that the essay is "crude, 'scare' propaganda," but argues that "A vision of London ravaged by highlanders was not utterly mad on November 19, 1745," and that "Fielding was seldom moved to such stridency."(6) Whereas McCrea dissolves Fielding's highly charged particulars into a generalized defense of "'stated rules of Property,'" Cleary recognizes them, but declares them an insignificant aberration.(7) Similarly, Cleary's hypothesis of "a politicizing revision of the central books" of Tom Jones, while in itself plausible, even probable, operates again to deprecate the extent to which the novel is already political and thus receptive to such revision.(8) The topical references to the Jacobite rebellion fit into Tom Jones with minimal disruptiveness because they merely make more explicit a political framework already implicit. A discourse of religiously defined nationalism connects Fielding's "cultural politics" and sexuality.(9)

Fielding relocates Addison's economic anti-Papist rationale in an emotive basis by identifying property with the family and the totemic figure of the upper-class virgin; Tom Jones suggests only to suppress an alternative narrative of Papist menace that appears vividly in True Patriot 3 as the negation of domesticity.(10) The identification of Popery with Celtic primitivism, familiar from seventeenth-century tracts justifying English imperialism in Ireland, recurs in Fielding's treatment of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 in The True Patriot. …

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