Henry Fielding's Tom Jones

Henry Fielding's Tom Jones

Henry Fielding's Tom Jones

Henry Fielding's Tom Jones

Synopsis

A collection of critical essays on Fielding's novel "Tom Jones" arranged in chronological order of publication.

Tom Jones relates the adventures that meet the hero when he is driven from his adoptive home by the perfidious Blifil. From Somerset to London, the separate travels and travails of Tom and his beloved Sophia intertwine in what Coleridge judged one of the three great plots of all literature.

Certainly Tom Jones remains the most resplendent picaro in English literature, and Tom Jones our most resplendent picaresque. Its eclectic modes of representation - indeed, its novelistic vitality - arise from the counterpoise of its formal inventiveness and its ethical designs, of the narrator's irony and hero's naivety, of a wanton comic exuberance and a genuine concern for human society. Fielding is the most enthusiastic of novelists, and Tom Jones is his masterpiece, at a stroke establishing a literary genre of enduring centrality and assaying its outermost limits.

In this collection of critical essays, Ian Watt discusses Tom Jones's significance to the rise of the novel; Martin C. Battestin argues the coherence of its providential design; and Leopold Damrosch, Jr., traces themes of selfhood and mimesis to show how the novel estranges itself from the powerful traditions of Puritan narrative.

Henry Fielding's Tom Jones is one of over 100 volumes in the "Modern Critical Interpretations" series, edited and introduced by Harold Bloom and published by Chelsea House. Taken together, these volumes represent a comprehensive collection of the best current criticism of the most widely read poems, novels, stories, and dramas of the Western World.

Excerpt

Martin Price remarks that “Fielding can reward his heroes because they do not seek a reward.” As a critical observation, this is in Fielding’s own spirit, and tells us again what kind of novel Fielding invented, a comic Odyssey, ancestor of Smollett and Dickens, and of Joyce’s Ulysses. My teacher Frederick W Hilles liked to compare Tom Jones to Ulysses, while acknowledging that Fielding the narrator was neither invisible nor indifferent. Certainly Fielding was a fabulous artificer, which must be why he provoked so formidable a critical enemy as Dr. Samuel Johnson, who loved Alexander Pope while despising the most Popean of all novelists. Johnson vastly preferred Samuel Richardson to Fielding, a preference I myself share, though without prejudice to Fielding, since Richardson’s Clarissa seems to me still the strongest novel in the language, surpassing even Austen’s Emma, Eliot’s Middlemarch, and James’s Portrait of a Lady, all of them its descendants. Tom Jones founds another line, the rival tradition that includes Dickens and Joyce, novelists as exuberant as Fielding, and metaphysically and psychologically more problematic.

Samuel Johnson evidently resented what he took to be Fielding’s simplistic vision, a resentment understandable in a great moralist who believed that human life was everywhere a condition in which much was to be endured, and little to be enjoyed. No one can match Johnson as a compelling moralist, but he necessarily undervalued Fielding’s moral shrewdness. The true issue between Richardson and Fielding was in modes of representation, in their different views of mimesis. It is as though Richardson and Fielding split Shakespeare between them, with Richardson absorbing the Shakespearean power to portray inwardness, and Fielding inheriting Shakespeare’s uncanny ease in depicting a romance world that becomes more real than reality.

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